OK, here’s the scenario: A storm plows through your hometown, knocking out the electricity. Your lights go out, and with it your Wi-Fi. Your laptop, still charged, is without Internet.
The local cell networks are both degraded by the weather and instantly overloaded as thousands of people around you call their friends and family to ask, “Hey, did your power just go out? You OK?”
Your phone is getting service, but just barely. Calls are patchy. 3G and 4G Internet aren’t working at all, so neither are your apps. All you can depend on is the most resilient, and limited, feature of your cell service: text messages.
The Washington Post has a great post up about how to use Twitter, which was originally a text-based service, without Internet access. But there’s a lot more you can do with SMS—from Twitter and Facebook to email and search. Here’s how to access the Internet without the Internet:
You can still use Google even if all you have is SMS access. Just add 466453 (GOOGLE) to your phonebook, then text to it as if you’re searching.
Here’s something you may not have known about your phone number: It has an e-mail address. Almost every carrier operates what’s called an e-mail gateway, meaning that you can send and receive e-mails via text.
Here’s how to figure out your phone’s e-mail address:
If you’re on Verizon, it’s email@example.com (as in firstname.lastname@example.org), or if that doesn’t work, email@example.com
If you’re on AT&T, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org, or if that doesn’t work email@example.com
If you’re on Sprint, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re on T-Mobile, it’s email@example.com
(For other carriers, or to troubleshoot yours, check here.)
Now, to receive your e-mail via SMS, you’ll need to forward it to your gateway address: Most e-mail services offer this for free in the settings page. Here’s how to do it in Gmail, for example. You’ll have to turn this on before you lose Internet access. So, like, now.
If this doesn’t work, and in my experience it may not, depending on your carrier and e-mail provider, you can try an automated forwarding service such as TXTJet.
To send e-mails via text, you can usually just enter an e-mail address instead of a phone number. These same e-mail gateways work in reverse, meaning you can either respond directly to messages forwarded through the gateway or send a new message by entering “firstname.lastname@example.org” in the recipient box in your texting app. This works on many older phones, too, though typing out email addresses on a T9 keypad will be a chore.
It’s not the most graceful process, but it works.
You can do almost anything on Twitter via SMS, which, if you’re interested, you can read about here. But in the event of an outage, there are really only two Twitter SMS features you’ll need.
To get simple updates from any account, set up an SMS Fast Follow. This does not require your Twitter account, and will keep your text volume low. Just send “Follow [username]” to 40404. (No @ symbol required.) This will let you receive updates from important accounts, but won’t let you post. Some suggestions and example for Fast Follows, though yours will be location-specific:
To post to Twitter, follow these instructions from Twitter’s FAQ:
How to add your phone to your existing Twitter account via SMS:
-Send a text to your Twitter code  with the word START.
-We’ll reply and ask you to text YES to the Twitter short code.
-Text your username to the same number. Do not use the @ symbol or quotation marks. Send your username ONLY. For example: larrybird
-Next, text your password. This is case sensitive, so be sure you are sending your password correctly.
-That’s it! You’re ready to go!
You account can now be used with the whole range of Twitter text commands, found here. A few important ones:
ON: turns ALL your authorized Twitter updates and notifications on.
OFF: turns ALL phone notifications off.
Otherwise, anything you send to 40404 will be posted from your account. (These instructions only work for Verizon, AT&T, and affiliated MVNOs.)
This used to be more functional, but you can still have Facebook forward you notifications and private messages via SMS, as well as post status updates. You can also respond to private messages, which is potentially valuable if you don’t have someone’s phone number but happen to be Facebook friends.
To activate Facebook via SMS, go to your Facebook account settings and click “Mobile” on the left side of the page. Turn on Facebook Message forwarding and Notifications. (You can customize which ones get through in a submenu.)
Once this is set up, you can also post a status update by texting it to 32665 (FBOOK).
The release of a new generation of video game consoles has traditionally meant the promise of new, previously impossible kinds of video games. The jump from 16- to 32- and 64-bit consoles made possible three-dimensional game worlds. The next generation made possible the expansion of these worlds to impressive scale and the furnishing of these worlds with outrageous amounts of detail (think about the difference between Mario 64 and Grand Theft Auto 3). And though the last jump, to the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, took some time, it ultimately enabled the painting of these worlds with staggeringly lifelike texture and cinematic quality (think about the difference between GTA 3 and GTA 4, or the Mass Effect series).
Now that the announcement of Microsoft’s new system, the Xbox One, has come and gone, we know the contours of the next generation, the first in eight years. The new machines from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are wildly different, but they are all ostensibly game systems, and this may very well be the last time these three companies release new systems within a year of one another. In other words, this may be the last console generation, as such. And for the first time in their thirty-year history, game consoles are no longer about presenting new kinds of games to consumers.
That was most obvious on Tuesday, when Microsoft revealed its new consumer electronics device, and I hesitate to call the thing a game console, any more than I’d call a tricked-out PC a game console. It is an impressive device that does a lot of interesting things, and it looks like it belongs on a sideboard, and it is certainly a much more versatile and ambitious device than Sony’s PlayStation 4. But, the very first thing that Microsoft decided to show about the Xbox One, their lead, the thing they were most proud of about their “game console”, was the fact that you can verbally order it to watch television. The second thing, I believe, was that you can use your hands to make the display smaller. The third had to do with Skype.
Microsoft announced at the event that they had eight exclusive games in development for their new black rectangle, and that these would be announced in three weeks at E3, the gaming trade show in Los Angeles. Todd Holmdahl, a corporate vice president of hardware at Microsoft, told me on Tuesday that it was important to take the two events in aggregate, that there was simply so much information about the Xbox One to disseminate that it would have muddied the message to announce both the system and the games. That’s a fair point, but also: what?. If you take the hundreds of journalists on hand for a game console announcement on an hour-long tour of the anechoic chambers and test labs in which the gesture-control sensor in your new device was honed, you’re sending a message. If the most interactive game-thing that you demonstrate to the press is the new rumble strip in the triggers of your controller, you’re sending a message. If the biggest news about actual games in your introductory press conference relates to the number of servers that can offload graphics processing to the cloud, you’re sending a message.
The message is: The most important thing, the first thing, the defining thing about the Xbox One is the platform, not the games. Console manufacturers have always bragged about their new hardware, but always in the context of what it meant for games. This is new.
I want to be clear: this is not by definition good or bad, as some have written. But it is a change, and it does have obvious implications for the culture of console gaming. Of the half-dozen games Microsoft teased, three were FIFA (the best selling game in the world), Call of Duty (the best selling game in America) and Madden (the second best selling game in America). Millions of people play these games, and for Microsoft they represent a real, compelling route into the homes of the people who play them and the people who live with the people who play them. Indie games, prestige games, creative games, frankly, don’t. In ten years, the percentage of games today for mainstream game consoles that were weird, or idiosyncratic, or not “IP” may seem well and truly strange. We may very well expect to control our televisions with gesture and have cable-cum-game boxes that can suggest programs or games to us based on our mood, deduced through our facial expressions and heart rate. But the place for novel kinds of games on a piece of technology that takes as its aim the American mainstream seems small indeed.
In the near term, gamers will look to Sony’s new PlayStation as a beacon for traditional gaming. Sony certainly whistled the right notes to get this crowd’s tail wagging at their February PS4 launch: ample support from the legacy Japanese houses, ample support for indie games, partnerships with Bungie and Blizzard. People are talking about PS4 as if it represents some kind of moral commitment to gamers by Sony. That’s ridiculous. Gamers have been good to Sony in the past and Sony has made a short-term bet that they can still buoy an expensive consumer device. But let’s be honest: almost no third party publisher in its right mind, short of an Olympus Mons of cash, would release a major title as an exclusive in 2013. The big third-party games that come out for PS4 are going to come out for or find their way to the Xbox One, and the indie games that come out for PS4 are going to come out on computer. And if it’s a choice between two similarly priced devices, one of which offers more enticing features for the rest of the household, well. Also, let’s not pretend that Sony showed off some kind of system-seller or revolutionary game in February. The most exciting thing they announced, to my mind (since we still don’t know what the fucking thing looks like, a fact that grows more absurd by the day), was the potential of a streaming game Netflix through their acquisition of the cloud gaming service Gaikai. That’s a compelling feature, but it certainly isn’t a new kind of gaming.
Of course, there was one next-generation system that promised to change the way gamers play. And that system, the Wii U, is in the process of failing catastrophically. Its selling point, dual screens, is as unappealing to mainstream audiences as it is to core gamers, and its enhanced-TV functionality, in the absence of a consumer base, is irrelevant. That’s why we saw Call of Duty and FIFA on Tuesday, and not whatever gamer-bait exclusives Microsoft may have up its sleeve. They represent a consumer base. By this logic, it’s not “what can the Xbox One do for games”, its “what can games do for the Xbox One”. That’s also why the outrage over backwards compatibility and required connectivity is basically a tempest in a teapot. The proportion of game-playing consumers who would make a buying decision based on these factors alone is a tiny fraction of the group of people Microsoft wants to reach.
And that’s also why Holmdahl, the corporate VP, seemed unconcerned when I asked him on Tuesday if non-gamers would be willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for the Xbox One, if Microsoft had limited themselves by making the Xbox One a Blu-Ray game-disc based system at all.
“A lot of people play games,” he told me. And he’s right. But there are only a few games a lot of people play, and they are the ones that console gamers should get used to playing.