Off the Grid: Living Blind Without the Internet

Off the Grid: Living Blind Without the Internet




Robert Kingett tries to live the old fashioned way. You know, the way of 20 years ago.


Journalist Robert Kingett accepts a dare, one that at first seems simple: to adapt to his blindness without the Internet. This account is a cozy diary of battling with an FM radio, hooking up a landline phone, and the journey of adapting to a brand new way of living from someone who has never disconnected from the World Wide Web.
©2015 Synergebooks (P)2015 Robert Kingett


The Internet is without question the most impactful technological development of my lifetime. Some would argue in all of history, though I’d still go with the advent of the printing press. It is now so much a part of our lives that we only seem to realize how much we use it when it is unavailable to us for some reason. This is the genesis of ‘Off the Grid: Living Blind Without the Internet’ by journalist Robert Kingett.
Kingett, who is also legally blind, is offered a challenge by a friend. Live for a month, the month of October to be specific, without using the Internet for any reason. No Skype, email, Facebook or Twitter. No social media, YouTube or Netflix, and when you have a question, no Google.
The task is made interesting because of Kingett’s profession, his disability, his sexual orientation (Kingett is openly gay) and I would argue most strongly because of his age. Kingett was in his early twenties at the time he performed this experiment. This means that for him, being connected to the Internet has always been a normal part of everyday life. If he were my age, 36 as of this writing, that would not be the case, and he would not be going of the grid for the first time but going back off the grid to a time similar to his childhood.
Age impacts what happens to Kingett when he goes off line and it will impact how any listener views this experiment. The section where Kinget uses an FM Radio for the first time will be understood better by someone his age or younger. Someone my age or older will have to fight our head exploding at the very thought. As Kingett struggles to get decent reception on his radio, I am immediately thinking that he should wrap some tinfoil around the antenna for an assist.
The sections are short and cover many aspects of daily life. You’ll hear about Kingett’s trip to the movie theater, traveling to the library, installing a landline phone, forming a romantic relationship, normal conversation, interviewing for a job and more. Kingett also describes in some detail his first day back online, but I think an update that came 30 days later would have also added a lot to the story.
There are clear instances where not being online causes some real problems for Kingett, such as his adventure with the XBox 360, however there are some other situations where I would argue other elements were the source of his difficulty. As one example, the author tells a story about buying a landline phone that is designed for the visually impaired. The manual does not come in an accessible format and he is unable to search the Internet for an accessible version, but if the company that manufactured the phone had provided an audio CD or electronic copy in the box, it wouldn’t have been an issue. And another problem with his phone could have been avoided entirely if the phone had come with accessibility features turned on by default, which would make sense if it were designed for someone with a visual impairment. Two minor but reasonable changes on someone else’s end and the section on Kingett’s adventure with the landline looks different.
The same is true for his prospective job interview. When the subject of his being “off the grid” came up, the whole tone of the interview might have changed had he explained to the interviewer why he was offline and his plans to make it a story. While the chapter wouldn’t be as funny as the back and forth about the fax machine, it would have been just as valid in a different way.
A final example is Kingett’s misadventure looking for a missing flash drive. His argument is that if he had access to his cloud storage accounts this wouldn’t have happened at all. But I know from experience that the same thing happens to me frequently, especially with my keys or wallet, and neither of those is Internet connected. I think in his case being off the grid and looking for a flash drive made him more aware of things that are not uncommon for someone with a visual impairment, regardless of their level of Internet usage.
These examples are not meant as criticisms of Kingett or how he went about performing this experiment. In fact, they only further demonstrate a point that he makes himself about how his experience would not necessarily be typical for anyone else who may try to go “off the grid”.
As loyal readers of mine already know, I have a few things in common with the author. I am legally blind, and Kingett and I use some of the same software and devices. Based on his writing, Kingett has more vision than I do, although when I was a child I think it might have been more comparable. Our commonalities and our differences such as age is why I found the book so fascinating. I found myself wondering what it would look like if I went off the grid and how my views of the Internet differ slightly from his because I remember a time when it existed as a vague concept that I might experience one day as opposed to something that would change how I interact with and view the world around me.


As a writer, Kingett strikes a nice balance of thoughtfulness and playfulness. He knows when to take his subject seriously and give it serious comment, and he knows when it is a good time to inject humor or self-deprecation. He provides a certain amount of technical detail in explaining how things like a screen reader work for him but doesn’t get too bogged down in the explanation which would distract from his larger points.
On a more personal level, I think I would personally like Kingett. We would agree on some things and disagree on others, but that is how things should be.


This is the first audiobook I have heard narrated by T. David Rutherford. His performance is enjoyable with a good mix of straightforward reading and emotion, depending on what the text calls for. When the author is engaged in frantic conversation, he speeds his pace just enough to convey that fact. When the author is engaged in more contemplative thought, the pace slows ever so slightly.
There is one thing that I found a bit distracting. The narrator can be heard taking in deep breaths as though he thought there was a good chance they might be his last. Many listeners might not even notice without my pointing it out, but if you are one who would notice it, you are really going to notice it.


The recording sounds exactly as good as you would expect for something released in 2015. The track is free of any defect, the narration is at a consistent volume level and there are chapter stops placed exactly where you would want them to be. For those interested in such details, the track is free of any background music and sound effects.


The Internet is something that can be taken for granted by anyone, even those of us who can remember a time when it was not everywhere present in our lives. Kingett’s experiences as detailed in ‘Off the Grid’ should appeal to anyone interested in technology, media and its influence on society and popular culture, as well as anyone with a curiosity as to how someone with a disability lives their daily life. Trust me, that last group is larger than you might suspect.
If anything, ‘Off the Grid’ is a book that can easily be consumed in one sitting with the benefit of perhaps getting the listener to consider how their own lives have been changed for the better or worse by the Internet.


Off the Grid Details
Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Released Length Stars
Off the Grid: Living Blind Without The Internet Robert Kingett T. David Rutherford Robert Kingett Science & Technology 08/06/2015 3H, 24M 4/5


A copy of ‘OFF THE GRID: LIVING BLIND WITHOUT THE INTERNET’ was provided free of charge by The Audiobook Worm Adopt a Book Program from Audible in exchange for an honest review.

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  1. Pingback: Off the grid review by Random Catastrophe – Robert W Kingett

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