The Real Paul Jones

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Those Who Dare Live Offline (well, 2 at least)

The Wall Street Journal just ran a bit called “Refusing the Internet” or “Daring to Live Your Life Offline” by Kevin Helliker, a great investigative reporter in a different role here, about his brother and my old I’ll-Never-Be-Online pal, Tom Wilkerson. Mostly the brother, Keith.

Through Barry Wellman, I hooked up Tom and Kevin knowing that Tom would have much more to say that Kevin could possibly use and that most all of it would be funny. Tom did end up with a nice full paragraph:

Many holdouts are resigned to the necessity of joining Online America. As a 59-year-old amateur sailor, Thomas Wilkinson III shakes his head recalling how at the end of a cruise his friends will leap onto the dock to run and check their email.

“I mean, we’ve only been out there for three or four hours,” he’ll tell them. But as a newly elected officer of his stagehands union local, the Charlotte, N.C., resident suspects he may need to break down and get an email address. And as a longtime collector of memorabilia, he is fascinated by the idea of buying and selling on eBay. “I have warehouses full of stuff, and that would be a great way of getting rid of it,” he says.

But with his wildest stories and funniest jokes cut out. Still he got more ink in WSJ than most CEOs could get in a lifetime.

Both Tom and Keith are classic laggards. I mean in the Everett Rogers sense from his DIffusion of Innovation theory. They could adopt new technologies, their families wish they would, but they resist even to the annoyance of their friends.

Interestingly enough, both Tom and Keith are very social creatures. Both are inconvenienced by canceled meetings in the article — Tom by his local stage hands union and Keith by Knights of Columbus. In this — their sociality not their not liking meetings canceled — they are atypical internet laggards. As Keith Hampton points out in a twitter reply to me, “the data show nonusers have less diverse networks, spend less time in public- not more. WSJ story has it backwards.” The data that Keith H is pointing to are the results of the Pew Internet study on social isolation and new technologies in which he did some very good and rigorous data collection and analysis (published this last November 2009).

What makes Kevin’s WSJ interesting is that his examples do go against type. That’s the difference between a pretty good story and very good research; generalizable stories are less interesting, but generalizable research is priceless. Just don’t get the two confused.


  1. I can see Wilkinson taking the position, if for no other reason, but to incense as many people as possible, by simply not participating in what most would consider essential practice. He has always enjoyed an oppossitional posture, if for no other reason than sport and amusement.

  2. Paul

    12/31/2009 at 6:16 pm

    Nope, he’s living his feelings on this one. It’s not hot air but his day-to-day life. He doesn’t drive anymore either, but he remains socially active and employed.

  3. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that he was not sincere or successful at it, just that he would have fun with the shock and awe that accompanies the decision.

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