I want to write like it's 1989
March 1, 2015 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a computer that does not have any way to connect to the internet and I can use for word processing and editing. It would be mainly for poetry. It would be great if there was a way to then transfer what I'd written to a different computer. I seem to do my best writing in Microsoft Word/Google Docs, but distractions and poor self control tend to hurt my productivity. Is there a computer out there without any bells and whistles?
posted by holmesian to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Not in hardware, no. You could buy a new device and then delete the drivers for the network interface, which would then be very hard to replace with no net connection.

Or you could buy old hardware. Or you could manually destroy the NIC hardware. Or you could install parental controls but not write down the password.

None of these options will allow you to use Google Docs, by the way. MS Word is still an option, though.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 12:45 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Asking the keep-it-simple question first: Would something off this list work for you? You could use a limited "parental control" account on your computer to restrict access to only that program, requiring reboot into the full account to open a browser, e.g.
posted by supercres at 12:45 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Many laptops have Wi-Fi connectivity through a Mini PCIe card. You could buy a cheap laptop and remove the wireless adapter.
posted by teraflop at 12:46 PM on March 1, 2015

What about just removing the wireless card from your computer?
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 12:48 PM on March 1, 2015

Could you just...turn off the WiFi and unplug the ethernet? Maybe in conjunction with a really cheap netbook (do they even still sell those)?

(Or, it would still have WiFi, but maybe an iPad plus an external keyboard? There are some great apps that are designed to provide totally distraction-free writing. iAwriter is one that I have that offers such a mode, although I'm not saying it's the best option. And perhaps you could just...not install any other apps? And put it in airplane mode?)
posted by leahwrenn at 1:00 PM on March 1, 2015

Best answer: If you're looking to buy completely separate hardware, the Hemingwrite was Kickstartered a while back and has just opened up its first batch of non-Kickstarter preorders. I haven't had the opportunity to use one, but it seems basically designed to do what you're asking: be an old-school standalone word processor that then outputs to a regular connectivity computer or cloud system.
posted by C. K. Dexter Haven at 1:01 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This was what the AlphaSmart was for. You can transfer via USB. It's not really a computer, more of an electronic typewriter. There was a new one out lately (last few months) that people had been gibbering over, but I can't recall what it was called (on previw, that may be it). You can find AlhaSmarts on ebay all the time. The old clamshell Macs are also pretty good for this. There is also this stupid-complicated process.
posted by jessamyn at 1:02 PM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I can't help with the hardware, but maybe with the distraction part. When I need to focus., I turn on Freedom, because otherwise I *will* be checking Twitter within 5 minutes. It started as a Mac product but is now available for all systems.

It won't block access to any offline programs, but any that requires the internet will be off limits. You choose how long you want to go--you can turn it off for 5 minutes, or the whole day--and the only way to turn it on early is to restart your entire system.

It says a lot about modern focus that the best solution I've found to producing work is to pay $10 for a service that saves me from myself.
posted by mjm101 at 1:06 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: a computer that does not have any way to connect to the internet

Lenova Thinkpads have a hardware wireless switch right on the front edge. (The link also tells how to enable this cut-off via software.) I flipped this switch on the Win-XP machine I use as my music box just after the last official update from Microsoft.

It would be great if there was a way to then transfer what I'd written to a different computer.

I move files back-and-forth with a USB memory stick.
posted by Rash at 1:22 PM on March 1, 2015

Best answer: Oh my GOD, I loved my AlphaSmart 3000.
I found it great for first draft work, because you can't really go back and easily edit what you've written previously.
This means I just kept moving forward and burned through my daily word count twice as fast.
I wrote the first draft of my first two novels on that thing.
HIGHLY recommend; they are easy to find on eBay.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 1:55 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Okay, so I just bought one on eBay for $5; plus $11 for shipping and handling.
Sometimes nostalgia makes us do weird things.

Next I'll be buying a 286/16 and installing WordStar on it.

Most units on eBay don't have the power cable (you don't really need one, they run for days, if not months on AA batteries) or the transfer cable, but you can let the latter right here, like I just did for $3.

Complete lo-fi writing package for less than $20, which is a hell of a lot less than the Hemingwrite at $400.

Bon appetit!
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 2:18 PM on March 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

Dude, AlphaSmarts~! My first ever memoir as a 3rd grader in the late 00s was written on those things, it was a 16 page monstrosity that fervently detailed my first trip to Lake Tahoe. It was also one of the most productive tools I've ever used for writing, because you only have two lines of text to focus on and you just have to trust your flow. Ask MeFi you are so amazing, I totally forgot about them!
posted by yueliang at 2:32 PM on March 1, 2015

Lenova Thinkpads have a hardware wireless switch right on the front edge.

It's very easy to yank the wifi card out entirely on business-type Dell laptops. I did this with an old D-series in desperation and handed my ethernet cable to a friend. You just pull the keyboard out (phillips-head screwdriver required) and underneath is the wifi module which you can carefully disconnect.

But I'd suggest an AlphaSmart if you don't mind going really low-fi.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:04 PM on March 1, 2015

I'm using a Raspberry Pi for that. It is hooked up to a small monitor and runs FocusWriter. It comes with a web browser, but no built in WiFi. I connected it to the Internet, but the hardware is so weak it is really painful to surf the Web with it. I only use it to connect to Dropbox via the Browser and upload my stuff.
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 6:09 PM on March 1, 2015

I love my Alphasmart: it's ridiculously light, it runs on AA batteries, the keyboard is fantastic. That said, I did have my original Alphie (purchased new in 2010, direct from the company) die recently -- it shorted out, I think; it would turn on, but the screen was all messed up. Cost me 5,000 words. Did that drive me back to my laptop? Nope. I just went into the closet and pulled out a spare I bought when I heard that Renaissance Learning was discontinuing the product.

Meanwhile, I'm watching the Hemingwrite with interest, but I'm disappointed not only by the ridiculously hefty pricetag ($399 on pre-order, when the Alphasmart, new was $119-$159), but also by the weight. Four pounds?!? I don't want to be lugging four pounds on my back. If it comes to that, I'd take my Ipad instead. Grr.

Anyway, with full disclosure about the unfortunate self-destruction of one Alphasmart Neo, I will nevertheless urge you to snap up another from Ebay. It is the best "no distractions" hardware I've ever used. It connects to your computer via a printer cord (USB), and you can download the "Neo Manager" software to copy and paste the body of your text into the word processing program of your choosing.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 6:51 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is a little outside the box but I recently found a lot of old netbooks, once you install linux on them, cannot connect to wifi because there aren't any drivers. See this google query. If you had access to the machine before buying you could test by booting linux from a USB stick and see if it doesn't connect to wireless.
posted by yoHighness at 3:03 AM on March 2, 2015

Best answer: N'thing Alphasmart Neos. They are excellent. I eventually got over my procrastinatory habits when I started writing at a different time of day that worked much better for me, so I only use my Neo when I'm going somewhere that I don't want to take a laptop. I use Scrivener on a Mac, which is an exceptional piece of software, also highly recommended. But for cheap, bombproof, endless battery life, write anywhere type stuff, Alphasmart products are amazing.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:36 AM on March 2, 2015

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