VPRO Backlight

Offline is the new luxury

To be online all the time and everywhere. It sounds great, but it has its drawbacks. As digital networks are closing in, there are fewer places to be really on your own. Being offline is becoming a luxury.

Where can you be offline? For those who, from time to time, wish to escape smartphone and Wi-Fi signals, VPRO introduces the international White Spots App (only downloadable in the Netherlands).

We are connected to the internet even in our bedrooms. It’s the ambition of companies like Google and Facebook to connect the entire world, so that we can be online all the time and everywhere. This month, Google will send balloons up into the skies over Sri Lanka to provide the island state with free Wi-Fi. On the ground, more and more devices communicate through the so-called Internet-of-Things. We are going to be ‘glass citizens’ in a transparent house, connected for life to a wireless intravenous drip and traced anywhere via our smartphones. What does it mean, this shift to 100 percent connectibility of the entire planet?

A small but growing group of people is saying goodbye to lifetime connectibility. They are researching ways to keep control. What can we learn from them about life in the digital era?

If you feel the need to be in signal-free places, you can use our unique White Spots App to travel to the offline world. The app (design: Richard Vijgen) combines global data sets of all mobile telephone networks into one new world map. The network scanner visualises the invisible electro-magnetic cloud and offers a way out ‘from the hot spots to the white spots’. The route planner points the way to the closest place without a mobile signal or internet. On top of that, the user can discover life offline in 2 Virtual Reality (VR) stories, 4 photograph reports and 22 short videos.

In the accompanying film Offline is the new luxury by VPRO Backlight, broadcasted on May 8, documentary maker Bregtje van der Haak uses this app to travel to people who want to keep control of their connection to smartphone and Wi-Fi signals and limit it if needed. In Brazil there’s a beer brand that advertises with a beer cooler that blocks smartphone signals. Professor Sherry Turkle makes a case for ‘sacred spots’ without Wi-Fi and phone signals in order to give eye contact a second chance. There are also things we can learn from the Amish, a Christian community in Indiana (US) that only allows new technology after careful consideration and always adapts it to suit its own needs.

The global digital network also has consequences for democracy and the state of law. Paul Frissen, public administration scientist, pleads the ‘right to darkness’ in a world in which everything is becoming transparent and algorithms can read our minds. Evgeny Morozov feels that the main question is how to get control of our data and of the digital infra-structure. Can we mould the networks to our will or are they taking us for a ride?

With: Paul Frissen (political scientist), Evgeny Morozov (internet critic) and Birgitta Jonsdottir (hacker & founder Pirate Party)