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living off the gridI have never owned a computer, or a laptop or a notebook or an iPad or an iPhone or smartphone, and the only technology I have in my apartment is a TV set. Yes, I am a news junkie and I like my CNN and I like my MTV and I like all my local TV channels in Taiwan, too, even though I cannot  understand a word of what the newscasters are saying in Mandarin.

But back to those things that connect us. I have never owned any kind of computer and never will. For the past two years, ever since I lost my cellphone on a bus during a trip to Taipei, I have gone without a cellphone, and of course, I don’t have a landline either. But I can reach everyone I need to reach by email and they can reach me. How am I writing this piece, you ask?

My personal way of the world — the way of tao? — is to limit my computer use to the times I go into a local Internet cafe, put a few coins into the machine and start emailing away. Also surfing and searching and Googling and blogging and writing like this. I do everything in a variety of Internet cafes in my small city in southern Taiwan, and when I am in one neighborhood, I use that Internet cafe, and when I am in another part of town and need to send a message or check my email or write something down, I go to different Internet cafe. This way, I am only connected when I choose to be connected. When I go home in the evening, after a long day living the life of a freelance writer and ESL conversation teacher for college students in Taiwan, there’s no computer, no cellphone, no iPad. But yes, the TV is always on. Like I said, I’m a news junkie and CNN International is my favorite channel in the world: Christiane Amanpour, Fareed Zakaria, Andrew Stevens, Atika Shubert, Richard Quest, these are my talking heads.

When I am at home, I cannot email out nor receive incoming emails. I like it this way. I have always lived a home life this way. But of course, I love these gadgets that I don’t own and use them whenever I can when I am out and about around town. In the morning, when I wake up, I watch CNN for a while while eating breakfast and writing some “to do” notes in my paper notebook, and then I rush off on my bicycle — I also don’t own any kind of gas-powered or electric-powered vehicle and never have for 20 years — to the nearby Internet cafe, about ten minutes from my
lobby door. And I am in heaven, yes, happy to be in touch with the outside world again, chatting with editors in New York and Tokyo and Taipei and London about freelance assignments, emailing to friends and acquaintances and answering all the emails that come in to my inbox.

I answer all my mail. It’s my nature. You email me, I should answer you.  Then again, I don’t get that many emails every day: some days I get three emails, just three. Other days, I might 15. But I never have 300 emails in my inbox. I’m a simple man with a simple lifestyle. And I like this way: I’m a very happy camper.

Now I don’t suggest that everyone — or anyone! — follow my example. This all works for me, and I like it. But I realize other people like being connected all the time and that’s cool, too. Me, while I am not a luddite or even a neo-luddite, I was born to be disconnected. I get more work done this way.

I told Nicholas Carr and William Powers about this and they said “bravo” to me. It’s not for them, of course, and it’s not for everyone, but there’s a method to be madness and I’d suggest you try it sometime, if only as a thought experiment.

I do read newspapers online everyday and I do depend on the Internet as my lifeline to the Western world. Life in Asia is wonderful, and I love it here, but I like to know what’s going on in the USA and Europe, in Africa and South America. Asia? Well, I am right in the middle of Asia and the news is all around me. I don’t need the Internet to smell the “cho dofu.” (Look it up! Delicious! Hint: fermented tofu.)

 
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