My user agent is a mime

For more than a year I've been having my web browsing user agents configured to fetch just the requested HTML resource and ignore any related style sheets, media, cookies or scripts. The scaremongering accounts of web pages taking dozens or requests and megabytes of data to display a news feed bring a sly smile to my face—for me pages take mostly a single request and land squarely within a hundred kilobytes of data. If you are familiar with Gopher or Gemini protocols, then it's like using their clients for surfing the HTTP world.

This is a jury-rig of tools and practices aimed at subverting the dominant way of interacting on the web, a sounding of a different mode of handling information. It won't work in all circumstances, yet fits great for reading—news articles, blog posts, wikis, etc. The approach fails in places where information takes upon forms other than text or where an interactive medium is paramount. It has been born out of hacking and tweaking, an experiment the outcomes of which I'd like to share with you, an alternative to compare your experience with, and a tribute to heterogeneous modes of discourse.

I remember the feeling of disorientation when I switched to text-only mode for the first time, uncanny feeling of facing the same information but in a way devoid of all visual cues except for paragraphs and maybe headings. The other auxiliary elements of the web become jumbled, sidelines cease to be to the side, hopefully a functional remains of a navigation system. The only thing that remains is text, and it is it what the eye learns to pick out from the rubble.

After a while the text becomes the only meaningful piece of information with the rest being discarded as noise. This has the effect of narrowing the field of view on the subject with not much to meander your attention through. No notifications, intermittent ads, or flashy side bars. It's only you and that piece of text—the simplicity being on par with the effectiveness of the sharp focus that it lends.

The mostly uniform way of representing information yields a boost to critical thinking skill. All information is black and white, no visual cues to imply the resource's stance in political spectrum; no custom font to bark at you or portray a sense dazzling future; color and size as means of implying relevance or urgency aren't here any more, let alone graphical images. It's deliberately squeezing information channel, but doing so in an environment vying for your attention seems beneficial. It urges you to consider the text for what it is, rather than how it is presented. You aren't getting the distilled objective information, though ridding yourself of the means often exploited for influence's sake leaves more spare head space for conscious deliberation.

Surfing in this mode you inevitably see less of ads and hence get less callous with regard to marketing tricks. I never liked the usual calls to action budging you to buy more and after an extended period of ad-free browsing my tolerance to such tricks has decreased: being nudged by a typical "last few items remaining" sign makes me want to run away in disgust nowadays. This might also be a double-edged sword as visiting a venue spotting advanced marketing tricks might catch you off guard.

The initial dizziness of text-only web fades quickly and it's natural to adapt to the new reality. I slowly began choosing sites that are easier to read in text; that meant that the flashier ones got phased out, while older entries and modern venues built with conscious choice of technology in mind see more use. A sort of positive feedback loop where the information I gravitate towards by the virtue of it being friendlier for my means of access, also tend to be produced by ever more lovelier people. That last part maybe being the sole reason I stick with the practice still. The laptop fan of which existence I've forgotten and the swaths of resources I didn't have to download or process is the cherry on top of the cake.