Nightmare in cyberspace

You have a bathrobe and a computer. Your mission is to spend 100 hours with nothing but the Internet for company. The catch is, you have to eat...
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The Independent Culture
THE INTERNET as a future provider of all human needs is being tested today by four people who are going into isolation armed only with a computer and a credit card.

The volunteers, dressed only in bathrobes and housed in separate rooms, will attempt to feed, clothe and entertain themselves for the next five days. Their moods, ability, levels of frustration and happiness will be monitored by Dr Helen Petrie, an expert in human and computer interaction at the University of Herefordshire as part of an ongoing study into the social impact of the Internet.

"We are trying to find out what kind of quality of experiences people have when they interact over the Internet," says Dr Petrie. "The majority of people perceive the Internet as not a very good influence in their lives, and believe it to be socially isolating, but it is much more interactive than television.

"More and more people are getting cameras for their computers, which enables them to have a video phone," she says. "It will be interesting to see if the Internet has developed enough to enable isolated people to survive and be happy."

Dr Petrie, whose previous work has included Internet addiction, believes that the study will define for the first time whether it is possible to live by the Internet alone.

The four volunteers will enter their isolation rooms at 10.30am today and will emerge 100 hours later, on Friday afternoon. During that time they will have to buy everything, from groceries to underwear, and also try to live their everyday lives by keeping in contact with families and friends. They have a pounds 500 limit on their credit cards. CN

WRAPPED IN a bathrobe and equipped with a credit card, PC and below-average knowledge of the Internet, I attempt to survive 100 hours without any direct contact with other humans. I manage 12.

The two primary requirements are to clothe and feed myself. Get off to a fairly bad start when Levi Europe at www.eu.levi.com won't access, and Marks & Sparks require a phone call to place an order, leaving me to sweat in my bathrobe. This proves to be a temporary hitch. By midday a satisfactory outcome is achieved at www. the-clothes-store. com. I acquire two Ben Sherman long-sleeve button-down shirts, two V-necked T-shirts, a pair of Converse "Roadster" trainers and three pairs of Lee jeans. No underwear as yet, but the Ben Shermans look great.

Am hungry. On my way to the search page, stop off at Boots for toothpaste, shower gel, deodorant etc, thereby making underwear less of an issue. Shortly discover that ordering food from the Net is tricky. Most UK fast food outlets are yet to cater for the on-line customer. A chap cannot survive on vintage wine and posh coffee alone. By lunchtime, am starving and my system is slowing down badly.

Big trouble trying to order a pizza. Famous Moes is open from 5pm to midnight, but they're in Sussex, so the chance of a pizza delivery to north London before the small hours is remote. And the pizza will be chilled. As for store-shopping, Sainsbury's requires a password and PIN agreed in advance in the real-life store. In the end I find deliverance (in more senses than one) at www.tesco.net/ indexn. htm. Tesco's Internet service allows me to set up an account, buy groceries, and it ensures delivery within 24 hours. It's 3.20pm when I order. Will probably be dead by tea- time.

With the basics taken care off, I set out to entertain myself. At Netscape's Amazon Hard website cover Fiction Best-sellers (at excite.netscape .com/ shopping/books), am able to view the latest literature. In an ironic move, considering the nature of my task, I order a French language tutorial and Michael Cunningham's The Hours. These would be dispatched within 24 hours. I'll pass the time in real style if I can survive another day of ravenous, pantless boredom.

After another two hours' surfing, I wash up at movies. yahoo.com. Using my credit card and e-mail, I enjoy some clips from South Park and You've got Mail, a love story set on the Internet. Ha bloody ha.

Approaching 6pm when I find the Cyborg Casino at www.cyborg casino.com. Am ready for a night of blackjack, poker and roulette. Then I find that I lack authorisation - I do not own the computer I'm surfing on. I no longer feel as if I own my life. JD

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