Millions of Americans don't use the internet at all. Some don't have access because of poverty, geography, or age. But some just never logged on. OTM producer and TLDR co-creator Alex Goldman goes on a quest to find someone who never made it online. Programming note: Take a look at TLDR -- OTM's new blog and podcast.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And now, for those of you who have never ventured online to check it out, here’s a piece from our new blog and podcast, TLDR, which brings you tales about the particularities and peculiarities of life and culture on the Internet. It’s hosted by producers PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, who reported this story a while back, about a man they dubbed the Unicorn.
ALEX GOLDMAN: I have just returned from an epic quest.
PJ VOGT: What were you questing after?
ALEX GOLDMAN: I was questing after a unicorn of sorts. I wanted to find a person who doesn't use the Internet. I read this Pew study that said that 15 percent of American adults don't use the Internet.
PJ VOGT: That’s actually a ton of people.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, it’s actually millions of people.
PJ VOGT: Huh!
ALEX GOLDMAN: Which is crazy, but then if you actually dig down into the numbers, a kind of makes sense. It's generally people who are over 65, who are low income or come from sort of a rural area. However, I sort of wondered if there was someone like that in the city, who was maybe middle aged or younger, who was middle class and just kind of never plugged in.
PJ VOGT: Right, somebody, somebody who didn’t use the Internet, not because they couldn't but because they just like didn't see the point.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, and I found them.
PJ VOGT: Really?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.
PJ VOGT: [LAUGHS] How do you, how do you find somebody who doesn’t use the Internet? What do you use?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Embarrassingly, I used the Internet. I sent an email to the entire radio station and I got an email back pretty quick, about a guy named Mike.
PJ VOGT: How were you picturing him?
ALEX GOLDMAN: I imagined him being kind of obnoxiously wealthy, living in a brownstone, wearing a tweed blazer, smoking a pipe, railing against how technology is corroding the society.
PJ VOGT: Wait, you imagine him super rich?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, I imagined him being so highfalutin’ that he couldn’t be bothered with email.
PJ VOGT: Like, he listens to everything on wax cylinders and like sends his friends golden telegrams?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes, exactly.
PJ VOGT: So what’s he like?
MIKE HALKIS: My name is Mike Halkis, [?] I own a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, a little diner.
ALEX GOLDMAN: He was a really nice 50-something guy. He moved here from Montreal. He loves Led Zeppelin. He has a mural of the band painted on the back of his diner. And he just owns a business where he never had to use a computer.
MIKE HALKIS: Everything is cash for me. I have a cash business. Cash goes into the re – register. I pay cash, everything.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Also, it doesn't hurt that he's about the nicest person in the world. People seem to really want to do him favors, anytime he needs to use the Internet.
MIKE HALKIS: If I needed the Internet, I would always find a friend that – ask them favors and they do me anything I want – find me a Raider jersey, find me a Montreal Canadiens jersey, find me a ticket, even a date, anything. Anything I want, people do it for me.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Also, there’s this:
MIKE HALKIS: And in return I do them other favors, like give them food. When I need something faxed, I go across the street to the fax place. And, of course, I give them a sandwich, they fax my stuff. Everything is great.
PJ VOGT: So you found a unicorn. Does he know about the things that he could be able to do and isn’t doing?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Actually, in spite of my assumptions that he would be proud not to use the Internet and find it to be a distasteful accoutrement of modern society [LAUGHS] -
- he was really embarrassed that he doesn't use it.
MIKE HALKIS: My six-year-old nephew, he knows more about the computer than, than I. He knows how to get in. He knows how to play his music. He knows how to play his cartoons. He knows how to play his games. I have no idea how to do that. I feel stupid. That's what it is, I – and I don’t want to feel stupid anymore.
PJ VOGT: So did you help him?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Well, I asked him to come down to the station and sit down in front of a computer with me, so I could just sort of see what he was interested in and see if I could direct him toward all the wonderful things on the Internet that he would like.
PJ VOGT: You’re a salesperson for the idea [LAUGHS] of going online.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, I wanted to provide sort of an interactive infomercial for – interactivity. [LAUGHS]
PJ VOGT: So what do – I, I’m trying to think where I’d even – What do you show him?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Well, the first thing I tried showing him, since he’s such a huge Zepp fan, was Pandora.
ALEX GOLDMAN/TO MIKE HALKIS: It's like a program that allows you to pick an artist you like and it'll try and find artists based on the one that you like. So you could conceivably just do this forever. It’s like listening to the radio, kind of, except you get to tell it that you don’t want to hear certain kinds of songs.
MIKE HALKIS: Yes.
ALEX GOLDMAN: So, it’s pretty great.
PJ VOGT: He sounds like he’s being really polite, but he [LAUGHS] doesn’t sound interested.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Well, you know, I mean, he’s a big enough Zepp fan that he painted a mural of them on the back of his diner. So I think that if he wants to listen to music, he’ll probably listen to the Led Zeppelin discography, which I’m sure he already has in some kind of hard copy format. I don’t think he needs Pandora to be recommending to him CCR or The Doors.
PJ VOGT: He’s heard of those bands.
ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m pretty sure he’s familiar with them. The sort of breakthrough moment wasn’t from me at all. My colleague Chris Neary was in the studio recording with us, and they're both sort of diehard sports fans.
CHRIS NEARY: I was just thinking how did you end up as a Raiders fan, coming from Montreal?
MIKE HALKIS: You know, in, in Montreal in the early seventies they showed the three winning teams in the NFL, the Raiders, the Cowboys and the Steelers. Well, I had to be a, a man. [LAUGHS] I chose the Raiders.
CHRIS NEARY: If you could see a play, like is there someone you would want to see old video of?
MIKE HALKIS: In 1983, the Super Bowl – the Raiders crushed the Redskins. And I made a ton of money in college, I mean, a ton!
CHRIS NEARY: Okay, so let’s see if we can’t find some highlights from it.
MIKE HALKIS: Yeah!
[SUPER BOWL SOUNDTRACK]
Oh wow, this brings back so many memories. I could stay home and watch this all day, you know that? Oh boy!
Wow! [LAUGHS] Oh, it’s goin’! Oh my God. Wow! Keep goin’. I remember it like I’m watching this last night.
PJ VOGT: So at this point, you guys are still – he is like sitting there watching you guys use the computer?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. I decided to offer him the driver’s seat because he is starting to take sort of plaintive steps into Internet literacy, and I wanted to give him an opportunity to sort of show me what he can do.
ALEX GOLDMAN/TO MIKE: You just move this over. You move the whole mouse.
MIKE HALKIS: Oh you – oh, the whole mouse moves, okay. Cool. And now, I can click and pull down?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.
MIKE HALKIS: Click and then I, I scroll down, right?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Mm-hmm.
PJ VOGT: It sounds like he’s having kind of a hard time.
ALEX GOLDMAN: He is. In fact, he was actually holding the mouse, at this point, with both hands. And I think that he was used to having a trackball and didn't understand that you actually had to move the whole object to get the cursor to move. But the surprising thing was that he didn’t really know how to search Google.
ALEX GOLDMAN/TO MIKE HALKIS: If you go ahead and take this and move it up to right here –
MIKE HALKIS: Okay.
ALEX GOLDMAN: You can search anywhere you want. So you can type in [KEYBOARD CLICKS] Plane Tickets, Montreal –
MIKE HALKIS: W – wow!
ALEX GOLDMAN: And then you press Enter and it’ll show you –
MIKE HALKIS: I'm so amazed, I can’t tell you right now.
ALEX GOLDMAN: So if you wanted to search for literally anything, how about John Bonham?
MIKE HALKIS: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
ALEX GOLDMAN: This is the Wikipedia entry. Do you know what Wikipedia is?
MIKE HALKIS: Nnh-nhn. [NEGATIVE]
ALEX GOLDMAN: So Wikipedia is like the Encyclopedia Brita - e Britannica, but it's on the Internet.
MIKE HALKIS: Things that you take for granted are so eye-opening for me right now, you know?
ALEX GOLDMAN: I think, in the end, he sees the Internet the same way I do, as sort of like an engine for discovery. And I, I guess I'm a little jealous of him, because I have it at my disposal whenever I want and, in a way, I've discovered a lot of the things that were amazing to me. He's going to get to see all of that stuff for the first time. So I guess I’m jealous of that lack of experience. [LAUGHS]
MIKE HALKIS: You know, I’m excited to find whatever I'm looking for, for myself. And, you know, sometimes when you're looking for one thing, you find another. So I’m really excited. I’m gonna look for music that – I think I’ve heard it all but there’s always something that I've, I’ve missed. Right now there’s gonna be no missing. I’ll be on the computer all night, if I have to be.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week’s show. On the Media was produced by Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman, Chris Neary and Laura Mayer. We had more help from Kimmie Regler. And our show was edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Andrew Dunne.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our Senior Producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield.