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Offline: What is the internet?

Offline: What is the internet?

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Paul Miller continues his offline travels and considers what the internet is.

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paul offline 1020

My sister helps take care of a 7-year-old, who recently asked "what is the internet?" It's a good question. She (the 7-year-old) thought it meant computers and phones. I remember chuckling at the expense of elders who thought the Internet Explorer icon on their desktop was the internet. Will a future generation chuckle at me while I maintain a concept of the internet that was conceived in the dial-up era? Back then, the internet was something you'd "connect" to, and then "disconnect" from when your session was over and your parents wanted you to free up the phone line and go outside for once in my life. How simple and carefree we were.

Every conversation feels informed by the internet in some way

So is the internet computers and phones now? Is it more? I've found over the past couple months that I can't ask a question without getting an answer that was checked or double-checked on the internet. If someone recommends me something to read in "The New York Times," they read it first on the internet, even if they intend for me to read it in my paper version. I can't ask for directions without someone being on Google Maps in seconds, no matter how loud I protest. Every conversation feels informed by the internet in some way, or like it will end up on the internet some way. Even when I want to tell people what I do and to look me up, I have to resort to a pitiful "Uh, just Google 'Paul Miller' and 'The Verge' and 'Offline' and my articles should show up." What else would I do? Carry around autographed hard copies of my works?

If someone tells me a website I should check out, I tell them warily that I'll look it up in roughly ten months. They look at me with pity, as if they just offered me a piece of cake and I refused to partake for a similar timespan. They didn't give me a recipe and some kitchen supplies and some flour; the cake is right here, ready to be eaten, and soon to be stale.

In a way, the internet doesn't feel like a "phone line" or the "Postal Service" or "tubes" anymore, it feels like the conversations and bills and utilities delivered over those mediums, which never remain confined to those mediums. It feels like everything, really.

Jonathan Lethem recently wrote a short fiction where he was a user of an internet within an internet, limited to 100 people and governed by a benevolent dictator. "Our leader had only two rules," he writes, "both brilliantly simple: no money, and no animals. The implications are enormous. Picture, if you will, your own Internet subject to those strictures; I doubt you can."

And he's right, I can't. I can't imagine the internet missing any arbitrary part, most of all animals or money.

In meatspace it's easier to define the dividing line between necessity and fluff

I've often wished for a metric that could measure the amount of the internet that exists only to serve and perpetuate the internet — the "meaningless" part. The ultimate example is Google, which is the high bar of internet ubiquity, and yet its primary purpose is to help you find the internet. In the meatspace it's easier to define the dividing line between necessity and fluff: some people grow food or build houses, some people teach parachuting or mix cologne.

Tim Kreider, in July 1st's issue of The New York Times, has an essay on busyness, where he differentiates between these two types of work: "More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn't performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I'm not sure I believe it's necessary."

Unfortunately for the ready-to-work boa constrictors and cats-in-overalls of the world, on the internet ostensibly nothing is "tangible." There are no shovel-ready jobs; there's not even a job site. We hold our computers and phones, and those are tangible. There are long snakes of fiber running through the earth, and those are tangible. Heat pours out of data centers, and that is tangible. But none of those are the internet.

Since I don't "use the internet," according to my dial-up definition, I'm frequently longing for my friends to "disconnect" from it and spend more time with me throwing frisbees — because what could possibly as important on this ephemeral internet that has them so wrapt? But if they "disconnected," what would we talk about? Probably about someone who just friended them on Facebook, or this great new idea for a website they had, or this well-reviewed restaurant — "wait a minute, let me look it up" — that we should hit up later. And at that restaurant we'd eat food that a chef probably emailed to another chef, and then pay with internet-verified credit cards, and then take cabs home with embedded screens flush with internet-obtained or distributed information. Or go see a movie in theaters that was delivered in digital form over the internet. And then we'd go home and listen to music we bought on iTunes at some point, or that was originated by band members who met on Craigslist.

I recently spotted a magazine cover that promised to name "100 disruptors," and I chuckled to myself (I'm a frequent chuckler, as it turns out). I instantly assumed the magazine would speak of up-and-coming internet entrepreneurs, the creators of meaningless internet remixes like Instagram and Patch and Tumblr. I'm armored with no-internet, making me impervious to those so-called disruptions, so call me when you have a shovel-ready job and keep your "disruptors" to yourself. I didn't even bother to look inside the magazine, to see if my assumption of its contents was true.

But the internet has disrupted everything

But the internet has disrupted everything, and it would be ignorant to try and cut it into infographic slices and point at the disruptor parts and the silly distractions. It would be as useful to legislate thought crimes and doubleplusgood lines of reasoning.

What is internet fluff, and what is internet marrow? What's the line between "virtual" and "real"? If it's not tangible, is it necessarily inconsequential? And how am I to know? Especially with a blindfold on. Ideas have consequences, and if an idea falls in an internet message board, and I'm not there to retweet it, it does make a sound.

But seriously, is anyone down for frisbee this afternoon?

Paul Miller will regularly be posting dispatches from the disconnected world on The Verge during his year away from the internet. He won't be reading your comments, but he'll be here in spirit.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago Dimorphos didn’t even see it coming

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Twitter
Richard LawlerTwo hours ago
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The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) scored a hit on the asteroid Dimorphos, but as Mary Beth Griggs explains, the real science work is just beginning.

Now planetary scientists will wait to see how the impact changed the asteroid’s orbit, and to download pictures from DART’s LICIACube satellite which had a front-row seat to the crash.


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The Verge
We’re about an hour away from a space crash.

At 7:14PM ET, a NASA spacecraft is going to smash into an asteroid! Coverage of the collision — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — is now live.


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Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.


Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther WangSep 26
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Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.


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External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?


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Youtube
Richard LawlerSep 26
Don’t miss this dive into Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio flick.

Andrew Webster and Charles Pulliam-Moore covered Netflix’s Tudum reveals (yes, it’s going to keep using that brand name) over the weekend as the streamer showed off things that haven’t been canceled yet.

Beyond The Way of the Househusband season two news and timing information about two The Witcher projects, you should make time for this incredible behind-the-scenes video showing the process of making Pinocchio.


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External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.


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External Link
Emma RothSep 26
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.


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External Link
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.


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James VincentSep 26
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.


Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
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The Verge
James VincentSep 26
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.


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External Link
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.


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The Verge
Richard LawlerSep 26
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.