Modern Mobile Devices Suck at Being Off-Line

I have just recently given up cellular data (along with Social Media) as part of my 2020 New Year's Resolution.

Putting aside whether or not you agree with my reasoning for making such a (seemingly drastic) change in my day to day life -- this change has pulled something into sharp focus.  Something I already knew, but managed to mostly ignore until now...

Modern mobile devices (ones currently produced and shipping) are darn near useless without wireless data.  At least the vast majority of them.

And I'm not talking about access to Internet services (web browsing, instant messaging, etc.).  I'm talking about core system functionality that used to work, on mobile devices, in an entirely Off-Line way... that now requires wireless data.

  • Installing new applications is, at best, extremely difficult to do without wireless (if not impossible on many systems).
  • Synchronizing data (like text documents, contacts, calendars, etc.) is all done via a wireless Internet connection now.  Occasionally you can dig around in your Smartphone system to find clumsy workarounds for exporting data... but that's never a sure thing.
  • System updates?  Ha!  Good luck getting those when you don't want a device to be On-Line.
  • Simply the act of setting up and configuring newer mobile devices requires a net connection.

The ability to perform these basic system tasks while Off-Line, which worked well for years during the PDA era, is now just a dream.  To make this all even more difficult, most new devices don't have externally accessible removable storage (such as SD cards) anymore.

Which, from a point of view, makes some sense.  Most mobile computing devices, in 2020, are built around utilizing cellular data.  Just as I'm sure they will be in 2021.  Companies have simply given up on making disconnected mobile gadgets.  There's simply too much money to be made by forcing people to pay monthly data charges (all while spying on the user of the Smartphone and then monetizing that data).

The day of being able to plug in your PDA to your desktop computer -- to synchronize data in a secure way, completely Off-Line -- is all but over.

In reality, most people seem pretty OK with this.  The convenience of having an always on Internet connection is simply too enticing and easy.  Why worry about plugging a PDA into your computer each night when you can have a Smartphone that you never need to worry about backing up?  It's just simple.  You never need to really even think about what your computers are doing.

In my mind, this is a massive step backward.  A loss of critical computing functionality that we had all but perfected decades earlier.  We need to bring back Off-Line device functionality and wired-data syncing as a key feature of our mobile computing devices.

As I am focused on living a life free of Cellular data -- where I am fully Off-Line when out in the world, with no data service on my phone -- two things are clear (and becoming increasingly clear by the day):

1) Not having Cell data (or even WiFi) on my mobile devices has increased both my productivity levels and my overall feelings of relaxation.  The stress that being always On-Line caused, even when I didn't realize it, was fairly massive.  Removing it from my life has brought back feelings of calmness I had almost forgotten existed.
2) Using modern smartphones without that Cell data makes me want to chuck those devices through a plate glass window.  It has become an exercise in maddening frustration.

Seriously.

Even the simple act of editing a text document on a modern smartphone using the built-in software -- if you have no Internet connection -- is enough to drive a man to drink.  Is it possible?  Yes.  With a bit of work and a number of workarounds.  How is it that here in 2020, in the friggin' future, editing a text document is a complex process that is dependent on active (or at least regular) Internet connections?

It's really stinkin' stupid.

The Internet is cool, but we don't need to use it for absolutely everything, with every computing gadget we own connected at all times.  That's just ridiculous.

In the 1990s (over 20 years ago) we could edit a file on our PalmOS, Psion, PocketPC, Newton (etc.) device while on the go.  Get home, plug it in to our desktop (or laptop) and it would auto-sync.  Boom.  Done.

Secure.  No internet connection involved.  My private data wasn't transmitted through the servers of a half dozen corporations (many of whom earn their profits by analyzing our data and selling it to others).

If I wanted something to be available on the Internet, I made that choice and uploaded it.  Easy.  And it was my choice.

Nowadays, that choice is just about gone.  If you want to type a simple text document, you need to give it to Apple.  Or Google.  Or whatever for-profit, mega corp controls (and practically owns) every single thing you do on your mobile pocket computers.

This is sort of what we, as humans, do.

We invent something new.  Something incredible.  In this case, the Internet.

Then we say "Hey!  That's cool!  Let's use the new thing we made for absolutely everything in every aspect of our lives!  Even if it doesn't actually make sense!  And definitely throw away the old stuff that works really well!"

We over-use new technology -- to the point of causing harm to ourselves -- then, after we suffer for far too long, we backpedal and try to find a more reasonable level of usage.

Well, here we are.  It's 2020, and we've advanced Internet related technology in wonderful ways -- creating opportunities never before seen.  And, at the exact same time, we've used the Internet to destroy mature, well functioning technology and make life more stressful than it needs to be.

Because we're human.  And we make dumb decisions.

Now, if you'll excuse me, time to set up my always-Off-Line PalmOS PDA so it syncs with my mid-1990s Macintosh (with a nice, wired Ethernet connection, the way it was meant to be).

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