Life Without The Internet

I owned my first personal computer in 1983. In those days, the Internet was unknown to ordinary folks like me, but I did use online services.  I remember belonging to Compuserve, and then AOL (America-On-Line).  These portals were terrific, although they were primitive and slow compared to today’s Internet.  I connected to them using a dial-up 56K modem, which tied up both my landline and my patience.  Despite their limitations, they had useful features like email, local weather forecasts, news, and forums.  Forums were “bulletin boards” on topics that ranged from theoretical physics to teaspoon collecting. The only audio was bleeps and beeps, except for the iconic (and pre-recorded) “You’ve got mail!” when I logged into AOL email.

Most services were text-based, as even a good dial-up connection was glacially slow. To put their data rate into perspective, I did a speed test on my current home internet connection, which resulted in a 170 Mbps download speed.  My existing internet connection is approximately 3000 faster than my former dial-up modem. 

In the early 1990s, my future wife, Julie, started her Ph. D. program in Clinical Psychology. By that time, I was a self-proclaimed expert in MS-DOS (the precursor to Windows), and so she asked for my help to configure and buy her first computer.  I was excited to score her one with a “massive” 40 MB hard drive. My current home computer system has  14 TB of storage capacity, 350,000 times more storage than Julie’s first computer!

I loaded a DOS version of WordPerfect onto her computer. She used that text-based word processor to write all of her papers, including her Master’s thesis and her Ph. D. dissertation. Using a DOS-based word processor could lead to potential problems. Late one night Julie called me in a panic as she accidentally alphabetized every word in a 20-page school paper.  That was the evening that I taught her the power of the “undo” key.

Julie had to log into the university’s mainframe computer for some of her assignments. She did this using an amazing inter-university network called the Internet.  The Web had not yet been developed, and a text-based protocol called Gopher was used instead.  I recall sitting next to her as we explored this fantastic resource.  By typing text commands, we could leave the U of I system and “travel” to other universities.  We felt like 007 when we “broke into” Harvard’s weekly dining hall menu.  That simple exploration seemed beyond tremendous at that time.

During those years, I was enamored with computing. I started to build powerful computers for specific purposes, like photo editing. There were no computer building manuals, and I had to rely on logic to see me through my construction projects. For me, computers were creativity tools that I could use to edit photos and videos, record music, and do desktop publishing.

By the mid-1990s, the U of I developed a program called Mosaic, which eventually became the web browser Netscape. With Netscape, the Internet, as we know it, was born. Web browsers were graphical and allowed people to use their computers visually. The web browser introduced the hyperlink to the Internet, a feature used every time someone logs onto the Web  Web browsers made the Internet accessible to everyone. However, the Internet of those days was very different from what we use today.  YouTube and Facebook didn’t exist, and Amazon was just a third-rate online bookseller.

I have had a cell-phone since the mid-1980s and got my first smartphone in the early 2000s, a Handspring Treo.  Other phones followed, including a Windows CE phone that was so terrible that I called it my “dumb phone.” These primitive phones were slow, clunky, and very limited in their abilities.  However, I thought that they were magical as they were so much more powerful than the flip phones that I had been using.

Time went on, and I eventually took a bite of the Apple and bought a Mac and iPhone gaining their additional capabilities.  By then, I saw these electronics as things.  They had transitioned from the miracle category to the tool category, where they kept company with other former stars, like my CD player and microwave oven.

My usage of them also changed, and more and more of my time was spent on the Internet. When I needed an answer, I Googled. When I wanted to watch a movie, I clicked on Netflix, and when I needed to reminisce, I streamed songs from the 70s on Spotify. My banking was done online, as were most of my correspondences. YouTube became my personal DIY tutor, Amazon, my shopping mall, and the NPR radio stream functioned as my window to the world.

These changes didn’t carry the excitement of those early days when I peeked into a dining hall menu plan; they just happened.  Every day I would interact with the Internet dozens of times, and I was not even thinking about it. 

On trips, I would travel with my iPhone and iPad.  Sometimes I would bring a hotspot to a different cellular network just in case my Tmobile connection failed. I could research destinations, reserve hotels and campsites, and check out local restaurants.  Wherever I was, I was always connected… that is until I wasn’t.

Curt Gowdy State Park was full as were two campsites in the Medicine Bow National Forest.  We finally found a dirt forest service road and with it a dispersed primitive campsite. That would be our home.  It was a beautiful spot that lacked all amenities, including an internet connection. 

After some initial traveling friction, all was good between Tom and me, and we were having a great time.  However, there was still an issue that had to be addressed.  Tom wanted to camp at the Echo Canyon campground at the Dinosaur National Monument, and I didn’t. The campsite was 13 miles down a dirt canyon road that the park service advised could be treacherous. “In rainy conditions, we advise a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle.” Violet, the campervan was neither 4 wheel drive nor high clearance.  Tom felt that she could handle it, but he is an adventurer, and I am a planner.

I told Tom that I would be splitting off the journey, and we parted under the best terms.  I decided to spend another night at our campsite, and my mind was already planning on what projects I would do as Tom and his son pulled away.  Instead, I was immediately struck with an immense sense of aloneness. It covered me like a leaded blanket and slowed both my actions and thoughts… I fell into a deep sleep that lasted for hours.

I woke up to a loud buzzing sound.  I had made friends with a hummingbird who liked to fly in and out of the campervan’s sliding door.  We named the bird “Frank” for some unknown reason, and I started to address him as such. His actions changed as he would fly in, turn towards me, chirp, and fly out.  His behavior made me laugh, and I felt less alone.  As Frank was flying in and out of the van I heard a thump and looked down to see that the world’s largest chipmunk had jumped into the van.  I startled and shouted, “Get out of here!” He jumped out, only to repeat this behavior many times in a fashion akin to a game. “Did I just wake up in a Disney cartoon?” I thought to myself.

I checked my phone and saw one signal bar until it quickly faded away.  I set up my Verizon hotspot, linked it to my Tmobile phone, and powered up my Wilson cell phone amplifier.  All of that effort allowed me to very slowly send a text message and not much else.  I had no internet.

I didn’t have a sense of panic or loss, but I did feel a bit bewildered as this was the first time in a long time that I was disconnected. I decided to undertake a little project, and I organized some of Violet’s drawers and swept her floor. I started to think of other ways to entertain myself, which didn’t involve a high-speed connection.  

I’m a planner, and on this trip, I brought an old-style AM/FM radio.  I pulled it down from its storage compartment, extended its telescopic antenna, and slowly turned across its slide rule style dial. At 88.3 MHz, I found KVXO, an NPR outlet from Fort Collins, Colorado, and with a little antenna twisting, I was able to get a strong signal.  I settled into a broadcast of “Fresh Air.” I have become used to on-demand programming, but it felt more comfortable being just a listener than a programmer.  I had no choice in what I would hear next, and that was perfectly alright with me.

After some time, I tired of talk radio, and I powered up my Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker.  I have a lot of music on my phone (from my pre-streaming days), and I selected a playlist of light classical music mixed with some straight-ahead jazz.  

The music played in the background as I decided on my dinner plans.  I remembered that I had a can of corned beef hash in my pantry, which seemed like a perfect gourmet camping meal.  I plopped the contents onto a paper plate and carefully sliced it into 4 “hash burger.” I set up my Gas One mini butane stove outside the camper’s door, put the burgers into a frying pan, and cranked up the heat. They sizzled, popped, and spattered as they went from typical processed food to a delectable treat.  I put half of the burgers in my Dometic 12 volt fridge and placed the other two on some Pepperidge Farm white bread.  They would be my dinner.

The evening idly wore on, and I settled into the night by reading from my Kindle.  Dear readers, I am not much of a novel reader, but I have had several books on my Kindle for many years.  I pressed a few tabs and soon was engrossed in Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation.  My eyelids became heavy, and I drifted off to sleep.

Much of the rest of my trip lacked an Internet connection, but I didn’t seem to mind.  I felt informed and entertained with those devices that I had. I had less compulsion to blindly waste hours of my time in the pursuit of needless knowledge.  I found peace in hikes, walks, and in conversations with random strangers.  When I needed information, I found ways to find it, including asking others for help.  I lost the urge to see what was happening on Facebook, and I had no desire to obsess about the day’s news story. There were no impulsive purchases from Amazon. I was at peace.

I didn’t feel less connected, I felt more connected.  I was present in my environment and aware of my surroundings.  I felt the joy of simplicity,  It was good.

Making hash burgers on my Gas One butane stove.
An old portable radio provided all of the information that I needed.
These devices kept me company. From left to right: My Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker, A very old AM/FM radio, My Kindle Paperwhite.

Traveling, Friendship, and Friction.

Some ask for permission, and some beg for forgiveness. I’m in the former category.

Some prefer the excitement of the unknown, and there are those who find comfort in planning.  I am in the latter category.

We don’t live in a perfect world, and there is no such thing as an ideal person.  With that said, most of us are happy in relationships driven by cooperation rather than conflict.

I have this “thing” when I travel, I like to have a reasonable amount of gas in my car.  This is especially true when I’m traveling out west, where gas stations are few and far between. My worry kicks in at a quarter of a tank of fuel and builds until I find a gas station.  At around an eighth of a tank, I can feel my heart race, and as the indicator needle drops further, I start to panic.  

In July, my friend Tom told me that he planned on traveling out west with his son for a vacation. Tom was working on several big projects, but the summer was drawing to a close, and he wanted to give his boy an adventure. “The hiking paths at Glacier are closed, and so I was thinking about camping in Wyoming and western Colorado.  Do you want to come along?” He asked. “Yes, absolutely,” I replied.  Violet, my campervan, had been sitting idle all summer due to the pandemic. I was more than happy to get back into her driver’s seat. 

I tried to pin Tom down for some details, but he shrugged me off.  Remember my “planner” comment from above?  Tom tends to be in the “more spontaneous” camp.  Eventually, he let me know that he was planning on going the first week of August.

As the departure date approached, I pressed for more information, but it seemed to aggravate him.  I knew that Tom was stressed, but I still needed the necessary data. “When are we leaving?” I asked. “I think around 4 AM. We can meet on the road.” He replied.

We live minutes from each other, so the “meet on the road” comment was confusing. I started to get Violet ready for the journey. I made a trip to Walmart to buy camp food.  I packed a duffle bag full of clothes. The day before we were scheduled to leave, I texted him and asked him where we were going to meet. “On the road,” he replied. “Are you serious?” I responded. “What’s the big deal?” was his comeback.

I was about to drive 1000 miles with no other information than a destination.  My mind started to move into high gear.  Had I somehow coerced Tom into inviting me to go on this trip?  No, I didn’t.  Was he upset with me for some reason?  I see Tom most days, and we get along well.  It was clear that he didn’t want to drive in tandem with me, but it was unclear why. 

My behavior in such a situation is very predictable and dates back to my childhood.  My reaction is a multi-step process, most of which happens very quickly.  First, I feel very hurt.  Then I wonder if I did something wrong.  If I did do something wrong, I try to correct it.  If I didn’t do anything wrong, I move on to the next stage, anger. I’m not a very angry person, so this stage rapidly transitions to the final stage… I call that stage, “Kuna pride.”

When I was a young child, I would try to engage my dad. For instance, when I was in fourth grade, I found an old radio in the alley.  I brought it to my dad and asked him if he would help me remove the radio’s speaker, so I could use it in another project. I recall him sitting in an upholstered rocker that we had in our living room. “Dad, could you help me get this speaker.  I want to use it for something else, but I don’t know how to remove it from the chassis.” He seemed to hover 10 feet above me.  He moved the edge of the “Sun-Times” that he was reading and looked down at me. “It’s impossible to remove those speakers,” he said and went back to reading the paper.  I knew that it was possible to remove the speaker because I had already figured out how to do it.  I was asking him for help because I wanted to spend time with him. I wanted him to value me, and I wanted him to be proud of me.

I felt hurt, then I blamed myself for not being a good enough son, then I got angry, and then I moved into Kuna pride. I took the old radio down into the basement and pulled the speaker.  I brought it back upstairs and showed him that I had solved the problem without his help.  I knew at that point that he would be more annoyed with me than proud.  I wanted him to see that I didn’t need him.  That I didn’t need anyone.  I wanted him to know that if he didn’t believe in me, then I would believe in myself.  I would not let him or anyone determine if I was good enough. I would figure out life on my own. I would find my own path. That, dear reader, is Kuna pride.

I know that it is considered wrong to be proud, but I felt that I had little choice.  If my own father didn’t want to spend 15 minutes with me, who would?  I could become the reject that I assumed that he thought I was, or I could adopt the idea that I wasn’t a reject, I was just different. Different is neither good nor bad. Being different would allow me to form my own thoughts. I didn’t need to sacrifice who I was on the fickle altar of popularity.

I could cite other examples of Kuna pride in my life, but you get the idea.  In some ways, Kuna pride has made me a stronger and more independent person.  I can think on my feet, and I don’t need a lot of external validation to do those things that I feel are correct.  Naturally, there is also a downside to such a trait; I’ll let you ponder that.

When it was clear that Tom didn’t want to travel with me, I moved through my “stages.”  “I don’t need anyone to travel.  I can do it on my own. I’m not going to let anyone determine who I am. If he doesn’t want to spend time with me, so be it. I will make this trip my own adventure” Kuna pride was now in command.

I turned on the Violet’s 12-volt Dometic fridge and stocked it with perishables.  I loaded her pantry with dry goods.  I filled a snack bag with some fruit and salty treats and placed it on the console next to the driver’s seat. I shoved my duffle bag in a storage compartment under the bed. I filled my thermos with coffee, my Hydro Flask with ice water, and placed both in the center console cupholders.  I punched in Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming on my iPhone’s GPS, started Violet’s engine, and backed out of the driveway.  

With Kuna pride, there is always some residual hurt and anger. Still, I quickly buried those feelings as I was not about to allow anyone to take anything more away from me.  I was going to make the most of the drive. 

I filled the driving hours thinking about random things, listening to podcasts and music, and making phone calls.  As I approached Omaha, I realized that my phone wasn’t charging.  I had just replaced the charging cord, and jiggling the connection confirmed the fear that my iPhones lightning port was defective.  I moved into problem-solving mode and started to search for a T-mobile or Best Buy store in Omaha.  Just then, I got a text message from Tom. “Where are you?” I replied that I was approaching Omaha, and I had to make a stop there. “We are about 25 minutes ahead of you and are stopping in Omaha, too,” came his text.  I replied, “OK.” I was not about to ask him if he wanted to meet up in Omaha.  One of the aspects of Kuna pride is that once I’m hurt, I establish a 20-foot high emotional barrier to prevent being hurt again.  I spied a Love’s Travel Stop and pulled in.  I filled up on gas and found an overpriced wireless charger for my phone and continued my journey.

More text messages from Tom started to come in, and he was acting normal.  I told you that I’m not a person who stays angry, and this is especially true when it comes to people that I care about.  My barrier wall was intact, but it was crumbling a bit.

I continued to drive with an eye on the fuel gauge and made sure that I found a gas station when the tank was at the quarter level.  On past trips with Tom, my need to fill up has been a stress point between us.  He likes to drive as far as possible on a single tank of gas; I have had to bring him a jerry can when he has run out of fuel in the past. Now I could stop for gas as frequently as needed.  There was a relief in this.  

The further west that I traveled, the worse my T-mobile signal fared. I dug around and found my prepaid Verizon hotspot. I had added a month of service to it just before my departure as a safety net.  As I said before, I am a planner.

With the hotspot connected to the Verizon network and my T-mobile iPhone connected to the hotspot, I was able to regain some connection. However, I was still getting a lot of dropouts.  The communications with Tom continued via Facetime and voice calls.  Tom asked me why I had ignored his calls before the text that I responded to near Omaha.  Apparently, my iPhone was malfunctioning on many levels. I made a note to myself to buy an iPhone 12 in the fall.   

As we got closer to the exit for Curt Gowdy, Tom told me not to follow the directions from my GPS. “There is a better exit, I don’t remember what number it is, but I’ll recognize it when I see it. I’ll let you know what it is once I find it.” I told him, “OK.” He eventually relayed the exit information to me, and I started to scan the Interstate for the sign.  To make the situation more confusing, I had to drive through what seemed like a million road construction cones.  Suddenly, my Verizon hotspot disconnected from my phone.  I reached down to power it up, and at that exact time, I drove past the exit.  A wave of panic rushed over me.  I was in the middle of nowhere, and I had no idea if the next exit was 1 mile or 100 miles away. I had been driving 14 hours, I was exhausted, and now I was sick to my stomach.  

Luckily, Laramie’s exit was only about 10 miles west, and I pulled off the Interstate.  By then, Tom informed me that all of the campsites at Curt Gowdy were filled, and he was leaving the park. “Stay at the visitor’s center,” I texted. “I’ll find you there.” I pulled into a small church parking lot and tried to figure out where I was. Tom called and told me to meet him at the intersection of Happy Jack road and the Interstate.  He might have told me to meet him on the second moon of Jupiter, as I would have had an equally good chance of figuring out how to get there. “Wait, wait, wait! Let’s meet at the visitor’s center. I can put that into the GPS,” I said.  Tom continued to push for the Happy Jack destination, and then it came out of my mouth.  You can imagine the types of words that emanated from my piehole; however, it would be impossible to convey the level of anger and rage that accompanied them. I had had it.

I was driving again and directly in front of me was the entrance to the Interstate.  How the heck did I find it?  I pulled onto the expressway and drove east.  Suddenly, the GPS announced, “Next exit Happy Jack road.” I didn’t remember programming the GPS, but that was the exit that Tom wanted me to meet him.  We connected and started looking for a place to camp.  We drove into the Medicine Bow National Forest and found a campground, but it was full.  We drove to another, and it was also full.  We found a forest service road and drove in.  We came upon a family and asked if they knew if camping was allowed along the service road.  The husband said that there was dispersed camping, but we would have to drive down a bit.  We pressed forward and found a clearing about a mile and a half up the dirt road.

I parked Violet and tried to settle down.  I was absolutely exhausted, stressed, and shaking.  At the same time, I was relieved that we had found a place to camp, and I was happy to see Tom and his son.  They came over, and we started to chat.  The first thing that Tom commented on was how surprised he was at my expletives. I acknowledge his statement noting that I was exhausted and frustrated.  At that point, Tom’s son asked me in earnest if I really did have all of my breakfast meals planned out in advance. It was clear that they had had a discussion in the car concerning my behaviors.  I don’t believe that the discussion was complementary in nature. I decided to take the high road. “People are different.  Some are planners, some are more spontaneous.  Neither position is right or wrong…” At that point, Tom butted in laughing, “It was such a relief not having you follow us.  What a pain in the ass.” My kindness button switched off.  I was furious again.  However, I knew that it would be foolish to respond to him in my depleted state. I was in no position to accurately judge anything.

The evening ended, and I went to bed, but I didn’t sleep despite my exhaustion.  Why was I here?  Why did I go on this vacation? The questions tumbled through my mind.  I decided that I would talk to Tom the next morning and tell him about my feelings. I would also say to him that I would be returning home the following day.  It made no sense to drive 1000 miles and then return home without doing anything, and I wanted to hike the park, but I couldn’t see spending the next week with Tom.

The next morning Tom had noticed that I was acting more sullen and tried to use humor to lighten me up.  I told him that I needed to talk to him without his son present.  Having a serious conversation with Tom is possible. Still, it is not conducted in a typical fashion, as he has a tendency to interrupt.  

I told him about my frustration and my plan to leave the following day.  It was clear that Tom didn’t want this, and that his comment from the night before was meant to be humorous.  However, there was a grain of truth in his barb. He told me that he was feeling a lot of stress and wanted to drive away his tension. He noted that it had been difficult for him to have me follow on past trips due to our different driving styles. He implied that he didn’t want that additional stress on this trip.  I admitted to him that it was also stressful for me to follow him.  Driving tandem was stressful for both of us, but for opposite reasons.  He noted that he was only 30-40 miles ahead of me during the entire trip and that he would have come back to get me if anything had gone wrong.  He said many other things, but the gist of the conversation was that no ill will was intended by him. He had asked me on the trip because he wanted me to come and not out of a sense of obligation. 

On my part, I was aware that I was reading his behavior through the veil of my past experiences. With the acknowledgment of our mutual stress, my anger faded, and we were just Mike and Tom on another one of our adventures.  I could feel the relief from both of us as we acknowledged how external stresses and differences in our personalities were the root causes of the friction between us.

That later fact deserves further comment.  I tend to be a planner who wants all of the boxes checked before I engage in something new.  Tom finds excitement in the unknown; he enjoys flying by the seat of his pants.  In ordinary life, we complement each other.  I have made Tom more organized, and he has made me more spontaneous.  However, driving 1000 miles in a single day is not part of normal life.  Tom said he was sorry if he upset me.  We were both happy to move forward. There is a reason that we are best friends. We are imperfect, but neither of us is cruel.  We not only like each other, but we also look out for each other.

The trip continued under the best of terms.  Will I travel again with Tom?  The answer is, yes.  How will we travel to our next destination?  Well, that is yet to be determined.

I wrote this post for several reasons, but mostly to stimulate you, dear readers, to think about points of conflict that you have had in your relational life.  Our past impacts our present. It is easy to misinterpret a person’s actions and motivations.  We are all different, and one person’s goal in a situation may differ from another person’s.  Textbook communication and conflict resolution protocols are great when you can do them. Still, when you can’t, it is OK to imperfectly resolve a problem.  The most important characteristics when moving forward are sincerity, empathy, and honesty. With these traits, a solution is possible.  If you are in a relationship that is phony instead of sincere, or one where the parties can only relate to their own needs,  or one that is dishonest instead of honest, then no actual resolution can ever be achieved. If these negative characteristics are present, then it may be best to move on or accept that you will be stressed continuously in a repeating pattern of disharmony.

There is more to this vacation story, but I’ll save that for another day.  



our campsite at Medicine Bow National Forest.
Getting ready to hike at Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming.
Touring the Wyoming State Capitol.
Sharing some hot morning tea.