Watching a webinar recently on the Internet of Things (IoT), I had the idea to think through the idea of completely disconnecting off the grid and stopping your online electronic trail. I’ll admit that this is an extreme measure that most people would not attempt as it seems impossible. Many of life’s conveniences require a connected presence that in 2016, the majority of people wouldn’t even entertain to try. What follows is what my own mind has determined is required to truly get off the grid. This is in order of the systems and devices I interact with on a daily and/or weekly basis. I’ve rated each with a personal difficulty level, 1 being low and 10 being almost impossible.
Each morning and evening (and when I leave during the day) I turn on/off my alarm system. This is a connected device through the cellular network back to the monitoring station. There is also a monitor outside the utility room that detects heat and smoke, also real time monitored. At any given time, the alarm system is listening to the devices configured within it.
In order to be off the grid, I would need to remove this system from my home completely and essentially go without an alarm system. I have yet to see an alarm system, that is marginally adequate, that works without real time 24/7 monitoring. A bad actor could potentially trigger a fire alarm while I’m not home and impersonate a first responder to remove jewelry, money, etc. from my home. Far fetched, but I’m more of a “it can happen” then a “it could happen” kind of guy.
Difficulty = 3
I drive to and from work every day. To save myself from having to carry money, I have installed an EZPass system that scans a transponder in my car and remotely charges my account. The data collected from this device: on-ramp date/time, off-ramp date/time, real time traffic polling. With that data, you can determine my average speed from on/off and potentially send a ticket for speeding. The real time traffic polling also can collect any information stored on the transponder, if any. I don’t know what is stored, but the number of the device tracks back to my name/address/etc. as well as any credit cards or payment methods in my account.
I would need to start paying my tolls in cash again to remove the electronic trail, but they can still see how fast I was going from on/off, harder to tie it back to my vehicle directly though unless they’re taking pictures of car license plates in the cash lines in addition to the EZPass lines. I could pay cash, not a huge change, just less convenient.
Difficulty = 4
Let’s face it, most people don’t work for physical cash. In order to make a living, you’ll need to get paid by a company that has access to all your vital information such as SSN, Name, Address, etc. There are also multiple mechanisms taking your money from you each time you get paid that require additional people to have and know your information from Healthcare, government, local authorities, etc.
To properly get off the grid, you would need to essentially stop getting paid via electronic means by any company that didn’t pay in physical cash. Quickly thinking about it, most jobs that pay physical cash are typically illegal or undesirable to support living modestly. My company would laugh at me if I wanted to be paid in cash, and even if I asked for a physical check (to cash to physical money), I would have to pay an additional fee to them for this service. Bottom line, off the grid means making means with physical cash, nothing electronic. Getting paid in cash for most jobs is illegal by the way.
Difficulty = 8
It’s a fact of life, if you want to watch anything other than local channels, you need network television. That involves a connected device with an internal address that is tied to your house. Each device is unique as its essentially an embedded computer. I’ve never, in the last 15 years having cable, seen this unit get updated or tell me that it’s been updated. A cable network is static to an extent as well and the IP address given can linger for days, weeks, or months depending on how often it gets reset. In my case, its been at least a year since a forced reset not counting power outages.
I would need to remove not only the cable, but the cable Internet as well to be truly off the grid. My online presence would go away essentially as any ability to go online would put me back on the grid. I personally would find this such a drastic change and shock that I could probably never do this for real.
Difficulty = 9
There are computers in everything. Cars, phones, houses, cameras, etc. Not thinking too hard, almost everything that requires electrical current has a computer in it. Even a toaster has a computer in it to properly regulate the heat and when to pop the bread up. Take anything apart made in the last 5 years and chances are there is some silicon content inside.
Getting away from computers is nearly impossible unless you move into the woods, build a cabin, and live off the land the rest of your life. Even then, if you’re out in the open, you can still most likely be photographed by overhead satellites. So, you’ll need to live underground with no visible trace that you’re living underground to be truly away from computers. I’m really starting to worry about where we are going as a species when the motto is “because we can” instead of “we can, but we won’t”. Does a toaster really need a computer? Does a light bulb really need to be connected to the Internet? Do we need a refrigerator telling us we need milk? Sometimes I miss the days where we just looked in the refrigerator and saw the milk low and said to ourselves “We need milk.”
Difficulty = 10
Brick and Mortar
Going off the grid would certainly require that you start shopping at actual stores rather than online. Everything you need will need to come from a store. I imagine that doing this isn’t that hard of a transition as this is what we did when the Internet did not exist. You can get everything at a store that you get online for the most part with “ship to store” services.
The problem lies with the fact that you’ll need to start carrying lots of cash instead of using a credit card. Each time you swipe the card, its a tracking opportunity for whomever is watching that sort of thing. Some ship to store services are online only as well, making those items off limits to someone shopping in person and paying cash.
Difficulty = 7
Your laptop/computer is almost certainly connected to the Internet. Your mobile smartphone is connected to the Internet. All the modules (WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS) all talk to the network which is connected to the Internet. You just can’t easily get away from the Internet and if you do, its to a remote location that generally has few people around. The online connected type of life has been one of the most pervasive and aggressive changes we as humans have ever faced in our existence. It’s a human experiment being run by people who have no idea what they’re doing that affect everyone that is connected.
You could live offline, it’s possible. Before the AOL and CompuServe days, people did it all the time. Watch an old move like Bullit or French Connection and you’ll see how people did it back then. The trouble with this is that everything is now so dependent on being connected that its impossible to get anything done without a lot of effort if you are, in fact, disconnected. Read any of the other topics here and you’ll see they all have one thing in common: they’re connected in some way to the Internet.
Difficulty = 8
Probably the most pervasive item on the list that would also be the most difficult to disconnect from. If you want health services, your information WILL be used somewhere during the process. Whether it’s your SSN, or full name, address, etc. You could potentially live without healthcare by going a homeopathic route or just flat out refusing medical care. We’re not the healthiest nation in the world making going without healthcare a tough sell for almost anyone. The potential for healthcare against your will (e.g. – you’re passed out) is also a real possibility, but you won’t ever have to give your name/address/etc if you don’t want to.
Here’s the rub, this is one of the most targeted industries behind banks by bad actors. You need healthcare to live longer than people did 100 years ago, the reasons why are plentiful and not the purpose of this experiment. We just can’t get by without healthcare due to the fact it’s almost forced on us to get it either through work, personally, or privately. It would be a tremendous disadvantage to do so.
Difficulty = 9
After taking a few days to put this together, I’m left with questions related to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. How long before someone decides to implant a mobile phone into our hand like in the Total Recall reboot? How long before we replace missing limbs and organs with mechanical devices like in the RoboCop reboot? Do we really need all this technology to make our lives easier? Or are we just lazy?