Do I want to have internet access wherever I go?
November 29, 2007 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Do I want to have internet access wherever I go?

I'm considering getting an iPhone, so I read this question with great interest. I was struck by the following comment:

Constant access to the internet is -- and this is embarrassing to admit, as always -- sort of life-changing.

For those of you with an iPhone or similar appliance -- how, specifically, does having internet always accessible change your life for the better, and how for the worse? Everything I think of seems it could be either a pro or a con: never eating in a crappy restaurant (pro) versus wasting time reading reviews of every restaurant in a ten block radius (con), always having access to web news (pro) versus never reading a book on the bus (con), always being contactable by e-mail (pro and con).... Are MeFi's early adopters glad they did it?
posted by escabeche to Computers & Internet (43 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Trying to negotiate this balance of pros and cons is the reason I don't have an mp3 player - what kind of person am I if I assume that I, and I alone, can make the best choices for what I hear, and that serendipity should be trumped by being sated with the familiar? I can listen to my music whenever I want on my computer, which I can take with me almost everywhere as it's a laptop. To me, that's enough for now; I've discovered lots of cool music by listening to the radio being played in the minibus taxis I take to work in the mornings, or been entertained by the conversations of a seat-mate; an mp3 player would shut most of that out.

I say leave some things to chance, keep the internet at home and at work, and enjoy what fate has to offer.
posted by mdonley at 6:21 PM on November 29, 2007 [3 favorites]

Keep in mind your answers to this question on this site will be heavily skewed, as people who populate internet forums tend to really, really like the internet.

I, personally, refuse to get a portable internet device, because I want to be able to leave my crack at home.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:21 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a cell phone with internet access. It was great that one day I was lost trying to find a FedEx/Kinko's so I could ship something. I got directions via Google. I've also looked up phone numbers for restaurants via SMS on Google.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:21 PM on November 29, 2007

I carried a Blackberry for a few years, and in some ways got addicted to it. Examples - We were at an amusement park, and wanted someplace to eat on the way home, so standing in line for a ride I found a place. Always bringing up Google maps to find my way around. Instant access to imdb/wikipedia/etc for settling trivia answers or 'what was the lyric' questions. Nothing bad, just, going without it is liberating in a way. I carry a cheap prepaid that doesn't do much as far as web access these days. If I really need something, I can do Google SMS, but it's sometimes nice to NOT be always connected.

Saying that, if money were no object, I'd probably have an iPhone already...
posted by pupdog at 6:22 PM on November 29, 2007

Funny, I had the exact same thought when I read that comment!
posted by lunasol at 6:23 PM on November 29, 2007

For quite a while, I had internet (and slow internet, mind you) on my Treo 650, and I always found it invaluable. It seems like I always need to be able to look up something online when I'm nowhere near a computer, and during those times it was very useful to be able to Google things. A lot of my usage was just looking up stuff brought up in casual conversation with friends--you'll never have to sit there and wonder who that actor was, or how much a gallon of water weighs, or any of those other random questions you run across in everyday life.

I never used it to look up reviews of restaurants, primarily because I hardly ever eat at restaurants classy enough to be reviewed :)

Being contactable is nice, but as with the rest of this, it's important to be able to ignore it. The trap you describe of using it too much is one that you can only overcome yourself. It's a very useful tool and I'd recommend a portable internet device to anyone, but you have to have the self control to be able to shut the device off and pocket it again. The internet is great, but when you're out and about, there are much greater things to be enjoyed.

So in short, yeah, I'm really glad I had it, and if the $15 it cost me a month for the access wasn't needed elsewhere, I'd still have it.
posted by DMan at 6:26 PM on November 29, 2007

If I have my computer on at the house, I'll constantly look back to see if I received an email or if google reader has new updates for me.

I imagine this would be intensified if I carried the internet everywhere.
posted by drezdn at 6:29 PM on November 29, 2007

I've had a cell phone with Internet access for a couple years but didn't use it because the display was too small and dim. A couple weeks ago I got a newer phone (Samsung Sync) with a big bright display, and what a difference.

Right after I got the phone we went on a 2400-mile road trip to visit family at Thanksgiving. I had my laptop, but it wasn't always accessible (i.e., in the car) nor did I had a connection everywhere (i.e., at the relatives' house).

I was still able to use the Internet on the cell phone to do things like check the weather while on the road so that we could plan and anticipate conditions; look up Universal Remote programming codes on Google so that my partner could reprogram a remote-control for his father; and so on. It was surprising how much I used the Internet on the phone, more than I actually talked on it.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:37 PM on November 29, 2007

Also, what DMan said: A lot of the time, I just didn't look at it and it was shut in my pocket. But when I used it, it was incredible.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:37 PM on November 29, 2007

it could be either a pro or a con: never eating in a crappy restaurant (pro) versus wasting time reading reviews of every restaurant in a ten block radius (con)

Not relying on your own judgement or ever taking a chance. Con.

To me almost nothing, nothing is more annoying in my privileged, middle-class American life than people who can't ignore the often unnecessary intrusions of others (do you really need to chat with your sister for two minutes? Right now? In the middle of lunch?) And I carry a Blackberry for work. Last thing I do when I leave the house is turn it on, first thing I do walking out to the parking lot at 5:00 is turn if off.

I lurv me some internet. But where do the drunken, "No, dude, Christopher Walken was totally in that movie!" (When it was actually Rutger Hauer...) bar bets go if some buzzkill is always right there with the answer?
posted by Cyrano at 6:38 PM on November 29, 2007 [3 favorites]

I love that I'm reading AskMe while sitting in car waiting for class to begin...My personal view, like all things that one can become obsessed with, one just needs to set a limit. My iPhone provided web availability has been much more of a blessing than a burden. My greatest appreciation comes from travel resources/public transportation map access when Im in a new city. Admittedly, I use practically any other app on this thing more than I use the phone function.
posted by Asherah at 6:38 PM on November 29, 2007

My iPhone wasn't my first phone with internet so that part wasn't new. But you do become dependent on the ability to settle an argument or find out some info from anywhere. Google maps, traffic, movie times.

I was on vacation last week and there was no GPRS where I was. I kept picking up my iphone to write an email or to browse the web only to remember I couldn't get on the net. Yes it was nice to be "away from it all" but I missed being able to look up the hours of the store I wanted to visit.

What the iPhone has enables me to do is leave my MacBook Pro at home a lot more often since I can get the information I want w/o firing up a full blown computer.

The iPhone is also great for time killing like when you're stuck on a plane at the gate for hours, on in the waiting room at the dentist -- you can fire up metafilter and other sites and the time flies.

The contactable thing has never bothered me. I'm not obsessed with checking email or answering the phone. If I don't want to be bothered, I ignore it and get back to them. There are those you see that go into "blackberry comas" that are glued to the device and can't seem to move. I don't have that relationship with my iPhone. I use it when I want to do something and the rest of the time it is in my pocket. You own the device. It doesn't own you.
posted by birdherder at 6:40 PM on November 29, 2007

Once on a recent trip to Chicago my Iphone was incredibly valuable in helping with directions, finding CTA stops, nearby restaurants, museum hours etc.. It was great.

Day to day though, the most striking change it has made in my life is my ubiquitous access to Wikipedia. I must look up something at least 5 times each day. Every single "hmmm.. I wonder moment" becomes an immediate Wiki search. Friends and family mock me for it.
posted by jlowen at 6:44 PM on November 29, 2007

Having an iPhone has decreased my impulse purchases. I like being able to pull up Epinions or Amazon to read reviews on books, electronics, etc.
posted by studentbaker at 6:44 PM on November 29, 2007

I didn't give a damn for it for the longest time. I'm online a lot, but I never really thought I'd want the internet on a mobile device.

Then I got Google Maps on my cellphone. It's amazing.
posted by kdar at 6:45 PM on November 29, 2007

I just got back from an extended trip, my first with the iPhone.

It's surprisingly good at basic web browsing; the screen is a tiny fraction of the size of a real monitor, but between the high legibility and the easy switch between portrait and landscape, you can easily read most web pages.

That said, however, AT&T's data access is never very fast, the screen is just too small for long term comfort, and the awkwardness of using the on-screen keyboard makes data entry very slow. It's an excellent way to answer nearly any question you might have, anywhere you might be, and it's good as a limited time-killing device if you have 15 minutes with nothing better to do. But it's not really a computer replacement, and I didn't find it particularly addicting; it was just a handy tool, which I was able to just stick back in my pocket with a second or two of notice. (it doesn't hurt that it remembers the page you were on, so you can turn it back on and be right back where you were.) It will take you MUCH longer to look something up on the iPhone than on most computers, because of the slow data entry and limited screen space, but you can do it anywhere.

The iPhone isn't really a computer replacement, but rather a supplement; because of the various small irritations of the handheld format, you'll always prefer a real computer if one is available. But it's darn hard to fit a PC in your jeans pocket. :)

As kdar says, Google Maps is also extremely useful in a handheld, and incredibly readable and well-presented.

(The real foulup in the iPhone was not including a GPS. With a GPS, it would be the most perfect device ever made. )

Ultimately, am I glad I got it? Very much so.
posted by Malor at 6:57 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Internet on cell phones is still a little too poky and crappy* to be of much use except when you really need it, IE, looking up directions, checking movie times, or reading web pages while you're on the crapper (mobile browsing's 'KILLER APP'..lication..... er.)

Email, if done right on phones (and windows media does a great job of syncing with exchange), is awesome.

I basically use my Mobile Internet every day -- in fact, I use mobile internet more often than i make calls. I wouldn't buy another phone contract without it.

If you want to dip your toes cheaply into the world of mobile internet, check out the SERO plans from Sprint.

* true, i don't have an iphone -- and yes, the iphone browser, much as i hate to say it, does make web browsing MUCH MUCH more usable on a mobile.
posted by fishfucker at 7:01 PM on November 29, 2007

amendment: to be fair, it wasn't as cool as I thought it'd be. I thought I'd be looking up all sorts of shit on yelp, or crusing craigslist/ebay to see what was REALLY the fair market value of items, but again, most of that stuff is too much of a pain to do on a mobile right now.

However, in a couple years, it won't be, and garage-sale haggling will get a lot more interesting.
posted by fishfucker at 7:03 PM on November 29, 2007

I have a Treo and love having the internet with me. It doesn't do everything, but it can settle bar bets, tell me movie times and locations and other information when needed. It came in handy when I had to do some extended hospital sitting duties and didn't want to deal with a laptop.

Obviously, it comes down to personal preference and how connected you want to be. I don't see any cons, since you are still in control of when you want to be connected.

Is it life-changing? Probably not as life-changing as when cell phones pretty much replaced the dime/quarter-in-your-pocket for the payphone. But it's a nice to have.
posted by Raymond Marble at 7:05 PM on November 29, 2007

Gosh, you're all making ME want an iPhone now...
posted by DMan at 7:08 PM on November 29, 2007

But where do the drunken, "No, dude, Christopher Walken was totally in that movie!" (When it was actually Rutger Hauer...) bar bets go if some buzzkill is always right there with the answer?

I thought the whole point was you make the bar bet and then ask the guy with the blackberry/iphone/whatever who won :-)

I have a blackberry 8800 with all the data services and whatever, and I ignore everything but the ability to find nearby places to go / eat / see.

The news doesn't change that much, reading it once a day is far more simple and satisfying. And while I have email and IM in my pocket, I don't actually want them there.

I guess if I had an iPhone, I'd also like how easy it is to check the weather.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 7:15 PM on November 29, 2007

Oh, and FWIW, I almost never look up stuff on the Internet proper. I almost always use the business directory in Telenav's Teleatlas.

It's faster than using Opera Mini or the awful BlackBerry Browser.

I guess if I had an iphone some of that would be simpler, but I don't think my habits would change drastically.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2007

I had an iPhone. I *really* enjoyed having it in Boston where I felt like I was lost constantly. But I decided against keeping it and found myself missing the ability to just whip it out and kill time or look up something.

Now my company pays for my CrackBerry addiction and I'm back to "wait, I can find that out" situations.

I'm happy about that. Not so happy about the fact that my employer can always reach me.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:59 PM on November 29, 2007

Over the past few years my internet usage has greatly increased. At the same time I've noticed an increasing reluctance to remember things. "Oh, I don't need to know that, Google will remember for me!" I seem to subconsciously say to myself...

And now that I have Google wherever I go (aka the i<3>
Kidding, kidding!

....I hope....
posted by Squee at 8:06 PM on November 29, 2007

You can't do this with an iPhone, but being able to connect my laptop to the net through my phone has been awesome when waiting in an airport or studying in an out-of-the-way coffee house.

Aside from that, I frequently use google maps, wapedia, and the email application on my phone. They're great when you need them, but primarily, it's a phone. And the form factor matches that.
posted by SemiSophos at 8:08 PM on November 29, 2007

Huh! My cheesy "i <3>
What I was trying to say is...

And now that I have Google wherever I go (aka the i <3>
Kidding, kidding!

...I hope....
posted by Squee at 8:09 PM on November 29, 2007

Arg. All I was trying to say is that, now that I have an iPhone and Google wherever I go, it's almost as if I don't need a brain anymore.

And considering that this is my third time trying to post that, I'm now inclined to think it might be true, heh.

Sorry for the triple post. Blasted lessthanthree symbol foiled me twice!
posted by Squee at 8:16 PM on November 29, 2007

I have a Nokia with Internet access and it's amazing. Being able to check my email wherever I am is definitely a plus, looking up terms thrown out in class, finding directions with Google Maps, and yeah, going on Facebook...

I don't know if I can ever go back to a web-less phone.
posted by 913 at 8:37 PM on November 29, 2007

I owned a Treo for years but found the web experience too clunky to bother with. Now that I have an iPhone I find the web much easier to use, but I still don't use it much.

The one thing I use on a regular basis is the Google Maps road conditions -- it makes my commute less of a crapshoot.

Also I keep all of my personal email archived on Yahoo!, and it's occasionally been handy to have that easily accessible.

My work mail goes to a separate account, and I've made a point of not hooking that up to my iPhone. Getting work mail that way would be annoying.

I really haven't found a downside yet. I could definitely see where that would be a very personality driven thing, though.
posted by tkolar at 8:44 PM on November 29, 2007

My blackberry changed the way my brain works.

It is more efficient. No more do I have to remember details. Instead, it is outsourced to RIM and Google.

What is that actor's name? IMDB, no more "I think he was in that movie with whats-her face."

Who is this guy I'm having lunch with again? Oh yeah, last time we had lunch his twins were about to go into high school. I can follow up for small talk. How do I know? I saved it on his contact record the last time.

Can I have a teleconference at 4 tomorrow? No problem. Put it in the calendar and forget about it until my blackberry reminds me.

When I leave it in the car, I wonder. Did I get an email?

It is my alarm clock when I wake up in the morning, my newspaper over breakfast, and my askmefi just before bed.
posted by Pants! at 9:01 PM on November 29, 2007

I got Sprint's SERO $30/month 500 voice + all the data and SMS you can eat at EVDO speeds (around 4x that of the iphone's AT&T EDGE). It's a Windows phone which started off as the suck but once you load up a few apps it's great. Here are some things that always-on 1Mbps lets you do:

Google Maps with location sensor or GPS. Awesome. The new Windows Live maps are possibly better than Google's setup, as in faster with snazzier zooms, but I just installed this and haven't really played with it yet. It *seems* a little nicer.

Skype Mobile - VOIP anytime, anywhere. This is huge. Feel like calling someone? Just do it. No minutes, no cost.

Windows Portrait - video phone calls. This is not as widespread as Skype, but still rules. It's like Flash Gordon or something.

IMDB for when you can't immediately download a movie but are in Blockbuster and wondering what the movie is like.

Orb. My phone takes 4/8 GB memory cards but I have a couple of TBs of video and music on the home server. With Orb (and VLC if you want to do it yourself) you can stream anything you want to your phone - videos, music, documents. Copy them to it as well. Orb sits on your home network and transcodes. You control it through a browser. I also use this to grab a new ebook from my home library if I don't have it with.

Remote Desktop and VNC let me log into my server whenever. It beats booting up the laptop.

If the phone screen is too small then I can tether it to a PC and use it as a broadband modem. It's a bit laggy, but still twice my peak DSL speeds from just a couple of years ago.

Checking things like flight status and restaurants. I thought I would do more of this, but I'm finding it's usually easier to just call them. Google is rapid for finding the phone number, of course. Texting the GOOG is a better alternative for much of this, including Google searches.

With something like IM+ I am logged into six IMs at once so I finally can stalk all my friends who are balkanised across various services.

Weather and alerts.

Regarding browsing, network latency still makes many web pages take longer than they should. So I find I use RSS readers quite a lot on the phone to avoid all the banner ads and extra page cruft for as long as possible.

If you're find yourself at a loss for something to do, it's nice to be able to quickly go online to a games site, find something like Pirates or Bejewelled or Desktop Defender, download/install them to the phone and play. This has saved my sanity during unexpected waits.

Streaming internet radio is also a nice touch - this does assume you have an unlimited data connection!

And email of course.
posted by meehawl at 9:09 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm holding out for the Iimplant - the world will surely be a different place when know one knows your surfing...
posted by any major dude at 9:15 PM on November 29, 2007

meehawl wrote...
[...]EVDO speeds (around 4x that of the iphone's AT&T EDGE)[...]

Oh yeah, should have mentioned. Because of the aforementioned crapola EDGE speeds, my iPhone is less "Internet Anywhere" and more "Internet Anywhere I Can Find A WiFi Network Unless I'm Truly Desperate".
posted by tkolar at 9:57 PM on November 29, 2007

I've been on a device for a few years now.

The answer is "yes."
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:11 PM on November 29, 2007

I'll second tkolar's comment... the EDGE internet speeds somewhat self-limit iPhone Internet usage to when it's really important or you're in a wi-fi hot spot. With full bars, EDGE is usable on most sites, but slow (dial-up speeds).

The Google map feature still works pretty well over EDGE, though, and that's a really killer feature.
posted by justkevin at 11:25 PM on November 29, 2007

I have a Palm Treo that gives me internet access wherever I go. I justify this by saying I need it for work so I can access my e-mails when I'm not at the office, or so I can use the GPS + Google Maps for directions to out-of-office meetings.

Truth is, while all of this is very useful (and to some degree necessary) for what I do for a living, I really only want it so I can read Metafilter when I don't have ready access to a PC.
posted by Effigy2000 at 12:29 AM on November 30, 2007

To put this answer in perspective I have a K800i which I use mostly for Google maps, and updating my Facebook status along with checking to see if I have email when in the living room which I then go upstairs to my PC to read if worth it. I also have a MDA Vario III/HTC Kaiser which I use as a GPS device on the road and for quick internet searches on imdb etc do resolve conversational questions, and to do some basic emailing and reading Facebook. So, I obviously sit in the online all the time camp.

The advantages are huge; Thanks to Google maps and GPS I never get lost any more, even when walking between friends houses along unfamiliar routes I can find quicker ways then I would have going by my knowledge of areas, and even more useful when someone says to meet at a pub I haven't heard of before. When I used public transport to commute I also used to check train times.

On the other hand, it's easy to let it take over your life so you need to be careful - checking AskMeFi on your lunch break is cool, unless you're meeting friends who might actually want to talk to you. Reading the news online during your commute rather then buying a paper is a bonus, but watching youtube clips when you should be studying is foolish. Bottom line is you can take huge advantage of a mobile internet device, just don't get obsessed.

My personal opinion is if your spending good money on an internet device that doesn't have GPS is a wasted opportunity as that's one of the most poweful tools you can use and I don't even drive.
posted by paulfreeman at 3:32 AM on November 30, 2007

You should wait until the 3G iPhone comes out next year. OF COURSE you should have internet everywhere, at all times, but you should also make sure it's decent internet.
posted by anaelith at 6:19 AM on November 30, 2007

I don't use a cell phone with internet access. It just seems crazy to me to pay another vendor for internet access when I already have it at home or at work.

For directions, info on nearby restaurants and attractions, I have a PDA with GPS. I can use this while walking around but mostly in the car. Lots of places have free wireless internet access and I suppose I could use my PDA to surf the web or check my email, but I prefer be out of touch and unreachable.

I suppose I'm already inundated with information from work and family, so I don't see the appeal of reading the latest news. In fact I'm leaning more towards the ultimate traveling device -- the book.
posted by indigo4963 at 6:56 AM on November 30, 2007

You can't do this with an iPhone, but being able to connect my laptop to the net through my phone has been awesome when waiting in an airport or studying in an out-of-the-way coffee house.

You kinda can, but it seems like WAY more hassle than I used to have when using my Nokia and bluetooth.

Having had various phones with internet access over the last few years the biggest plus has been maps. The iphone does some nice searching integration and it's a pleasant incremental jump forward but I wouldn't call it or internet in general life-changing. I can do 95% of what I use it for by texting keywords and my zip code to GOOGL.
posted by phearlez at 8:29 AM on November 30, 2007

I love it because it stops me using the internet. Before my iPhone, if I was sitting at home reading or watching TV, I'd eventually potter over to the PC to see what's up ... and end up wasting hours. Now, I just hit Recent Activity on my iPhone, check my email and am done in two minutes.
posted by bonaldi at 10:35 AM on November 30, 2007

Regarding Apple's current speeds. It should be possible to use a WiFi Windows phone tethered and sharing its Internet connection with a jailbroken Apple Touch. The jailbreak may not even be necessary - my phone serves up subnet leases that windows XP picks up. Sprint's data service is 4-6x AT&T's, and with SERO is dirt cheap. You can also tether over Bluetooth - unsure if Apple's gadgets support this.
posted by meehawl at 12:45 PM on November 30, 2007

I have a Nokia N75, and I use it for push email, Google Maps(there's a Symbian-native version that is super fast and shows your location even without GPS via tower tiangulation) and some web browsing/feed reading. It has a podcast client, too, which I suppose I would use if I used public transportation. Another thing I use it for is to upload pictures I take automatically. There's a couple clients that automatically geotag and upload to Flickr, so that saves me from having to do a batch upload later.

Having 3G makes the web quite a bit more convenient to use on the go, and the built-in browser is nice. I can't wait to upgrade to the N95, though.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:59 AM on December 1, 2007

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