By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Perhaps you’ve heard of DotComGuy, the Dallas man who shut himself in his house and says he won‘t leave for a year. Instead, he’s living life strictly via the Net. He‘s shopping, he’s chatting, he‘s entertaining virtual guests, he’s shopping, he‘s paying the bills, he’s . . . shopping.
DotComGuy. What a dork.
Not only is this a whorish stunt (it‘s all about sponsorships), but it’s been done -- back in 1996-97, when you didn‘t have Kozmo and HomeGrocer and whatnot. When it was tough. The real challenge now is to not live on the Internet -- to lead a full 21st-century life without chaining yourself to the computer.
I do so love a challenge.
Because the world is becoming more mobile, because the Internet is intrinsic to my life and yet a drain on it, and because I wanted an excuse to play with cool toys, I vowed to go an entire week handling my Net life without going near my desk -- going, in other words, online without wires. Call me “GotSunGirl.”
And I expect a lot of my Net connection. I handle my faxes and voice mail online. I haven’t seen the inside of a bank for months. Hell, I haven‘t seen certain editors for months; I work outside the office and only wander in occasionally. I instant-message, not phone; I read 15 papers a day but rarely touch newsprint.
DotComGuy has it easy.
Americans are getting more and more of their data wirelessly, through phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and messaging devices. My first task was to figure out what toys -- um, tools -- I needed to do the job.
My current notebook weighs 6 pounds, and carrying it makes one of my shoulders tilt permanently lower than the other. I liked the idea of laying my burden down, but by the time I’d collected my wireless devices, I‘d succeeded only in distributing the load more evenly: Palm VII on the left, HP Jornada 545 on the right, Qualcomm dual-band cell phone also on the right, extra batteries on the left. I wanted more gear, like the Blackberry two-way messenger, but I ran out of pockets.
Why two PDAs? Frankly, I dithered on the final choice, not unlike the way most novices wade through the PC-vs.-Mac debate. The Palm -- so cute! So many applications and games! And the VII comes Net-ready; flip the antenna and go wild. But then there’s the Windows CE-running Jornada -- the color screen! The sturdy case! Microsoft Word, engine of my existence! Besides, I felt so cool walking down the street with two capable computers on my person. I really need to get out more.
My phone didn‘t pull PDA duty. It could have, though. Japan’s going online via mobile phones, not PCs or PDAs -- 60 million folk (25,000 more each day) reach the Net through “I-mode” handsets that transmit music, photos and mail along with voice. Cute, but not available or appropriate; besides, mobile coverage on the West Coast is iffy even for voice calls, which needn‘t be as clear as data connections. Why try? a
Other than Net add-ons, I didn’t put much on the machines. The Palm gained an eFax reader and Xdrive app that handle faxes and file transfers respectively; the ThinAir client let me monitor three e-mailboxes. (The Jornada includes a CE mutation of Outlook 2000.) I also picked up a Palm Portable Keyboard for “emergencies” (say, hand cramps), and should have gotten one for the Jornada.
I dismissed some gear as needless. I wasn‘t planning a hike, so I skipped the Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. I’m not looking for a new sweetie, so I didn‘t clip on a matchmaking LoveGety or Alterego. The Jornada can play MP3s, but I have a stereo, so music playback was superfluous -- or so I thought.
One of the pitfalls of switching to new technology is that folks try to make it fill the same niche as previous technologies. I’m no exception -- and this may have doomed me. Still, thus equipped I went forth, atilt no more but feeling strangely bereft, not to mention radioactive.
There‘s a wealth of wireless Webbish services, offering everything from traffic reports to news to gaming. Many of the services I sought are familiar: Travelocity, MapQuest, ESPN, MovieFone, The Wall Street Journal. But they’re not the same. Sites streamline for wireless access, since retrofitting less-popular pages isn‘t cost-efficient and since wireless modems are still slow and flaky. The result is Sites Lite -- some good (Slashdot, Amazon) and some not (Salon). I loved the idea of waking up in the night and asking Jeeves what it meant if I dreamed about giant wheels of cheese, but wireless Jeeves is a lot dumber than the original.
Some sites weren’t available to “my kind.” By choosing PDAs for access and not an AT&T or Sprint data-friendly phone, for instance, I deprived myself of the company of allrecipes.com, a terrific site that begs to go grocery shopping with me. Such data-apartheid is like the mid-‘90s IE-vs.-Netscape browser wars, where designers chose a platform and demanded that visitors use only that browser “for best results.” Feh.