Pleasurable Offline Computing

Computing has become a lot like an always-online monitored network multiplayer video game. It used to be like playing an offline single-player video game or a LAN party with people you know.

This is a mix of my experiences and readings about computers that strike the balance of being pleasurable for a person to use without relying on a persistent network connection.

Word processors


Brother WP-1400D editing electronic typewriter (1994)
Original image via HandWiki

My earliest memories of computing offline are typing on a hard-hammered electronic 90’s word processor in my mom’s office. This machine was barely a computer. It was a laser printer with a keyboard attached and a small inscrutable screen of options.

The feedback loop of hammering on the keys while a page full of monospace letters smelling like toner slowly inched its way out of the top was intoxicating. Files were physical handmade objects that needed physical storage and care.

.mp3 players


iPod Classic (2004)
Original model via SketchFab

I will never love a computer the way I loved my iPod video. The full color screen was perfect for playing games, listening to music, and watching loose episodes of The Office from iTunes in glorious 4:3.

It was also an offline portable hard drive full of files with a screen to see them with a little help from RockBox. Loading more media onto the drive meant plugging it into a computer at home. The magic of this device was having a tiny backpack full of files and a handful of simple ways to interact with them.

Drives and disks


USB Drive and Floppy Disk (2008)
Original image via Wikipedia

Middle and high school were bizarre times for technology in education. One of the main issues was transporting files you worked on at the school computer to your family computer at home.

The solution was cheap USB thumb drives, it felt like there were piles of them everywhere. You could boot portable applications from a thumb drive like it was a normal hard drive. Looking back on this technology, I love how we treated these like utilitarian office supplies.



Kindle - 3rd (2010) and 11th (2021) generation
Original image via Wikipedia

I got the third generation Kindle in high school and it lasted until well after I graduated college. I replaced it with an eleventh generation Kindle recently and functionally almost nothing has changed other than the questionable removal of a hardware keyboard.

My process for setting up a E-Reader is to load it up with a large hoard of E-Books and then chip away at them for years in small doses. It almost never connects to the internet and the battery lasts forever.



GameBoy Pocket (1996)
Original image via eBay

The Gameboy Pocket is the first computer I cared about. There was no internet to connect it to, it ran on batteries, and it was absolutely incredible. I can feel it in my hand just thinking about it. Pokemon Red in a red gameboy? Swag.

Again, the emphasis on portability and bringing this with you as a little kid wandering about was truly on par with walkman and iPod. I recently got a Miyoo Mini Plus loaded to gills with emulators and it hits the spot.



Vannevar Bush’s Memex (1945)
Original image via Internet Archive

“It is an interesting trail, pertinent to the discussion. So he sets a reproducer in action, photographs the whole trail out, and passes it to his friend for insertion in his own memex, there to be linked into the more general trail.”

(Bush 1945, 107)

The memex is one of our earliest conceptions of the personal computer. Hyperlink and backlink nerdery aside, I think the wonderful idea at the core is a passive offline sharing of your findings with other people. It’s like lending and sharing books, you can’t read them and talk about them and be with the person at the same time.

There is something special about a device that operates at an intermittent remove from the internet and creates a pleasurable focused relationship between a person and their files.

Bush, Vannevar. 1945. As We May Think.” The Atlantic 176: pp. 101–108.


October 16, 2023

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