One Day on the Internet

In a world that revolves around email addresses and instant messages, much human interaction comes in bits and bytes. We spent a day keeping track of our keystrokes around the globe.

September 12 was a normal Wednesday for TMN staffers: lots of work to be done, and a lot of other stuff, too, in multiple locations around the globe. But since so much revolves around email addresses and instant messages, much of our human interaction comes in bits and bytes. Rosecrans Baldwin in Paris; Jonathan Bell in London; Lauren Frey, Beth Milton, Heather Rasley, and Choire Sicha in New York; Liz Entman in Nashville; Andrew Womack in Austin; and Meave Gallagher in San Francisco kept track of every click and clack during a 24-hour period—all on New York time, naturally.


12:11 a.m.

Rosecrans Baldwin (6:11 a.m., Paris): I stick my head out the kitchen window every morning to check the weather, to no avail. Six a.m. in Paris is the same every day: pitch-black and cold. No one else is up, and the windows in the courtyard are all dark, save for the health-care company at the end, where a cleaning woman has just arrived. The internet is slightly more predictable about the forecast, but only slightly; most days it rains even when my widget shows a big, fat sun.


2:45 a.m.

Jonathan Bell (7:45 a.m., London): An oversleeping toddler is a rare event, and normally one to be celebrated. But early meetings mean the morning routine passes in a messy blur. After a quick shower, it’s time for breakfast with a side order of laptop; this is a bad, but unbreakable, habit. Check email. Check weblog stats. Sift emails in between breakfast etiquette lessons. I clean up spam and dribbled cereal. There’s a CD order confirmation. A press pack for a futuristic car. Spat-out milk. A selection of images of a new house in Brazil. A memory-jogging email from TMN—thankfully. Check BBC News for the first of many, many times during the day. In the end, modern pester-power triumphs and it’s off to YouTube to watch blurry clips of Thomas the Tank Engine, cobbled together on rail simulators and toy train sets on bedroom floors.


4:12 a.m.

Jonathan Bell (9:12 a.m., London): I email Rosecrans from the train into work to stave off a deadline. Wonderful how technology can aid with procrastination, wherever you are, at all times of the day.


5:07 a.m.

Rosecrans Baldwin (11:07 a.m., Paris): A quick dash to my laptop to shoot off an email to my wife between meetings.

I am having a very bad, no good, rotten smelly day.


6 a.m.

Jonathan Bell (11 a.m., London): My whiz-bang phone has gone to the repair shop. Now my corporate G5 is rejecting my password. I am internetless for the first time in what feels like weeks. I imagine the weight of the digital world pressing against the inside of the monitor and feel my blood pressure rising. For a moment, I consider actually ringing someone to get some information, but they’ve only provided me with a website and an email address.


6:40 a.m.

Rosecrans Baldwin (12:40 p.m., Paris): Busy business day. Due to meetings, this is the first time I’ve been on the web since early this morning. The New York Times, CNN, The Morning News, Defective Yeti. I’m glad to see I’ve gotten into Matthew Baldwin’s head: Yesterday, I sent him a cover to a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” by the Chromatics, and now apparently he’s gotten hooked and sought out more.


6:57 a.m.

Liz Entman (5:57 a.m., Nashville):

A little NPR to get the gray matter going. I miss Bob Edwards.


7:40 a.m.

Rosecrans Baldwin (1:44 p.m., Paris): I would like to have fewer clients. That’s not going to happen today. Instead, I send an email to Andrew:





7:59 a.m.

Jonathan Bell (12:59 p.m., London): Working, but browsing. Browsing is work, of sorts. Check the news. There’s been an earthquake in Indonesia. Opposite me, a colleague calls her mother in Singapore; they felt the tremor, but everyone is OK. Right now, Ask MetaFilter is up, the soothing dark-green screen of other people’s complex problems. I try and pitch in every now and again, but my areas of speciality are rarely queried. I open Google Finance to check a small stock portfolio we recently inherited. The screen is an unwelcome mix of red and green. Overall it’s down. Like yesterday.


8 a.m.

Andrew Womack (7 a.m., Austin): Woke up late. Bryan and Maggie Mason have been in town the past few days, and headed back to San Francisco a few hours ago. Open laptop to start on the morning headlines for TMN. Normally this involves opening up a set of 25 bookmarks. But then an email from intern Bridget comes in with a set of links. That, plus the set she sent the day before, plus a couple that I’d been saving in a text file, finishes off the morning batch.


8:15 a.m.

Heather Rasley: Not yet fully awake, dressed, or out of my boyfriend’s bed, I double-check the origin of the opening line of Clay Risen’s piece. Once confirmed, I submit the fact-checked version to my editor via Gmail. I glance out the window to see the Manhattan skyline pushed out toward Brooklyn by a crisp, cloudless sky. I’ve taken in this view before, but never on such a clear day. I can make out the nuances of the Empire State Building tower and each distinct window on the Chrysler Building.


8:34 a.m.

Liz Entman (7:34 a.m., Nashville): I hate trying to find Associated Press stories on Google this early in the morning—they never float to the top of the Google algorithm until midafternoon. For some reason, you can’t get them from the AP website, which automatically redirects you to a randomly selected local paper that bought the story. However, there’s an AP story about diabetes drugs that quotes one of the doctors at the university I work for, and linking to the Scranton Times-Tribune or the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel won’t do—it has to be the AP page. I use my strongest Boolean Google-Fu and finally find the sucker on the sixth page of results.


8:37 a.m.

Lauren Frey: Because I believe in beginning each day with trauma, I do a survey of BBC News’s homepage. It tells me the gorilla’s on its way toward extinction. Nice one, humans. To make up for this depressing information, a cursory check of my Hotmail account reveals, “Lauren, the mystery is over,” at least according to That’s great, because I’ve been trying to figure out why I had that dream about my cousin dating the lifeguard who gets a rash when he swims, but clicking on the message shows that Kodak thinks the mystery has something to do with getting a free 11-oz. mug when you spend more than $30. Gmail’s surprisingly empty at this hour, save for one of its semi-subtle text ads promising to tell me what the coffee companies will not. I don’t understand what that means. I go brew some coffee.


9:02 a.m.

Beth Milton: I’m sitting on a comforter stuffed in a bag with my laptop on the seat of chair in an unfurnished apartment in Midtown. WNYC’s webcast says it’s sunny outside. I have no idea because the only view I have is of a dark and scary brick wall. I have 20 emails this morning (14 for work) and 11 items in my RSS reader. I’d go back to bed, except that bed is a slowly deflating air mattress and I think some kind of bug is biting me while I sleep.


21 emails.


9:42 a.m.

Jonathan Bell (2:42 p.m., London): Emails. Birthday greetings for Pitchaya. Do I want to link to a “road / motorway traffic reporting site”? Genuine inquiry, or cunning spam? I choose the latter. I read something on Kottke about the “Radiated Library.”


9:53 a.m.

Lauren Frey: The MediaBistro jobs list reveals my calling. I am going to become a Creative Catalyst. Even better, for a company called Ketchum. The homophonic possibilities are endless. I don’t know what Ketchum does, but I like creativity and am willing to get paid to catalyze theirs. Until I click on the job title and see that the gig appeals not at all, even though it would be fun to work somewhere that hosted “ideation sessions.”


10:20 a.m.

Andrew Womack (9:20 a.m., Austin): I email Pitchaya a link to the worst birthday card I’ve ever seen. That punchline hits you right in the stomach.


10:45 a.m.

Meave Gallagher (7:45 a.m., San Francisco): If you haven’t got any internet and you need information about a business, use Google SMS. Send the name of the business to g-o-o-g-l (46645), and almost immediately it’ll send you the address and phone number. My apartment is a flashback to 1987; I have to listen to the radio through the radio. There’s static. And KQED is having another pledge drive, so now they skip the forecast, and how am I supposed to know what to wear? This is the third week in a row I have elected to stay late at work so I can make use of the internet connection in peace and quiet. This can’t be healthy.


11 a.m.

Heather Rasley: Finish an overdue catch-up email to my best friend, Gina, and log into iChat for the first time today. Immediately my friend Jason IMs me with: “Why don’t you like freegans?”


11:02 a.m.

Lauren Frey: I sign on to Gmail chat, then I remember that I don’t like IM because I never get anything done when people are pinging text onto my screen, so I close out before anyone can write me. Then I check my email. According to my brain at this moment, that’s not a distraction from work.

Dad wrote me yesterday so I shoot him a line back thanking him for remembering Sept. 11. I don’t respond to the bit about how the liberal media isn’t covering the anniversary adequately. I work for the liberal media. Instead I ask, “Say, remember when you came to visit and you took apart the pipes under my bathroom sink? The pipes in the wall that were all corroded, what were they called? It’s gotten worse and I want to know what to tell the landlord when I call him and ask/tell him to fix it. The sink’s basically immune to Drano now. I love you and hope you’re having a wonderful afternoon.” It’s an explosive few lines of text sure to alter the trajectory of my life. Or more likely, of my toothpaste. Now, the ad at the top of my Gmail inbox reads, “What Type of Mom Are You?” Someone at Google needs to do some advanced algorithmic tweaking, because I ain’t got no kids.


11:12 a.m.

Beth Milton: I have now been sitting at my computer on top of my bagged comforter for more than two hours. Intense back pain. I switch to new set-up by sitting on a chair and putting the computer on large pile of boxes, topped off with my plastic tub full of toiletries. Now I can type while staring through the plastic lid at half-empty bottles of shampoo! Much better.


11:30 a.m.

Heather Rasley: Leave a happy birthday message on Pitchaya’s Facebook Wall. Then I see an update in my News Feed from one of my professors, an adjunct who graduated a couple of years ago. It’s off-putting at first, seeing her thoughts in this context, but then I read the last phrase of her Status Update: “or something.” It’s simple and everyday, the kind of thing I might say. Suddenly I feel … connected to her? Could these obnoxious, involuntary peeks into each other’s lives actually be producing positive social results?


11.34 a.m.

Beth Milton: I wish I could convey the frustration of four tabs open in Firefox, all spinning away and not loading.


11:45 a.m.

Lauren Frey: One quick look at my Gmail account before I put my computer on standby and head to Brooklyn on assignment. I have spam involving an interpretation of the word “putz” that I’m glad I didn’t know until today. Also, a legit message from a radio station I’ve been wooing, promising to let me know when they next have openings. I dash off a polite, sincere thank you before heading out into a real world that doesn’t respond to typing. I won’t be seeing a computer screen for five hours.


11.57 a.m.

Beth Milton: I email a friend about dinner plans, also telling him the email will be recorded for TMN posterity. Receive a French spelling beatdown in response. Ouch.


12:28 pm.

Choire Sicha:


12:30 p.m.

Liz Entman (11:30 a.m., Nashville): By now I have read—or at least thoroughly skimmed—15 or 16 newspapers, three news sites, and saved searches on Google News and Yahoo! News. I have so many tabs open in Firefox that I can feel my Dell’s tower as it begins to make a low, groaning, skittering noise and I briefly wonder if these things are really powered by hamsters. (Or small dragons—back in New York, I did once have a computer spit smoke and then catch fire on me. It’s one way to meet a cute fireman, I suppose. But the firemen in Nashville aren’t so cute, and you really can’t whip out the arson party trick two weeks into a new job.) I triage my pages, which helps, and kick the processor, which doesn’t.


12:35 p.m.

Rosecrans Baldwin (6:35 p.m., Paris): The bosses throw a champagne party on the roof of our building. Sandwiches are supplied: foie gras sandwiches, smoked salmon sandwiches, ham and butter sandwiches. The office is on the top of the Champs Elysées, just below the Arc de Triomphe. I send a camera phone picture to my Flickr account. Note that the weather has turned out to be beautiful.


12:40 p.m.

Meave Gallagher (9:40 a.m., San Francisco): Office manager Nellie, my best work pal, emails: “Someone has called 5 times saying he wants to talk about the war. Apparently NPR has a talk show and the call-in number is 800-989-TALK—he’s been calling 800-989-PALK. Idiot.”


1:21 p.m.

Beth Milton: Fifty minutes ago, I started working on afternoon headlines for The Morning News by finding links at the obvious sites—the New York Times, the Washington Post. Just as I got going, email from work arrived. I decided to quit my mail program or I would never get anything done; my resolve held for exactly two minutes, until I reopened Mail to check one more thing.

Then the link hunt started in earnest. There are secrets to TMN headline gathering I’m just not ready to reveal. Rest assured it provides a much more pleasant reading experience for you and involves absolutely no Filipino labor. But once I’ve collected the links, it’s time to dive into the blood and guts—or heart and soul—of TMN. Most of the time Moveable Type cooperates, and when it doesn’t, it feels my wrath. Today, the headlines go up smoothly, and at 1:21 p.m. I finally close my laptop.


1:40 p.m.

Meave Gallagher (10:40 a.m., San Francisco): Oh, awesome: The euro is up to $1.39 today, and looks to hit $1.42 in the next month. I suppose this means that the 30€ birthday present I bought for one of the kids I au paired for in Germany is a little further over the “too much to spend on an eight-year-old” line than I thought. But even though I left two years ago, she still sends me emails in rainbow font that start “Dearest dearest Meave, I miss you sooooooo much.” I am a sucker. She better treasure it. Dearly.


1:56 p.m.

Choire Sicha:


2:54 p.m.

Jonathan Bell (7:54 p.m., London): Back home. Child asleep. Up comes the email, another stat check, bounce around some referrers, soak up some memes. Realize we should be leaving Britney alone.


3 p.m.

Andrew Womack (2 p.m., Austin): While compiling this week’s Mp3 Digest, I see on Gorilla vs. Bear that Sound Team broke up. Of course, I liked them. Well that’s bad news. Still trying to find a direction for this digest.

On 20 Jazz Funk Greats I see references to Jean Luc-Ponty and Vangelis. I do some googling for Ponty and “Cosmic Messenger,” then give up. I used to have Vangelis’s Opera Sauvage, and figure I could explore something along the lines of this, but I don’t get past this ‘80s wine commercial on YouTube.

While listening to James Bond themes on iTunes, “Nobody Does it Better” comes on. I look up the video and mp3 for Radiohead’s cover of it. Beautiful song—I’d never thought what it must’ve been like for Thom Yorke to sing about getting done by James Taylor or whoever. Wondering: What about a digest all about James Bond? Cover versions? Songs about James Taylor? No, no, and no. Nooooooooo. Accidentally run across “Nobody Does It Better” by Warren G and Nate Dogg. Giving up again, I listen to “Regulate.”


3:01 p.m.

Choire Sicha:


3:56 p.m.

Liz Entman (2:56 p.m., Nashville):

I end my lunchtime surf with the Matt Lauer of the blogosphere. You can always count on Kottke for some random, interesting crap—thanks to him, I know more about typography than, well, I did before. Anyway, he has posted a YouTube clip about some guy who invented the internet. No, not Al Gore. Neat.


4 p.m.

Meave Gallagher (1 p.m., San Francisco): Jezebel, Jezebel, Gawker, Jezebel. Google Reader makes my not-working less conspicuous, but it doesn’t replace the lost time. I can’t wait for the Fashion Week nonsense to end, though. In the worst of times, I was crazy about fashion; I spent all my extra money on clothes, and all my extra time staring at myself in the mirror wondering when all the exercise and not-eating was going to show. Now if I am going to ogle pictures of strange women, I’d rather look at hot chicks like Slut Machine, rather than sulky aliens.

I am not going to get anything done today.


4:05 p.m.

Andrew Womack (3:05 p.m., Austin): See on MetaFilter that ESG broke up. Perhaps this is a direction for the Digest? A collection of stuff about ESG? I find this on YouTube, and let it rock my socks off for the next five minutes:

I check Facebook to see what everyone I know in the world is doing, then get back to the game of Scrabble I’ve been losing for the past week (click for image). Time to get in the car and run some errands.


4:35 p.m.

Heather Rasley: Check Gmail for the fifth time. The only new item is a short email from my dad:

Check out this cool new photo editing application that also has some serious implications for artificial intelligence… LNKDOD

LNKDOD is a new addition to our family shorthand. It stands for “Love ‘n’ Kisses, Dear Old Dad.” He’s been sending me links like this since I started at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. It’s great. I’m lucky. I click through and skim quickly before saving it on my account using the tags “flickr software tech.”


4:38 p.m.

Lauren Frey: Dad has written me back, and it’s not good news for my bathroom pipes. Also, I have a now-old message from the person I was slated to interview in Brooklyn asking me to please call or write him right away. Something to do with (re?)scheduling our appointment. The message didn’t come through till after I left, so I missed it. Luckily, I didn’t get blown off, but this is still why I need one of those little portable email devices. Also because it will test my mental strength when I’m, say, at the beach and tempted to check it. Otherwise, everyone’s been reaching me by phone today. It must be astrological.


4:46 p.m.

Heather Rasley: Check Twitter to read tweets by my—not friends, not contacts—“followy people,” perhaps? I only know two of them from real life, and only one of those two actually updates. Remind me why I’m on this thing, again?


5 p.m.

Jonathan Bell (10 p.m., London): I put a scattered blog post together, drifting through architecture weblogs, while stitching together scans of an old children’s book on the environment and listening to some mp3s acquired earlier (mostly so-so, although I see a spectacular Battles video). “Find” a copy of the new PJ Harvey album. Finally answer a question on Ask MetaFilter. In the background, episode one of the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm hums down the lines, and as midnight ticks by I am on a Battles download frenzy. Before I know it, it is 20 till 1 and time to turn in.


5:10 p.m.

Beth Milton: I return to the computer to send more work emails and find my dinner date is broken. Have fun creating invoices.


5:34 p.m.

Heather Rasley: When my heart is a certain kind of empty, I turn into an obsessive shopper. During my latest bout of materialist depression, I bookmarked a swarm of design and shopping blogs. Since snapping out of it, I’ve deleted most from my bookmarks, but Swiss Miss has proven to be a pretty solid read. I check it out and follow one of her links to this page. While I really want to hate these for trying to hipify what is maybe the one remaining household item that is not—and should not be—stylish, I can’t help but have an internal reaction along the lines of “OMG SO CUTE!” I go back to Swiss Miss and see this. Now that’s just plain awesome.


5:50 p.m.

Rosecrans Baldwin (11:50 p.m., Paris): Due to a dinner party after work, there is no web-surfing or internet usage to be reported besides occasional email checking. But we do bring my laptop to bed, loaded up with a downloaded episode of Entourage. Without the internet, we’d have to live without our American TV. Can you imagine? No Wire, no Dexter, no whatever-David-Milch-makes-next. Horror.

Goodnight, internet.


5:57 p.m.

Beth Milton: My dinner date is back on. Day’s total: 10 personal emails sent, 22 work emails sent, approximately 300 different webpages visited.


6 p.m.

Andrew Womack (5 p.m., Austin): I’m back, and as usual, I’ve been listening to the R&B station that plays nothing but T-Pain. I use Wikipedia to get his discography and start downloading songs and grabbing links to videos on YouTube.


6:27 p.m.

Liz Entman (5:27 p.m., Nashville): Email from my Uncle John, in Baghdad. Here are the only two sentences that matter:

We will be here until about the 14th, and then fly to Kuwait. I am returning with 2 legs and 2 arms and no scratches.


6:35 p.m.

Meave Gallagher (3:35 p.m., San Francisco): One of the people our magazine is honoring for his life’s work in affordable housing has been ailing. A couple weeks ago, his organization’s communications director told me that the man was too ill with Bell’s palsy and the effects of chemotherapy, so he couldn’t sit for a portrait. Today, I’m treated to another email, telling me that this dear sweet man has become so much sicker in the two weeks since we last spoke that he won’t be able to accept his award at the ceremony next month.

I’ve already cried for this man when I looked over the pictures his organization sent us for publication; he looked so happy in some of them, and I got all overwhelmed thinking about how we were lucky to be able to honor him while he was still alive. Now they’re preparing his obituary?

I send them the pdfs of the as-yet-unprinted magazine pages his interview is on, and then retire to the disabled stall in the bathroom to cry some more.


9 p.m.

Andrew Womack (8 p.m., Austin): Get an email from Maggie Mason: “Oh my lord, that was fun.”


9:13 p.m.

Liz Entman (8:13 p.m., Nashville): For virtual anthropology, there’s nothing better than Ask MetaFilter. People ask questions, other people answer them. I love it.


11:30 p.m.

Meave Gallagher (8:30 p.m., San Francisco): If I don’t go online in a café with a mission already in mind, I waste the entire time. I can’t fully enjoy visiting all the sites I missed during the day because I don’t like nosy parkers all staring at me watching a clip of Barbie on a teensy weensy electric chair; I can’t get down to serious business (read: illegal downloading) because I feel guilty hogging all the bandwidth, so I just sort of skim through a few familiar sites, and load some long news articles and essays to read later, offline.



Andrew Womack (11 p.m., Austin): Finish writing Mp3 Digest, upload mp3s, publish Digest, close laptop.

TMN’s Contributing Writers know where to find the purple couch. Long live the pan flute, mini mafia, and Michael Jackson. More by The Writers