Marooned!

So you can't survive without the Internet? Try living with nothing else.

There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality...Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

One Wednesday, I holed up in my apartment— no radio, no television, no phone, no contact. Just me, my ThinkPad, and a 28.8 connection.

It was a test. A study published by Carnegie-Mellon suggested that access to the Net caused family ties to atrophy and social lives to erode. Here was the final proof that the Net was scrambling your orgones. But the subjects in this "Net Bummer" sample were all first-timers. Newbies. No wonder they were cranky— they were lost. (A writer in a recent issue of the Brit mag The Face tried surviving solely on the Net from Wales and ended up sneaking off to the pub or cowering in Compuserve chat.) But what would happen if you were a native, if you knew the shortcuts, arcades, and butt-cheap falafel joints of that electronic city? Would you also encounter the same dunning, depressive force?

For several days, my mom thought I was dead. My friends thought I was crazy or sick. The fever has another name: online.

Day 1

[Wednesday] Initial conditions: three Choco Leibniz cookies, half-gallon water, half-loaf of bread, one almost empty jar of Skippy Superchunk, one jar grape jelly, 12 onions, a block of cheddar cheese, two centimeters of Jameson

8:05 a.m. Hide the phone in the closet and unplug the radio, TV.

8:20. Read the Times, Wired.com, News.com. All the news I can think of. The "news" is barely that; quantity is quality online. "PC Sales Upswing." "Aviation Group, Inc. Announces Major Paint Expansion." If a "major paint expansion" occurs and no one reads about it, did it really happen?

9:05. I'm going to have to order food. I cruise the delivery sites: ,NYCdelivery, NYC Grocer. Nobody will deliver to Brooklyn.

9:10. Netgrocer, thank God, has no problem with outer boroughs. You choose "aisles" like "pasta" and browse images of the products. Most include long lists of ingredients: ferrous lactate, mononitrate, etc. Someone, somewhere, is entering this information into a computer. This makes me sad, briefly. I order enough food for five days (until Monday).

9:25. I'm informed that Netgrocer's delivery date is six days away.

11:00. I have enough food for two days, a third day lunch, tops. A rapidly intensifying search on Yahoo! for "restaurants" and "delivery" in "Brooklyn" offers this selection: Empress Chocolate Company, manufacturer of assorted boxed and novelty kosher chocolates; Mansoura, offering homemade Syrian pastries; Angela's Rock 'N Roll Deli.

11:15. In desperation, I send an e-mail to Angela's for a turkey sandwich.

11:25. To: Austin Bunn, bunn@feedmag.com From: Gbuono6617@aol.com Subject: angela's rock'nroll deli sorry, we only deliver locally in the bay ridge area.

12:15. More urgent searching. VegetarianDirect is no longer taking orders. KosherGrocery is also out. Pizzatogo demands a phone number.

12:51. Dominos.com— no e-mail delivery.

12:52. McDonalds.com— same.

12:53. Burgerking.com— ditto.

12:54. Wendys.com— nada. I send a pissy e-mail to webmaster@wendys.com. It bounces back to me two minutes later.

1:45. Nothing found. Starved, I stop and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Six slices of bread left.

2:30. CyberMeals! Finally I've found a site with a local joint that accepts e-mail: Amnon's Kosher Pizza (what's with all the kosher Web development?). I can move on from thinking about food to more important matters. Like porn.

2:35. I take advantage of myself in the bathroom. To celebrate.

4:00. Note to self: Where the hell has the day gone?

4:15. Online Originals, a site offering original manuscripts, has one competing for the Booker Prize this year. In all my time online, I've never attempted to read something longer than a midsize magazine piece.

"After one year of business, Flying Weasels Software of Los Cerritos, California, was rolling in non-stop dollars... He was becoming the latest computer industry success story, when disaster struck..."

— the beginning of The Jasper Keyboard, from Online Originals

Ugh. One of the Net's strange modifications of the Real World (RW): You can abandon anything without a word. No diplomacy of rejection, no awkward retreat— just type the next URL, a trapdoor opens. You vanish.

4:30. I download Walden from Project Gutenberg. Vitamins.

5:26. I'm frustrated and debate the merits of taking advantage of myself again. I keep hammering on CyberMeals, distractedly. Magically, Two Boots Pizza appears. What have I done to deserve such luck?

6:25. Food has not arrived yet. I have no choice but to call Two Boots and confirm my order. I plug in the phone. The Two Boots guy tells me, "We don't do e-mail orders." I hear my voice for the first time today— obnoxiously loud and direct. Our mouths are brutal modems.

6:45. The pizza arrives. I eat, fascinated by the Two Boots menu— the first printed matter I've allowed myself all day.

7:00. Just looked out my window, at the last bit of reflected sun. Across the way, in another house, a television is on. I can't help but feel it: appliance envy.

7:45. I download the Acrophobia app (approximately 10 minutes), a game where you play against people to invent the most ridiculous acronym inside 20 seconds. In the "Adult" section, the 10 of us playing are handed "TSIGTBP." The answers roll in: "Tom Seelak Is Going To Bone Peewee.Herman" and "Tight Sucking It Gives To Better Pussy."

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