Announcing Offpunk 0.2 : What is Offline?
by Ploum on 2022-01-31
I’m pleased to announce the release of Offpunk 0.2, a command-line Gemini browser dedicated to browsing without distraction and spending more time offline.
If you are not familiar with Offpunk or AV-98, the main selling point is that you are able to read without leaving your keyboard and without having to track multiple tabs or multiple links. Simply use the "tour" feature. If you want to read links 3,4,5, 8 in a page, type "t 3-5 8" (or "t *" for all) then type "t" to read the next page in your tour.
This can be done while "offline". Running "offpunk --sync" once a day (or a week or a month) will build a cache based on your bookmarks and subscriptions that you can then access without accessing the network at all.
The main highlight of this 0.2 release is the support for https/html links. Html pages are rendered as articles, focusing on the content (similar to the readability feature in most browsers).
Another worthy feature is the vastly improved bookmark management. Bookmarks can now be saved in multiple custom lists. Those lists can be created, edited and deleted from within Offpunk. Links can be moved or archived (see "help list").
As a fork of AV-98, Offpunk was initially called "AV-98-offline" but I would be glad if you could refer to it by its new name and hashtag #offpunk. I would also highly appreciate if someone could announce this release for me on the Gemini newsgroup.
What is Offline ? A philosophical answer
The question has been highly debated on Gemini. What is it to be offline? Isn’t using something like Offpunk a cheat? Could you use Offpunk and still call yourself offline?
In 2012, the French writer Thierry Crouzet decided to spend 6 months without using the Internet and tell the story in his book "J’ai débranché" (I disconnected). It was a time where smartphones were not yet considered as ubiquitous, at least in Europe. Most services didn’t require a mobile app. Yet, Thierry ended having to cheat in someway to get some information or to handle his administrative duties: he asked his wife to check things or to accomplish tasks for him.
The epitomes of being offline might be told by Thoreau in "Walden". But, here again, the offline aspect is a cheat. Walden pound was less than one mile away from the city. Thoreau walked to the city nearly every day. He also had lots of friends visiting him.
If you consider "offline" as receiving no information from the Internet, we can safely say that it is impossible to be offline in 2022. Every discussion with your friends and family will be about things they have witnessed on the Internet. Administrations will assume you have access to the Internet to download certificates or to register to anything. Even your physician may assume you need to connect to a platform for an appointment.
For most professional lives, including parenthood, having an email is mandatory (if not having Whatsapp, something I’m fighting against). Does reading emails make you online? Even if it’s asynchronous? If this is acceptable, what about receiving newsletters? Or receiving content from a friend? Or receiving content served by forlater.email?
Being truly offline can only be achieved for a short duration (like the 5 weeks Robert Hassan told in "Uncontained"). Every single offline story I’ve read ended with a complete relapse. If pure philosophical offline is not sustainable, we need to switch to a different context. Thoreau demonstrated that being offline is not about a particular definition but about the story we tell ourselves (and others) about it.
What is Offline? A technical answer
The real problem with Internet addiction is that you know when you connect to it, often to check something particular, finding yourself two or three hours later without having accomplished anything but jumping from seemingly interesting links to catchy videos. Your brain is fed with low-quality content which has (mostly negative) impacts on your thoughts, your well-being, your mood, your productivity and your self-esteem.
Software like Offpunk may help here by allowing you to never be directly connected to the Internet. You don’t use your computer while it is connected to the Internet. This means that you only consume content on your own computer, without being tempted to check if there’s anything new. Replying to a specific email doesn’t force you to see that new emails just arrived.
Besides the "offline" command, the "tour" feature of Offpunk forces you to read new contents in a linear fashion. And when you get to the end of it, Offpunk will tell you explicitly that this is the "end of tour". Yep, there’s nothing more to procrastinate on your computer. Move your ass and do something. The command line aspect allows you not to be distracted by the design and to be mindful about what you want to do. You need to type a command, you can’t click mindlessly.
So, by using Offpunk only in offline mode, you could say you are as offline from the net as Thoreau was from the civilisation.
What is Offline? An honest answer
The technical answer can be seen as a justification. Because it is. Offpunk was initially done with only a modest Gemini network in mind. Reading Gemini was only a few minutes a day. With the expansion of the Geminisphere and support for reading https links in Offpunk, I realised that I could synchronise once a day and still spend the day reading. The warning came when my daily tour suddenly went above 100 items (I add subscribed to the Cosmos page). The main problem being that I do find the content very interesting. Interesting content is a lot more dangerous because you want to read it or even reply to it.
If Offpunk is a great tool to help being offline, it is only a tool. If you refresh it every hour, if your subscriptions bring you more content than you can consume or if you spend your day willing to reply to some posts, it could be said that you are not really offline. So, yes, the philosophical stance does matter too.
In the end, it all boils down to the story you tell yourself. Are you satisfied with your day? When I was paid to attend boring meetings and develop useless stuff for an employer, reading interesting stuff and connecting with others made my days. Now that I finally achieved my dream of being a nearly full-time writer, everything that gets between me and my typewriter is ruining my mood.
Offpunk makes it easy to take action. I’ve unsubscribed from Cosmos and I’m gradually trying to remove some subscriptions. I may unsubscribe from Antenna at some point, only reading the gemlogs I’ve selected over the months. If there’s really something I should not miss on the geminisphere, I count of you to send it to me by email.
In the end
Making Offpunk may have been only a way to fight my withdrawal from the Internet. Besides fixing bugs, I plan to stop programming for while as it is bad for my health. I hope you enjoy Offpunk 0.2 and appreciate bug reports, contributions and especially packaging (I’m really bad at packaging). I’m also hoping to have a Gemini capsule, a website (and perhaps a newsletter) made for Offpunk, with content stored in the git repository itself. I’ve seen lots of you playing with sr.ht and git hooks but didn’t manage to understand anything about them (despites having the "Pro Git" book on my desk). If you have any pointers for me that can be read offline with Offpunk, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope you all have a good day offline and/or on Gemini.