It's a series of tubes, right?
August 20, 2010 7:44 AM   Subscribe

What is something useful that I can do through the internet that I'm probably not already doing?

I am not all that tapped in to the tech-savviness of my generation.

I prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores, to go to libraries, to read books made out of paper.

I am moving out of the country soon, and will be travelling for most of the year-- my laptop will be my connection to my family, etc.

What are the things I should know? I'm looking for little corners of the internet that make it useful. (I just found out that I can download audiobooks from my library's website, that is exactly the kind of thing that I'm looking for.)

posted by karminai to Technology (26 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Pay your bills online!
posted by fermezporte at 7:47 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Paying bills online through your bank.

It takes a little bit of time to set up - but after that? Best use of the internet ever.
posted by royalsong at 7:48 AM on August 20, 2010

Well, you can buy things online instead of in brick-and-mortar stores, and read books made out of electrons. Online banking is big, as is voice/video chat.

Forgive me, but your question is kinda broad. What kinds of things are you interested in doing?
posted by box at 7:49 AM on August 20, 2010

Well if you're leaving the country and want to keep in touch with people, you'll want to learn how to use Skype.

And possibly chat services, like iChat or Gchat.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:50 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sign up for a photo-sharing site like Flickr. Upload photos and send people the link.
Don't be one of those people who send multiple 3 megabyte photos as email attachments.
posted by vacapinta at 7:51 AM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

You might want to check out Skype for communicating back home. Also, I'm assuming you are going somewhere that you may not particularly know the language (and hence the question about what to do):

1) Read News - Get caught up on various things you care about, and some you don't:
- Reddit
- Digg
- bbc
- cnn

2) Learn a new language - various resources out there for free:
- Search Google

3) Kill time with flash games:
- addicting games
- miniclip
- armor games

4) Communicate
- Skype

It really depends on your interests. You could learn to program computers, build ham radios or even cook. The possibilities are endless.

posted by ironghost at 7:56 AM on August 20, 2010

Depends on your definition of "useful" - watch TV shows and movies online.
posted by CathyG at 7:57 AM on August 20, 2010

As you go abroad, you'll notice that when you try to access Google it will come up in a different language. It is detecting your location.
If, like many travellers you find this annoying, your answer is
posted by vacapinta at 8:04 AM on August 20, 2010

If I was traveling for most of the year, finding blogs and such that have good local recommendations on where to stay, eat, shop, etc. would be important. Google's simple "search nearby" function on their maps has saved me more than once by directing me to the nearest whatever when I was in a new place.

Tutorials. That has been my favorite thing about streaming video. Do I want to know how to eat correctly when visiting another country? I can find a video on that. I've also learned how to apply my make up better, fold a shirt, and about ten thousand other things I have always wondered how to do, but don't necessarily need to go check out a book on how to do them.
posted by haplesschild at 8:06 AM on August 20, 2010

Basically I'm looking for things that usually I do by mail, phone, or in person-- that are easy/easier to do online.

Paying bills is a great example, I also forgot to mention the Netflix Watch Instantly option for watching videos on my computer.

Thanks again.
posted by karminai at 8:11 AM on August 20, 2010

You could get a blog for yourself to upload images too and write about the more general experiences. It cannot replace the intimacy of email of course but at least using it means more people see the same thing which reduces your repetition.

posted by markx2 at 8:19 AM on August 20, 2010

Google Documents keeps your stuff in the cloud and accessible wherever you have internet. Useful if your laptop gets stolen or dies and you have to use an internet cafe in the interim.
Flickr for photo sharing. Cannot recommend this more.
Google Reader is great for keeping up on blogs and sites that you use.
My bank also has an online check deposit. Might be worth seeing if yours does. Then you can deposit money wherever you have internet service.
Skype is uber cheap. If you're traveling and your family/friends live in an area, buy a Skype Out number in their local area code. Then it's a local call for them to call your computer wherever you are in the world. Skype to Skype is free.
I also use to print custom postcards that I can send out to people. Great way to show off your photography. On that note you can also order pictures from various large retailers to be printed online at a store near your relatives. Great for showing grandma pictures when she doesn't want to get on the computer. Just have her go to [insert big box retailer] and pick up your online order.
posted by msbutah at 8:20 AM on August 20, 2010

You can probably renew and place books on hold through your library's website. Library Elf can hook up w/ a lot of libraries to tell you when books are due, or holds are in. Some library catalogue software already does this for you, though.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:44 AM on August 20, 2010

I'm pretty sure Netflix Watch Instantly doesn't work outside the US unless you tunnel through a VPN or proxy.
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:49 AM on August 20, 2010

Find a store you like. Find what size you are. Order your stuff online and never deal with shopping ever again. I know what size I am, I know what clothes I like and I don't want to drive to a mall to deal with all those people just to get some new jeans or shirts or shoes.

NYT online means no more dirty fingers, gross if you like to eat and read the paper. It's either $6.30 per week for their weekend package delivered to my apartment and I'd gladly pay $25+ a month for their newspaper in online (computer, iPad or iPhone) forms if need be. Plus the electronic one is significantly easier to carry around.

There's tons of free (and pay) internet radio.

I watch my TV online now, thanks to hulu and netflix, so I just pay $30/mo for internet and that's it. (Plus my cellphone.)

Do you still use a yellow/white pages? If so, the internet is pretty good at replacing those.

Yelp is awesome for "I'm in a new place and want to find _____ kinda of food for $__".

eBay is worlds better than garage sales, also look into Craig's List.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:56 AM on August 20, 2010

You should spend the $25/year and go with a Flickr Pro Account... because then you can upload ALL of your originals, at full resolution. With the upload tools, you can make them private by default.

Viola... off site storage, with easy sharing of the few you chose to make public.

I assume you have a Gmail or similar web based email account to keep in touch with.
posted by MikeWarot at 9:08 AM on August 20, 2010

Perhaps this is too obvious, but you can book all sorts of tickets online: travel tickets for air and train travel, event tickets for the cinema, concerts and theatres, et cetera. Depending on the system used you can pick up these tickets somewhere, get them posted out to you, or print out a ticket.
posted by Jabberwocky at 9:52 AM on August 20, 2010

I use my Dropbox folder as my My Documents folder, so all of my documents and pictures are backed up whenever I make changes to them, and I can access them all at any computer with an internet connection. I'm terrible at remembering to manually back up my files, so this is a great option for me.
posted by emilyd22222 at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2010

Listen to NPR shows or your favorite local public radio stations online.

I like to virtual visit museums lots of good stuff to be found.
posted by ljesse at 10:32 AM on August 20, 2010

FWIW I'm the most technically savvy luddite ever; for five years I refused to use the camera feature on my cell phone because a phone is for phoning and you take photos with a camera.

So it took a long time for me to stop ignoring it but yeah - Skype. Skype is pretty cool and you can make phone calls from all over the world with it.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:19 PM on August 20, 2010

I've been getting my period for 20 years next month (oh my god!), and I've never been disciplined enough to track it regularly until I found a couple years ago. It's a really simple little thing, but it's one of my favorite things about the internet. And it makes my period one less thing I have to think about until 2 days before when I get a reminder email.
posted by AlisonM at 1:28 PM on August 20, 2010

Use it as a reference tool. There are loads of free online dictionaries, thesauri, etc which are great for those 'what's another word for _' moments when you're in the middle of writing something and the bookshelf is across the room.
Since you have found your library's website already, you might like to see what links and databases they have, they will probably subscribe to some good quality online reference resources.
posted by k_tron at 2:16 PM on August 20, 2010

During my several years of living abroad - gift shopping.

When Christmas or my friends' or family's birthdays were approaching I would seach for appropriate gifts on Amazon, or other websites in my home country, pay the little extra for the gift to be wrapped, and have it sent direct to them. As long as you take the trouble to select something personal and thoughful, the fact that your hands haven't actually touched and wrapped it doesn't really matter.

To give them ideas of what I might like when I was far away and not in living life side by side - I maintained an Amazon wishlist (now even better with the universal wishlist feature), which also gives them easy and simple international shipping.

Very useful in both directions.
posted by alicegoldie at 2:49 PM on August 20, 2010

Between Google Calendar and Remember the Milk, I remember to go places, start tasks, and pay bills. The wall calendar never really cut it here.
posted by dragonplayer at 5:59 PM on August 20, 2010

Reserve movies at a Redbox near you. I do this and I LOVE it!

On the Redbox site, you can find what movies are in stock, and if one interests you, you can find out if it's available at a Redbox nearby. You can reserve it too. Then, when you go to the Redbox to pick it up, just slide in your credit card and out comes your movie.

I loved the idea of Redbox, but I hated searching for a movie on that arcade-game looking thing only to find out there's nothing left that interests me. Now, I find movies at home and KNOW the movie is there and waiting for me. Their website isn't very good, admittedly, but using it to reserve movies is really slick.

Buhbye Blockbuster. I haven't stepped foot in one of their stores since I discovered Redbox (and their website).
posted by 2oh1 at 10:59 PM on August 22, 2010

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