Writers today are not chained to a location. Some write at coffee shops, others on trains, some at home, and if you’re like me — any outdoor place you can drag a pen and notebook to. This mobility is great for finding distraction free writing spots, but what about research? Not so long ago, you would simply go to the library and sift through card catalogs, files, book shelves, microfiche, and an endless piles of dusty books. Today, the Internet is the primary research tool. Fortunately we can now take the Internet with us to most of our favorite writing spots.
I think most writers are familiar with using the free WiFi services offered at popular coffee shops and restaurants. This is the easiest and cheapest way to access the Internet when out and about. Some cities are now offering WiFi hotspots in select parks. I’ll take sitting outside researching a subject instead of sitting in a library any day of the week.
But what happens when WiFi service isn’t available?
Cellular companies offer data plans with smartphones and tablets. These plans aren’t always cheap. The big carriers start around $40 a month and move up in price, but this allows you to connect your smartphone or tablet to the Internet and retrieve data over a 3G or 4G network. However, surfing on smartphone can be tedious. Those little three inch screens are hard to use with aging eyes and big fingers.
Tablets are a good substitute. Much easier to use and you can purchase ones that are compatible with CDMA or GSM cellular technologies.But once you purchase a tablet using either technology, you’re stuck with it.
Cellular companies also offer an AirCard option but these can be restrictive too. AirCards plug into your laptop’s USB port or card slot. These offer a lot of flexibility, but they require a separate data plan. It’s also another piece of tech to keep track of. They can get lost, damaged, or stolen. An alternative to AirCards would be a technology called tethering. It allows you to connect your computer to your smartphone and access the Internet. Not all smartphones will allow this and not all carriers provide the service. The ones that do, charge extra for it. If you use tethering, be mindful of any data usage limits on your accounts. A browser designed for Windows, Linux, or MAC will consume more data than a browser designed for a tablet or a smartphone. You can hit that 2Gig limit fairly quick.
There’s another option that allows the flexibility of connecting any WiFi capable device. It’s called a hotspot. These are offered by every major cellular carrier. Again, they will require a data plan, but you can use these handy devices for anything. Most will accommodate multiple connections–there’s a cost in speed when using multiple devices–allowing you to share it with others. Select smartphones have the ability to be used as a hotspot thus reducing the amount of tech you need to carrier to access the Internet.
Some of the bargain carriers offer no contract hotspots.They offer scaled data plans allowing you to spend only what you need to and to use it only when you need to. Most do have a requirement that you use your hotspot once every six months or so. This is the option I use. My iPad is WiFi only and my wife and I both have laptops. When traveling I purchase what I think we’ll use. As long as we have cell service, we can access the Internet. It’s a great thing when flights get delayed and the airport doesn’t have free Internet. Or if you’re driving long distances. We drove to Florida in 2010 and had Internet access for almost the entire drive. There was one section in Mississippi that we couldn’t get any service. It was a grueling fifty minutes, but somehow we made it through.
I like the hotspot because I can pack a composition notebook, a couple of fountain pens, an iPad, the hotspot, an external battery pack and take off to any park or local hiking trail. All of it weighs less than five pounds and easily fits into any small backpack or netbook carrying case. This is great for getting away and doing some serious writing.
Taking the Internet with you does bring along all the distractions like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, email, and your favorite games. However, for me the distractions aren’t a concern. The Internet is along for quick fact checks.
Whether sitting on a hillside rock overlooking the city or a remote riverbank, great weather, scenic writing spot, pen and paper in hand, the only thing left to do is write.