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Off the Grid (stephenfry.com)
313 points by decasteve on Apr 20, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 167 comments

It's interesting that I was at an itunes free gig in London back in 2010 at the Camden Roundhouse (band was Bombay Bicycle Club and they were very good), and Stephen Fry made a pre gig speech (obviously paid by Apple) to say how marvellous the iphone was and how although some people criticise social media , it is a marvellous thing that helps people feel less lonely, amongst other things (and the iphone helps people stay connected to this social media when on the go). I wonder if he truly believed that then, or was just saying so for Apple's sake. Either way, let's assume he believed it; and so I guess in 2010 it was all still rather new. Now he, like many of us, have grown very tired and cynical of it all. I agree with a lot he is saying in this post. The internet has been hijacked by big money and corporations. I personally am utterly fed up with waiting for web pages to load, unable to read the content because it keeps shifting around the page while another shitty targeted ad gets inserted. And then I realise the content was trash anyway; just more shallow, "read this in 2 minutes" bullshit that gets churned out because the authors know we have lost our ability to stay focused on one thing long enough to read anything substantial and genuinely informative.

I'd say he's just changed his opinion on it and the internet itself has evolved. I know my enthusiasm for the internet and technology has rapidly faded in the recent 2-3 years. Mostly that's just due to fatigue. We can do amazing things on the internet but spending 90% of your waking day on it and doing the same few things instead of taking advantage of everything it has to offer can become unhealthy. You don't necessarily have to go 'off the grid' to fix the problem but going cold turkey could be easier. Take for example my recent experience with Twitter. I decided I was just wasting my time on it (and the actual value I get from it I could just get logged out through search) so I deactivated my account. They give you a 30 day period to log in and reactivate it. I've done this three times now. Very smart move by Twitter but it just goes to show how addictive a lot of this stuff can be.

Stephen Fry has been an early adopter of technology for many years.

He and Douglas Adams were the first people in the UK to get Apple Macs, for example. He was the first person to apply for a .uk domain name

> He was the first person to apply for a .uk domain name

Is a little misleading. He was the first person to use the modern, nonprefixed uk domain but not the first person to apply for a .uk domain back in the day.

He was (is?) a shopping addict. https://youtu.be/p7tLn57pf-8?t=41m20s "I have 12 computers. I must have something between 12 and 14 iPods."

Watch the 2 parts if you have the time, it's really good.

Is he bipolar (or on the spectrum) because it constantly sounds that way. I still value his opinion and he is a great entertainer.

I don't think that's necessarily inconsistent with this essay.

Social technology (Facebook, iPhones, etc.) are, in my view, absolutely great at helping us to feel less lonely. I've traveled all over the world but can still stay in touch with close friends from back home. They effectively add a multiplier to Dunbar's number.

That being said, there is still the attraction of slowing down occasionally. I spend my life connected but also try to go on a hike for a week or two every year.

"Either way, let's assume he believed it..."

Sure. We all go thru phases, cycles. So do relationships, hobbies, habits.

I now help admin an org's web presence. It's fun, for now. In a few years I'll go back to being a hermit.

It's also possible that like many intelligent people he doesn't operate from fixed, rigid positions, but enjoys kicking mental footballs around that test out all sorts of contrary positions,

I don't think that such a speech from 2010 contradicts this blog in any way. Social media is still awesome, and it still provides tremendous value. And yes, it's been overtaken by big money and corporations — which earn their big monet by providing value to a lot of people. Thos two positions don't necessarily contradict each other.

I always wondered if the Apple Watch was made because Apple feels guilty about distracting everyone with smartphones.

After owning an Apple Watch I would say it just makes the distractions worse. Somehow it's much easier to ignore a vibration from the phone in your pocket than it is to ignore one on your wrist.

I have turned all vibrations and sounds off except for phone calls. It has been fantastic, I highly recommend it.

I did try things like that but at the end of the day I had a very expensive device that I used for very little so I sold it. For me the only thing I miss about it is the health tracking. Once they build in a lot more of that the costs will be worth the benefit for me because I just looked back on that data and during my time with the Apple Watch I lost quite a lot of weight just following the activity tracker.

Oh, definitely agreed. I bought a moto 360 and, as someone who doesn't want notifications, it's almost useless. I only like the navigation mode, but that updates too infrequently to be useful.

I have gone through a similar phase. Got rid of social media, switched back to a feature phone, am reading real books, listening to music on physical media, using cash where possible and whatever else.

The Internet has gone from a place with a high barrier of entry (and the interesting characters that self selected for that barrier), to an all encompassing entity with a load of moralisers, businesses and governments fighting over the ability to call the shots.

In its current state, I think it's better to take a step back. View the Internet as an occasional tool for getting things done, rather than a place to live within and rely upon. Let the masses have their addictions fulfilled, while technology enthusiasts move on and enjoy real life.

a load of moralisers...let the masses have their addictions fulfilled, while technology enthusiasts move on and enjoy real life.

Physician, heal thyself!

What feature phone are you using? For the life of me I can't find one these days that isn't a cheap piece of crap.

I recently got a Nokia 130 because I lost my old phone. Dunno if it goes above your "piece of crap" line but it serves very well my needs.

I use a Samsung flip phone. I still prefer the flip ergonomics to a touch-screen one (for ordinary voice call use obviously). Someone calls me, I pick up the phone, flip it open to answer if I want to, talk, close it to end the call, all with one hand, without having to even look at the thing (I can check the outside lcd to see who it is before answering it also). When I want to call someone (I only call about 5 people regularly (wife, mom, dad, sister, closest friends), I just flip it open and press the corresponding speed dial button. For this kind of use, a touch screen doesn't come close.

You can pick up some decent classic Nokias on eBay. I think the 1101 is a good choice.

I don't really agree. I think we can make the web so much more. The main problem is trying to cut through the endless amount of drudge and bullshit.

Many of us depend on it to pay the bills, though. On the internet, to build stuff for other people to use the internet more and generate more internet related jobs...

People had jobs before the internet came along.

There were a lot fewer jobs back then though.

Doesn't HN qualify as some sort of social media too?

The difference is, it's old school in here. The content, the people, the UI, it's all very different from the modern social media. I had trouble staying regular here when I first discovered HN but after a while, it feels nice to come and see people talking differently from the rest of the Internet. The closest thing to HN is a few reddit subs. This is what feels home now, not Facebook or Twitter like it used to.

I wish I could get a feature phone that just had Maps (and maybe Lyft). Being able to get a map of where I am, anywhere, is a pretty amazing thing. On the other hand, I wish I could get all of those notifications out of my pocket asap.

I hardly get any notifications on my phone. I don't have facebook/twitter/etc installed, and I have a strict no-texting policy.

If I really want to focus I put my phone in airplane mode.

As someone who uses the internet in a healthy way and healthy dose, i think this article is like when an (former?) alcoholic suggests to all the people to not even drink one beer occasionally. Seriously why should I not use email to communicate with people far away from me on interesting topics? Why would I not look up things in Wikipedia? Why would I not look at Fecebook once a day for 2 minutes to see whether there is something extra with my IRL friends and relatives?

I see where you’r coming from.

OTOH, imagine that you lived in a small community where trade routes or mass migration suddenly made alcohol extremely available, a new problem. You struggle with overuse, try to figure out if it’s a suitable morning beverage, etc. So do most people. Eventually, some people start to talk about moderation, age limits. Maybe we should only drink on Tuesdays, or after work or something.

Culture is being bombarded with new stuff, some of which can cause problems. Culture is adaptive, but it’s hard to keep up with technology. I think it’s OK for people to muse out loud (this is a blog) and possibly useful This is how culture gets made, I think. We need culture to update, so I’m ok with this.

I feel similarly, but I'm still sympathetic to Mr. Fry's thoughts on the topic. I did find myself thinking "well, it doesn't have to be all or nothing, just look at Joey Hess (https://usesthis.com/interviews/joey.hess/) for a nice compromise." Even the Amish have telephones; they're just not in the house - think how many times you've been interrupted at dinner by a phone call and you begin to understand . . .

you can of course use it as much as you want -- but I thing the broader point of the author holds: for a generation that is supposed to be rebellious, there is a surprising amount of conformism in accepting these tools as something that need to be used all the time.

It's best to think neither in terms of rebelliousness nor conformism, but in terms of right and wrong -- the standards by which we determine whether rebellion, or conformism, or withdrawal, or some other act are appropriate. Aging hippies and aging squares are both stopped clocks, wrong at least as often as they're right...

That said, I'm with the author in one respect: I don't have a Facebook account and never will. Constant connectedness is the enemy of deep understanding of the world -- although drugs, pinball machines, and basking in one's alleged superiority to the squares are also its enemies.

It's the hipster effect[0]. The more people try to rebel, the more they conform!

[0] http://arxiv.org/pdf/1410.8001.pdf

> internet in a healthy way and healthy dose,

what are you basing that on exactly

Why do people feel like FB and messengers are the entire "Grid"? You can go off social networks and still enjoy the marvel that is the internet (it works for me). My guess is that people develop a genuine addiction to FB and need to avoid all temptation for a while. Going offline for a longer than that is not a good idea though.

>> "My guess is that people develop a genuine addiction to FB and need to avoid all temptation for a while. Going offline for a longer than that is not a good idea though."

Maybe it is. Look at it like any other addiction. If you're addicted to alcohol you don't stop for a while that start and hope you can drink in moderation. I guess a better analogy might be an alcoholic who can go into a bar and not drink. I guess there are a lot of people who can do that but for others the temptation can be too much. I know personally I've purged social media accounts several times only to start them up again 6 months later.

I haven't used Facebook or similar for several years. I still use HN though, but it at least FEELS healthier.

These days, while there may be much talk of digital connection being a civil right, that doesn’t make it a civic duty, or a legal compulsion.

Social media tries to use it as a "civic compulsion." They say: Hew to our ideology, or you're not allowed to have an online presence. We will shame and destroy your online persona. So much of our culture and commerce is online and digital, this may well feel like banishment to many.

The same progressive movements that railed against the thought control, coercive pressure, and shaming methods of the church and the old cultural establishment have sprouted online movements of predominantly young people who use silencing tactics, banishment from civic organizations, and coercive shaming to further their agenda.

I find this a damn shame, because I count myself as a progressive and across the long arc of history, this only delays substantive progress. It's like trying to invade and occupy a country by holding land with troops. It's expensive, causes great collateral damage, and it turns many potential allies against you. It can "work," but only when you utterly rout the opposition, and even then, it often just plants the seeds for the next set of conflicts.

True activism can't just stop at demonstrations and resignations. It doesn't stop with committees or legislation or court cases. The end goal is to win hearts and minds. Beware of those who say they're winning hearts and minds, but backing it up with coercion. Beware of power, even limited contextual power. Power that lacks self awareness can be locally perilous.

(Really, is that stuff really about justice, or is it about the pleasure of watching someone get their comeuppance? And has our culture degraded to the point where a large fraction of intellectuals are unaware of the difference?)

The other day I suddenly remembered the door of my college room. Since I was at university pre-Internet, pre-mobile phones there was a piece of paper and a pencil on the door so that people who came round to find me could leave a message... by writing on the door.

At my school (in the mid-'90s) it was the same thing, but with whiteboards. You'd affix a cheap little whiteboard and non-permanent marker to your door, and people who came by would leave you messages. Then at day's end you'd come back, read the messages, and wipe the board clean for tomorrow.

It strikes me now how much those little whiteboards prefigured social media. Some people used them to leave status updates, like we do today on Facebook -- you'd write how you were doing today or where you were going to be later at the top of your board. And others (like me) used them like Twitter, as a place to leave little jokes for others to come by and read.

When I was at university back in 2007-2011, many students still did that. Alhough, they were usually not filled with messages but rather phalluses...

Great idea for a social network. Just write on someone's door.

Too skeuomorphic.

Skeuomorphism is coming back. Like Vinyl.

Baudrillard would have had fun with that comment!

But what if you open the door while someone is writing on it? Better to have them write messages on your wall.

... wait. That sounds familiar.

I think it already sounds familiar ;-)

Facebook was great when it was about randomly writing on people's walls, and having a way to contact that fellow college student you just meant. Now it's all about sharing click-bait, and very little social interaction.

College students still do that today.

Just because new communication mechanisms come out doesn't mean old ones are abandoned and things are all worse.

Honestly, these regular screeds against the Internet remind me of the many individuals in history who have decried the evils of writing, newspapers, telephones, radio, and television.

These things still existed even after the Internet.

I graduated a couple of years before the first iPhone came out and when having a Blackberry or other connected device was not the norm. I still used the internet pretty heavily, but it was just not mobile. Odds were that the person would see the message on the door first before they got an email you sent.

I believe that was the inspiration for Facebook's "wall" concept. (...which has since been folded into news feeds, I think?)

Hah, that brings back memories!

This article speaks to me and what I've been preaching to others for a while now. I got high speed internet in 1999. I was 13 years old. I am now 29 on the cusp of 30 and I think that this experiment has been detrimental to me rather than beneficial. I am currently in the process of doing what Fry talks about. While I can not be absolute and still want to visit some sites and some communities, I am trying to treat each website as if it were a magazine subscription or something I have to buy and own.

I like to live a minimalist lifestyle at home and prefer owning as few things as possible. I know many others feel this way too. However, with the internet and computing, ownership is abstract. I become overwhelmed and anxious under the deluge of files, apps, notifications, settings, and upkeep required for it all. I know I am not alone in this. Below is a quotation I loved from Deep Work by Cal Newport:

"These services aren’t necessarily, as advertised, the lifeblood of our modern connected world. They’re just products, developed by private companies, funded lavishly, marketed carefully, and designed ultimately to capture then sell your personal information and attention to advertisers. They can be fun, but in the scheme of your life and what you want to accomplish, they’re a lightweight whimsy, one unimportant distraction among many threatening to derail you from something deeper. Or maybe social media tools are at the core of your existence. You won’t know either way until you sample life without them."

Newport, Cal (2016-01-05). Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (p. 209). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I've been thinking about this sort of thing for a while now. I can't help but think of things along the lines of "good fences make good neighbors."

Essentially, I feel like we've built ourselves digital houses that have no walls. All we have to do is to look around us and we'll see advertisements, social media, news reports, porn, and scholarly journals. The problem is that finding information has become easier than deciding what information we want to find. I think that in order to have a healthier relationship with the internet, we need houses with walls, and a fence. I should not be able to just glance around and see everything at once, because everything at once is overwhelming. I should have to get up and walk to the door, or down to the mailbox. Imposing those kinds of small costs to information access would, I think, go a long way to reducing the anxiety and distractions that currently blow through our digital houses.

by what algorithm have you determined that it has been detrimental? how do you know that algorithm is accurate?

I did this by reflecting on my own life. I reflected on my habits and behaviors. I thought about how my life was before and after this. I thought about this even more compared to when I became a smartphone owner and when I was not a smart phone owner. There is no algorithm for this. There is no correct answer and that's the point. Some people love being connected to 10 social networks and constantly checking them. Some people don't. I am of the later group.

being connected to 10 networks and constantly checking on them is one extreme. Another extreme is claiming you would have been better off without broadband. I can't speak for you, of course, but most people would probably be better off without extremes

I agree that most of us should be "off the grid" more than we are, but not for any of the reasons he suggests. There's no real reasoning to this argument, just "It used to be like X before the internet, so the internet is bad." But with no reasons why X is good, as if it's obvious, but the modern ways seem better to me.

> Well maybe they should consider this for a moment. Who most wants you to stay on the grid? The advertisers. Your boss. Human Resources. The advertisers. Your parents (irony of ironies – once they distrusted it, now they need to tag you electronically, share your Facebook photos and message you to death). The advertisers. The government. Your local authority. Your school. Advertisers.

Really? "The man wants you on the internet, so you should stop!" If you avoid the internet just because of this, you're still letting the advertisers, your boss, "the man" make your decisions for you, rather than coming to your own conclusions..

> Remembering what I was like at fifteen, I wriggle pleasurably at the thought of how it would feel in 2016 to tell a teacher that, no, I couldn’t possibly ‘e-mail’ my homework, because I don’t have e-mail:

> ‘I’m not on your email, miss/sir.’

> ‘Don’t be absurd, Stephen. Email me the essay as soon as possible.’

A bit of a strawman here, isn't it? In what situation would a teacher ever demand you send an assignment ASAP instead of on the assigned due date? And if it's because you've missed the due date, what right do you have to act difficult and decide the medium over which you turn it in? Either accept the failed grade, or play by the rules of the person who is accommodating you.

Self control when it comes to technology is great and all, and if you feel you need or want less than the average person, that's fine. But thinking you're better than everyone else because you refuse to use a tool some people use incorrectly?

The article seems to be about what he imagines a young person of today would do if they wanted to affect a counter cultural lifestyle. Sticking it to the man (advertisers, your boss, parents, etc.) and throwing common mediums and traditions out the window to freak out the normies. He's not saying the old way was better, he goes to lengths to point that out when he says:

>This is just maudlin, nostalgic mush. You can’t go back. But all my imagination can do when picturing a life off the grid is summon up the life I had before the grid existed, so I cannot help being retrospective.

He's using the past way of life as a framework to build his vision on, not as the desired outcome. The imagined exchange with a teacher is equally fanciful but serves the point of illustrating a conflict between a young person and an establishment figure. A failed grade would be of no consequence here since it is certainly an expected response from someone in a position of power attempting to force you into conformity... missing this point is telling of your misunderstanding of the article so I think I'll leave it at that.

But thinking you're better than everyone else is the whole point of the article! Take away his pride, and what does Fry have left?

(I'm not sure if I should include a smiley with this or not, to be honest.)

"Because the bombardment of pseudo-realities begins to produce inauthentic humans very quickly, spurious humans—as fake as the data pressing at them from all sides. My two topics are really one topic; they unite at this point. Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves. So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans. It is just a very large version of Disneyland. You can have the Pirate Ride or the Lincoln Simulacrum or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride—you can have all of them, but none is true." - PKD

edit: this is from http://deoxy.org/pkd_how2build.htm

And what is true?

Well, it's true that if you don't eat you'll die of starvation. (Or, if you happen to be in a computer simulation at the moment, that if you don't run through the acts which the simulation reckons as simulating eating, you'll end up in the state which the simulation reckons as dead, after having been in the state that the simulation reckons as starving -- which is the same thing from your perspective.) Perhaps something larger can be built out from there.

I think that what RKD is saying (whoever he is) is that large-scale manufacturing, plus a healthy dose of cheap plastics, have cut us off from physical construction and from the constrained but rather satisfying (at least when contemplated in hindsight) way of how we used to live. That, and he read enough _Dune_ that he's now talking like a Bene Gesserit...

>RKD is saying (whoever he is)

Philip K Dick. He wrote this essay back in the 70s and was talking about what you mention as well as the impact of things like TV but I think it is even more relevant in the internet age. Based on the rest of your comment I think you'd enjoy his work.

Interesting. I keep hearing that name, and probably will look him up...

"Those very politicians, advertisers, media moguls, corporates and journalists who thought the internet a passing fad have moved in and grabbed the land. They have all the reach, scope, power and ‘social bandwidth’ there is. Everyone else is squeezed out — given little hutches, plastic megaphones and a pretence of autonomy and connectivity. No wonder so many have become so rude, resentful, threatening and unkind.

The radical alternative now must be to jack out of the matrix, to go off the grid."

This is awfully regressive, but not only that; it's also foolish. If his point is that by going 'Off The Grid' you can escape these people, he's out of luck- these people are AFK as well as online. Try walking through a major city without seeing a single advert.

If you want to get away from all the shit on the internet, the only way is forwards, not backwards.

When I was a youngin' browsing BBSes in the 90s, I remember distinctly encountering a text guide to "the art of disappearing", essentially getting off the grid as Stephen Fry mentions. It involved a whole bunch of seemingly paranoid steps, like burning your passport, and booking your flight (one-way) with cash. I also remember thinking to myself how silly the whole concept was - why would I ever want to do something like that?

These days, I'm realizing more and more that it doesn't sound that crazy in this increasingly dystopian world.

It might have been this one, the text you are referring to:


"Becoming Jack Flack" Shmoocon 2010 talk: https://youtu.be/dr5esiUIaS0

I'm almost sure I've read the same document. I wonder if it's still floating about.

Some day, only governments and criminals will pay with cash ;)

>They couldn’t force me to have an online presence after all.

I don't know where he gets this idea. Both the Comp. Sci. and Engineering schools at my university require that all students have a laptop capable of running software related to the coursework (financial aid is available specifically to help meet this requirement). The university also supplies plenty of computer labs. If I insisted on turning in all assignments on paper, I would be laughed at and given failing grades until I was kicked out of school.

The modern world absolutely can and will force you to have an online presence.

University itself is elective, no?

Meta: I think the "Stephen Fry" in the title is very redundant, considering the domain.

If it really has to be there, it would (to my eye) look better to lead with it, i.e. "Stephen Fry: Off the Grid".

Am I the only one struck by the irony of an advert for his book in the middle of this post?

I've started to give a pass on this sort of thing. A lot of time the author doesn't have direct control over the publishing medium. The text is Stephen Fry's, but the site design, ads, system administration, url, etc. are likely all managed by someone else.

Journalists similarly shouldn't be held accountable for the ads that appear next to their articles in magazines or the local paper no matter how ironic.

The fact that there IS an ad in the middle of his tirade probably illustrates his point that "the corporation" has infiltrated every facet of our lives.

Well, in this case the publishing medium is presumably owned/controlled by him since it's posted on http://www.stephenfry.com

While he may not have the knowledge to modify the site himself, he could tell the people he's paying to remove the ad. It's most likely the case that he wants the ad.

The irony being? It wasn't exactly a "stick it to the man / down with money" post, even if he has a small paragraph talking about young people rebelling in it.

The specific irony being, a few paragraphs above:

> Who most wants you to stay on the grid? The advertisers.

I noticed myself being just a tiny bit less interested in labouring through the full article knowing that nothing I or anyone else expressed about it after the fact would ever make it to Stephen's attention. The tantalizing idea of a comment affecting an author (no matter how small that chance) definitely plays into my consumption.

It makes me wonder whether a better approach to disconnecting is to set quotas, essentially saying something like "I would like 2 tweets and 1 blog comment to make it to my attention daily -- hide everything else from me for my own sanity."

>They have been given, willy nilly, demographic tags like ‘millennial’, ‘post-millennial’, ‘Generation Z’, ‘i-Gen’ — not out of anybody’s acute cultural observation, sympathy or understanding but either to bulk up a HuffPo article or to delineate convenient advertising categories, within which many sub-categories can be established. You are not a person, you are an algorithmic assumption, a mould into which hot selling-jelly may be poured.

Well, obviously, and for every generalization concerning a whole generation, you're not, and you're not supposed to be, a person. There's a time to talk of people individually and as persons (e.g. in personal relationships, workplace, etc.) and times to generalize and talk about their collective patterns of behavior.

And those names are not always coming from journalist hacks without "acute cultural observation, sympathy or understanding" either. E.g. "Generation X" came from a member of said generation itself, Douglas Copland, trying to describe how it is for him and his friends.

In any case, "Generation ___" is just a convenient handle to talk about many people together -- its usefulness comes from whether it describes something statistically useful, not from whether it caters to the individuality of each unique snowflake person (and of course most just delude themselves that they are that, while following very similar paths with their generation for most things).

>my proudest boast would be: ‘My friends and I, we disappeared ourselves. No social media, no email, no chat, no wifi, no selfies, no SMS, no smartphones. We did it. We did this thing. We Got Off The Grid.

I'd say this again underestimates how many people are "off the grid" (even if they have internet at home) and don't participate in the whole social media/chat/selfies/etc thing.

Goodness me, that's a lot of bloviation. I think there's a point buried in there somewhere that has been made far more succinctly by a lot of other people.

I usually think the same for vast majority of stuff on HN, i.e. most articles could be cut down to one or two paragraphs with little value lost, but... There are generally two reasons why I read - to extract information and for the experience of reading. Stephen Fry's blog is one of the rare cases where I just enjoy the writing and the information value doesn't really matter.

>I usually think the same for vast majority of stuff on HN, i.e. most articles could be cut down to one or two paragraphs with little value lost,

Maybe life too.

Instead of going through this whole redundant process of living through it, we could just be given some 10 word summary, like e.g.:

"There was some fun, some sadness, a few regrets, a couple profound experiences, a lot of boredom, quite some pain, mostly ok, and then you died".

Or as Woody Allen said, "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

Good point. Weird how inefficient it is when people express themselves. If we had a dictionary where we could look up every idea, no one would have to say anything anymore, it'd all have already been expressed better, and we could all just stfu and not waste readers' time.

n.b.: notwithstanding my unsubtle point, I upvoted RivieraKid, with whom I agree about the value of reading these woefully inefficient thoughts, like Fry's, that I love.

That analogy doesn't make much sense...

Here's another way to put it:

"I have heard many People say, 'Give me the Ideas. It is no matter what Words you put them into.' To this I reply, Ideas cannot be Given but in their minutely Appropriate Words."

- William Blake

Oh ok, I get the point... But for a lot of articles it seems that 90% of the value can be conveyed with 10% of the length, so I usually just quickly skim it - unless it's the type of text where the value is in the experience of reading and not information (stories, poems, ...).

I guess that can be true for technical articles the most (e.g. just get to the instructions, numbers, results etc), but probably not as easily for things like this Fry post.

Yeah, that was my point, that this desn't apply for Fry's writing.

Definitely, it's just like those documentaries that could be summed up in 5 minutes or less. Although, come to think of it, YouTube does that pretty well nowadays.

The best part is the WH Auden quote, which provokes more thought in 10 words than the rest of the essay put together:

"Poets love their handwriting, it’s like smelling your own farts."

Don't I love to read my own Hacker News comments?

And I bet Stephen Fry loves to read his own essays.

In fairness, that's kind of Stephen Fry's thing. He does have a certain way with words, but I can only tolerate it in small doses.

"The internet, as opposed to AOL and the others, was like a great city. It certainly had slums and red-light districts and places you wouldn’t want to visit after night, but the museums, ... streets were packed with excitement. "

This memory of the internet still lives. There are many nooks and crannies that are hard to find as they do not show up on facebook, reddit etc. Lots of independent, wacky, controversial, illegal and subversive sites are alive and kicking.

In the earlier days, I suppose due to lack of volume, it was a lot easier to find these places.

The good folks of tumblr have a succinct counter-argument to suggestions like this. It is, and I quote:

"durr hburr technology is bad fire is scary and thomas edison was a witch"

I kind of agree

"Not having an online presence" makes as much sense as "not having a presence at the pub" or "refusing to talk to people as a principle - isn't that so 'awesome'?"

It's fine, you don't need to be on every silly new 2.0 dot com, no issue there.

But you're shutting yourself out of a means of communication with other people. The fact that it involved technology is a detail

You can go to the pub and not drink, you can use FB with a fake name and not do anything with it and you can choose an email provider that suits you, but shutting yourself out does not make sense

Precisely. You don't have to be on every new fad website or app, broadcasting your every motion to the rest of the world. But you don't need to go to the extreme of not having email or walking to a library instead of using the amazing repository of information that is the internet.

> "Not having an online presence" makes as much sense as "not having a presence at the pub"

It does make sense, your Facebook/Twitter/... presence doesn't go away when you go to bed or go on holiday, it's always there to be ogled at, poke and prodded, unlike your non-presence in the pub when you stagger off home at closing time.

I know some people who deactivate their account every night, and apparently it's not that rare either: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2010/11/08/risk-re...

> "Not having an online presence" makes as much sense as "not having a presence at the pub"

Not quite- if I don't make it to the pub one night, people just brush it off and think "I'll talk to him next time."

People seem much more vitriolic if I don't respond to whatever internet/text message they sent with near immediacy- because it's always available.

It seems like there's a shut-off valve with the pub, or a land-line and answering machine- not so with facebook, texting, what have you.

As someone who barely ever picks up a call or reads an SMS in less than an hour, and often a full day, people are annoyed at first but soon get used to it.

> if I don't respond to whatever internet/text message they sent with near immediacy- because it's always available

I have to agree with you on this one. But I believe it suffices to say that no, you're not looking at email/fb/whatsapp/whatever all the time (and acting like that)

Except that the author was an early adopter of technology. Definitely not a luddite.

In this case is more like: "I gave it a shot, but no, thanks".

But fire _is_ scary, technology is a mixed bag at best, and as for Edison, well, I'm not sure I'd put it past him after how he treated Tesla.

Seriously, I had to read that line twice to realize that it was intended sarcastically. I think I just Poe's Law-ed myself.

It's not surprising he'd want to turn his back on social media after the (justifiable) kicking he took over this: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/apr/14/stephen-fry-s...

Fry was already a serial social-media "quitter", going on and off Twitter a few times; he even (famously) entirely quit real society, back in the day, after a bunch of bad reviews; and he has self-confessed mental health issues. All considered, it's not that surprising that he might want to disconnect altogether, regardless of specific episodes.

Justifiable? Based on what he actually said? -- there's an accurate transcription down in the link.

“It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place – you get some of my sympathy – but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy because self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity.”

The 58-year-old went on to say: “Grow up.”

So, yes.

Let's take an ounce of effort to post the whole quote shall we?

Speaking to the US TV show The Rubin Report about campus free speech, safe spaces and trigger warnings on literature.

"In terms of how they think, they can’t bear complexity. The idea that things aren’t easy to understand, they want to be told, or they want to be able to decide and say, ‘This is good and this is bad,’ and anything that conflicts with that is not to be borne.

There are many great plays which contain rapes, and the word rape now is even considered a rape, if you say: ‘you can’t watch this play, you can’t watch Titus Andronicus, or you can’t read it in a Shakespeare class, or you can’t read Macbeth because it’s got children being killed in it, it might trigger something when you were young that upset you once, because uncle touched you in a nasty place’, well I’m sorry.

It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place, you get some of my sympathy, but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy because self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity. Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. The irony is we’ll feel sorry for you, if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Just grow up.”

Context matters, you can dice up anyone's words to make them say what you like but it doesn't prove a point, it's still a deception, and you're still doing everyone the disservice of assuming that you know better than they do to make up their minds for them. Grow up.

This from a man who described in great detail his near-suicide experience following the 'Cell Mates' breakdown? What was that if not self-pity? Should we have felt no sympathy for him? Or is that too complex?

I wouldn't take any so-called wisdom from this man.

>This from a man who described in great detail his near-suicide experience following the 'Cell Mates' breakdown? What was that if not self-pity?


That would only prove he can wallow in self-pity too.

Which he has admitted already anyway, and condemned even in himself.

It certainly doesn't prove that self-pity is not as bad as he says.

So he is right. As for him doing it, it doesn't even make him a hypocrite (since he admits it) -- just fallible.

Like an ex (or even current) drug addict sincerely warning people that drugs are bad and that they shouldn't do them.

Not only are they right -- but they also speak from personal experience.

It behooves him to be more empathetic, especially if he's suffered from the same difficulties and he's speaking out in public about it.

He is not talking about everybody who has had such an experience -- but those who linger on to it for decades and hurt their lives and the lives of others with that.

So, yes, grow up -- or grow over it.

You'd rather they didn't?

Life has not only that, but even worse experiences in store -- like losing a limb, your mobility, your life expectancy, your whole family, your house and homeland, etc just like that.

Much worse stuff has happened to people -- and some live that everyday -- and they still rebound and go forward. Wallowing in self pity is bad for those doing it and bad for those around them. And it can even turn them, themselves to something dark (many rapists were in turn abused when younger).

Do you deliberately ignore the first half of the sentence?

It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place – you get some of my sympathy

His criticism is of "self-pity". I can agree.

That was well after he quit Twitter over another unrelated bashing he got

Agree with a lot of this, however it is all about balance and moderation I'm not sure going all the way makes you a better person or gives you a better lifestyle.

email is fine once you have filtered out all the spam and dicks who put everyone on cc.

I love music, but I wont be going back to vinal anytime soon, my mp3 collection is fine and much more convenient. Yes MP3 may have cheapened music and there maybe something about removing it from the sleeve, putting it on the turntable and turning it over after 20 minutes but that person is not me.

Same with books, I love reading books, but I am as happy (if not more happy) to do it on a kindle as a 'real' book from the library.

A cell phone is convenient if left on silent or turned off when in company and not continuously checked

I would still want google and wikipedia to do my job and I would still want hackernews to ensure I can see and click on articles like Mr Frys if I so desire, again these should be on-demand not continuous.

I have some beautiful countryside outside my door and I am very happy to step away from all this and into it as often as I can.

> I would feel that it had connected far more and with far greater purpose and meaning.

One of the better discussions of this topic is Vi Hart's explanation[1] of Edmund Snow Carpenter's[2] "They Became What They Beheld".

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm-Jjvqu3U4

[2] almost certainly written with Marshall McLuhan

I've been trying to do this and as of this week, HN and stackexchage are the last social accounts I have but only because I can't find a way to delete them. I could just log out and walk away but it feels like there's no closure that way. Anyone know of a way to close an HN account?

Change the email address to a random uuid-like hash @example.com, then change your password to a random hash. Do not allow your browser or password manager to save these values.

Now you’ve locked yourself out with no way back in.

It's not really about keeping myself from commenting here or anything like that. There's something about the account being out there, the karma associated with it and such that nags at me a little, probably only because it's my real name and the volume of content associated with it. If I could change the username it'd bug me a lot less. I'm sure I'll come to terms with it somehow and still feel like I've successfully jacked out. Still, it seems like it'd be easy to add functionality like reddits: delete the account, keep the content, replace the username with [deleted]. [deleted123] would keep the content grouped under a single name if that's important. Maybe I'll write a letter to HN suggesting it.

Solid, but somehow very creepy, answer. I'm imagining someone discovering that they're a clone, and that their original was just sort of shut into a closet and forgotten about.

Email hn@ycombinator.com, that said I did try that once and nothing happened. But that was long before dang stepped up and took a more active role in moderating threads. Kinda glad it didn't happen because the site's improved a fair bit since then.

I'm kinda a bit like you, I'm really only active online on StackOverflow and here. I have a twitter account but to be honest it's mostly full of re-tweets. I binned Facebook to no great loss, and I broke my mobile phone in January and have never bothered to replace it. I feel I have one foot "off the grid"...baby steps :)

I've tried getting in touch with HN a few times to delete my account. Well, I actually understand the value of keeping the content I've contributed so I really just wanted a name change so my presence was anonymous. Never heard back though.

Does HN count as "social"? It feels more like an Internet forum to me. I guess you're using your real name here, but you don't have to. I don't know anyone socially who I would expect to find on here.

I guess I wouldn't count it as "social" either but it's definitely "jacked in", maybe a little more so for me since I use my real name.

Agreed. I have switched usernames here over the years, and i don't miss any of it. It's hard to imagine someone having "closure" against HN.

Internet forums aren't social?

I'll tell you how I did it for Wikipedia. First, I removed my email address for password recovery. Then, I opened notepad and mashed my keyboard. Then I copied the rather long string of random characters to the clipboard, went to the password reset screen and then pasted it into the password and confirm password editbox. Then I hit update, and then I closed notepad without saving, and then I rebooted my computer.

Ta-da! No more Ta bu shi da yu.

I think we'll look back on maybe the 10 years previous to this and the 10 years after this as the years where we didn't really know how to handle all the information and connectivity we were barraged with because our brains simply didn't evolve for such a thing (and it's about to get a lot more interesting with VR/AR) -- the dopamine hit of MORE INFO MORE INFO MORE INFO makes sense in an information-scarce world. No longer. I suspect our brains will adapt rather quickly, for those of us born into it. For those of us over age 25 or so, I suspect we'll always have twitches of addiction and nostalgia for being off grid.

Longtime listener, first-time caller here. Okay, maybe this is just a naive idea, but in Fry's spirit of going-backward-to-go-forward, I think that a very subversive, Internet-thwarting tech would be a device that did point-to-point communication (ie., like ham-radio packet broadcast). Like, go to place X, tune into your point-to-point USB dongle and tune in to the chatter -- constrained by the broadcast range of the device's power and antenna. You'd have the efficiencies of a social networking system paired with the place-ness of a particular physical location. This would tend, I imagine, to link people up IRL after they "sniffed" each other electronically to determine whether they were same tribe/interest/affinity/perversion/whatever. From there, they could pursue the more authentic/place-based/dreamy/serendipitous youth more resonant with what Fry experienced in his youth. And since the communication is point-to-point with no IP address or Internet implied, no advertiser/analytics authority could interpose itself in those conversations.

Is that an insane idea?

>It is not about the numbers. It is _never_ about the numbers. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.

The ad midway probably has something to do with numbers, where 10,000 is better than 100.

What in the world would be the point of really going off the nets? I honestly can't see the point. It's so easy to pick and choose how you want to interact with the online world. A few years ago, not having a Facebook was like living in a cave in the woods. Now? All my friends are on Facebook, but very few of them participate. It's been relegated to mere entertainment. I can go days without checking it.

A reporter asked a Girl Scout whether the cookies they were selling were healthy. She just said, "Don't eat the whole box."

Technology is like relationships, they get better after you develop good boundaries. If you can't trust yourself with cookies, don't keep cookies in the house. But really, you should just work on not being a slave to food. Or Facebook.

Nothing about technology actually keeps you from interacting more deeply with others. You do that to yourself. You can't blame food for making you fat.

He's such an amazingly good writer.

I like his "Ode less travelled" a lot but his other works of fiction not so much. And his blog posts (including this one) seem to be a few straightforward points blown up into an essay. I realise that he enjoys language for it's own sake. I do too in a much lesser way but his style simply doesn't resonate with me.

That's cute, he thinks a student in today's world can be successful without the Internet.

Why not? Assuming access to books (library, bookstores) and journals via a library (should be present in most schools or within a school district, decent libraries in my rather small town), a student would be in the same situation as most pre-2000 students, many of whom succeeded just fine.

Plenty of students got an education before we assumed everyone had a computer, too. But the environment surrounding the student, including the infrastructure they must interact with as a necessary part of being a student, has changed. At the least, such a student will be at a disadvantage.

Pre-2000 students had access to card catalogs within the library. Most libraries nowadays use the Internet to support their many locations' cataglogs.

Never seen a library without a computer onsite. Most of the time you can use it only to search for books etc.

Agreed. Most library systems I've come across have their catalog servers located elsewhere, except for very small community libraries. (Granted, this is the worst type of data: anecdata).

So Mr. Fry is assuming that 15 year old boys would be willing to give up the treasure trove of Porn that is available to them via the technology he suggest they spurn.

A very unrealistic assumption.

> I live in a world without Facebook, and now without Twitter. I manage to survive too without Kiki, Snapchat, Viber, Telegram, Signal and the rest of them. I haven’t yet learned to cope without iMessage and SMS.

I respect what he's getting at, but this is all sorts of backwards for someone who wrote an earlier paragraph about escaping the eye of advertisers (and presumably surveillance)

I like his spin on it. The internet has become a ton of noise and walled gardens. I initially dropped off the social media platforms, but then I re-joined under anonymous names.

During my off-grid time, I found I was more productive in terms of thinking and getting my side projects done.

I was able to read more paper books as well as just enjoy life and nature.

     Logan’s Run, Zardoz, Soylent Green, Fahrenheit 451
Lovely films. Something about the pacing or the cinematography of the films from that era appeals to me.

Ah… Zardoz… Nothing beats Sean Connery running around in weird sci-fi shorts. Also, Beethoven.

"They couldn’t force me to have an online presence after all."

Read your terms of enlistment, soldier. They can and they do.

Rants away (though I agree with some points), it's a nice summary of Internet history.

email is awesome, but I do miss receiving long letters from friends far away. Man, do I miss that. I only have two friends left who still write letters. I would give many parts of the internet to have that back.

I think this makes some very good points, but conflates too many things as being "the grid" or "the internet [sic]". Yes, advertisers, HR departments, parents, etc. like people to use Web sites to look at ads, provide a work history/CV/photographic evidence of pasttimes, update a beacon with their current whereabouts, etc. but those are societal things which have basically nothing to do with the technology. Paper and ink are just as tainted with advertising, corporate homogenisation, familial pings, etc.

How does handing in an essay on paper 'fight the power'? Paper is just as corrupted as the Web. Anecdote: a couple of years ago, before a long coach journey, I decided to buy a pen and paper so I could pass the time writing, drawing, mathematical playing, etc. In the centre of a large city (Birmingham, UK) it took me about half an hour to find anywhere which sold blank paper rather than pre-printed magazines/newspapers/books/etc. (I eventually found some in Poundland; an underrated shop IMHO). I nearly missed the coach.

Rejecting technologies, like email, is self-flagellation. Whether a teacher can or can't force a student to have an email address is irrelevant; all that's needed is to SMTP the server with a syntactically-valid FROM address, like "thisisnotarealaddress@example.com". There is no requirement for that address to even resolve, let alone for it to accept mail and make it available to you. So what if you get marked as spam, that's always a hazard even from established providers.

Likewise, if someone wants to make something available to you via email, there's nothing stopping the use of a one-time-only address, e.g. mailinator.com or something similar with a password, that disappears after 24 hours.

To refuse email in such a way is like refusing to write English in left-to-right order; or using a fountain pen full of invisible ink: it's petty and silly, which is fine if that's your intention, but as a serious statement it achieves nothing.

In contrast, refusing control by "The Corporation" is definitely a Good Thing (TM). It's why I've never used Facebook, Bebo, or any of those other register-to-view silos and never will. It's why I deleted my Twitter account after their chilling meeting with the UK government after the 2011 riots. It's why I host my own blog, Git repos and anything else I would miss if it were deleted. It's why I use only FOSS software, on machines which require no driver blobs or proprietary BIOS (except for the GSM driver on my OpenMoko; I'd be glad to hear of any alternatives). It's why I download videos from YouTube, iPlayer, etc. to watch in the ways that I want to (which may be several decades after those services collapse). It's why I use ad blockers, NoScript, hosts file blacklists, etc. It's why I only turn on my smartphone (OpenMoko running Debian) occasionally, when someone asks me to expect a message from them. And so on.

It's often said that technology is neither good nor bad, only its uses are. Ignoring the "bad" uses of technology doesn't require abandoning the technology itself. The article decries "digging up Wikipedia and planting cabbages over it", but there are also many other areas of the Web which aren't "bullying and wheedling and neediness.. invisible selling... loveless flirting and cowardly mocking... unbearable long silences and the ceaseless screaming chatter... vengeful rivalries... frenzied desperation and ...wrenching loneliness.". Does "jacking out" make those things stop? No, it's just ignoring them. So why not just ignore them without "jacking out"?

Did the youth of the 1950s rebel against authority by hammering on harsichords in their stagecoaches? No, they blared the sound of electric guitars, transmitted via radio, from cars. Refusing to conform to the new normal by staying with the old normal isn't being rebellious; being rebellious is using the new to create some unfathomable anithesis of normal. That's what I love about Open Source, on top of the fundamental rights provided by Free Software: the bazaars surrounding the cathedrals. Yes, FOSS gives us LibreOffice to file our tax returns; but it also lets us connect a GPU-backed deep learning library to a 3D-printed robots, via software-defined radio running on openly-programmed FPGAs, so we can.... I don't know, because it's so new!

When studying Physics as an undergraduate, our lab sessions gave training on how to analyse experimental results using Microsoft Excel. I refused to participate, claiming that the scientific process should not be beholden to the unknown inner workings of a proprietary, black-box application with an exclusionary EULA and known bugs. I performed all of the required analysis on the course using Gnumeric and Python instead. Whilst still quite petty, I still believe that was still a far stronger message than not using email from a residence with broadband-connected computers.

For some reason it delights me that Stephen Fry has read William Gibson.

hadn't heard of savonarola. there are no github matches for this so if someone's looking for a cool project name, now's your chance

Well isn't it ironic, don't you think?

Complains about advertisements... shows an advertisement half way down the page...

Relevant to the discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3fgkK1J3Cs

Why is people down-voting this?!

If you shared why it was relevant to the discussion and what it was people would likely be more positive

[Spanish speaker here.]

This is a video of "La Cosquillita" by Juan Luis Guerra. I didn't know this song, so I listened to all of it. I'm completely clueless about why this may be related to the discussion.

Bad autotranslation of the lyric: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&pr... (It's difficult to translate because it uses a local variations of the spelling/pronunciation of the words. tl;dl: Someone fell in love and is "ticklish".)



We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11533926 and marked it off-topic.

Please try to keep pointless vague slurs like SJW constrained to Reddit et al where they belong.

A man who is an ambassador for mental health charities should not belittle people with mental health problems - especially not in the incredibly glib way he did it.

'It's now very common to hear people say, "I'm rather offended by that", as if that gives them certain rights. It's no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. "I'm offended by that." Well, so fucking what?' —Stephen Fry

Wow. Another self imposing post making its way to #hn (sigh)...

On to other news ...

How about #Microsoft releasing and open sourcing .NET Core http://docs.asp.net/en/latest/conceptual-overview/dotnetcore... and https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/dotnet/2014/11/12/net-core-...

(?) Where has our community gone :/

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