Occam's RAZR: surviving modernity

As you may have guessed, my small rant about River Mini was just a part of a bigger story. The story about an overwhelming marketing-driven mass amnesia disguised as technology evolution, that tries to, and in many cases successfully does, wipe out the whole layers of the original Internet culture as well as the ways to access it. I decided to write it after reading some BS articles about flip phones comeback, role of the old Web, obscure sites and so on. Too many thoughts have been circulating in my head about all this, so it’s time to write them off.

I really envy those who can live without a smartphone, like, at all. I found too many things tied to it, that ideally shouldn’t be. As soon as I started working on releasing myself from this dependency, the circumstances had drastically changed and even more things now depend on this device. I even had to upgrade to another eSIM-enabled model to have confidence in both the battery life and update schedule. Sad but true.

My main phone though (the one I talk on, I mean) is now a single-SIM Alcatel 3025X, one of the best flip phones we have here still officially sold in these trying times. It’s a 3G-enabled one, yes, but still a feature phone with no smartphone hardware and a proprietary Mocor OS (no confusion with MocorDroid, please). I’ll come back to it a bit later but for now I want to focus on another detail: about a year or two ago, I was able to visit Wikipedia (specifically, m.wikipedia.org) from the Mocor’s browser. Now, I can’t.

Why so? Mocor doesn’t say anything beyond “Server failure” but I know exactly that’s because of HTTPS: either switching to the yet unsupported root certificates or incompatible encryption algos. Yes, this browser can into some SSL, but not all of it, and certainly not into the modern one. But the point is, they removed a plain HTTP version, making HTTPS mandatory. Not to mention that WAP and “zero” versions had been removed long ago. To put it simply: one of the most important Web resources on the planet had made itself inaccessible for a large part of the population of the planet by a whim of Google and other tech giants. Just because they said HTTPS is good for everyone, and there’s no reason not to enable it by default. Whatever happened to the KISS principle. Well, literally BILLIONS of older devices that could still work and still be more useful - how good of a reason is that, you first-world pricks?

And just before some of you mention Nokia 3310 3G, 225 4G, CAT B40 and some other expensive feature phones with preinstalled Opera Mini builds specifically tailored for Mocor, I’ll tell you that I know it and it doesn’t answer my needs. Heck, I do have a B40 with me right now, I know Wikipedia works there. But it only works because (and as long as) some Opera Mini content-shaping proxies do, and considering its official support for all non-mainstream OSes had ended long ago, you can only imagine who manages these servers now and how they might use your data. Just saying.

Yes, I fully understand the importance of encrypted communications in today’s world. But as someone who has a bachelor’s degree in information and telecom security, I strongly oppose what’s going on today. Information security cannot be achieved by encryption alone. Remember the “CIA” triad? Confidentiality, integrity and availability. Here, we’re mostly talking about public access information resources with no login forms (at least in their mobile versions), so confidentiality is not a thing here. HTTPS is mostly aimed to protect the integrity. Now, whether or not to do so at the cost of reduced availability is the real question. Most website owners don’t seem to get the scale of how much it is really reduced when ruling out plain HTTP. Provider’s MITM? Come on, Wikipedia has thousands of mirrors, that one can be easily spotted if it’s ever the case.

I also fully understand that low-end smartphones like KaiOS based devices aim to bring the tech to the masses who didn’t have an opportunity to use a modern browser on a keypad phone before. But there are two “buts”. First, KaiOS devices, regardless of which buzzwords they are positioned with and which price tags they have, still are smartphones, on smartphone hardware, with smartphone battery life (and overall energy footprint) and smartphone-grade swarm of bugs and vulnerabilities. Same goes for MocorDroid phones and other similar efforts. Modern Web means the need for smartphone hardware regardless of its form factor, no exceptions for now, alas. Second, all these efforts are actively pushed through in an Overtone-window-style assumption that all these poor people didn’t have any Internet on their phones before. Which is simply not true. All of us had WAP sites, had the first static mobile-friendly XHTML sites, with lots of useful services actually offering usable mobile versions for handsets of any size. And then, all of a sudden, someone took it all from us, by switching to touch-oriented UI, by closing down email2sms gateways, by enforcing HTTPS and “solving” a number of other problems we never had. And then called their new solution “closing the digital divide” without ever reminding who actually created this divide in the first place.

Luckily, not all website owners turned out to be that stupid to jump on the Heil-HTTPS bandwagon without knowing the consequences. They, however, were even put on the “shame” lists maintained by some “activists” on GitHub and even standalone Web pages. For me though, that means they are still mostly usable on my 3025X. And still usable for millions of people with even lower-spec GPRS-only phones that will never see a firmware update. And here is my personal Top-15 selection list of the feature phone friendly websites that I found particularly useful and still working (even if some of them redirect to HTTPS version) on this Alcatel as of June 2022.

  1. textfiles.com - probably the largest archive of really old text materials (in English) published in the early age of computer systems. Has several mirrors, all mostly working on feature phones as well.
  2. txti.es - a really awesome text page hosting fully working in feature phones (tested!) that requires no signup, just to remember your edit code or assign your own.
  3. wiby.me - a search engine that returns somewhat non-standard results but most of them are viewable on feature phones with no issues whatsoever.
  4. frogfind.com - a retro-friendly search engine powered by DuckDuckGo, useful to look for more generic stuff and the results are also postprocessed for readability.
  5. www.psychedelic-library.org - a comprehensive set of literature about stuff. Erowid doesn’t work on feature phones, so this is a useful replacement.
  6. 68k.news - a world news aggregator suitable for mobiles and old PCs.
  7. skimfeed.com - a somewhat phone-friendly tech news aggregator from popular resources.
  8. lite.cnn.com - an old phone friendly CNN version.
  9. yarchive.net - a curated list of articles saved from Usenet conferences.
  10. portal.mozz.us - a cool gateway proxy to browse Gemini protocol resources, purely text-based, just what low-end feature phones need.
  11. gopher.floodgap.com/gopher/gw.lite - probably the only remaining functional Gopher gateway proxy for such devices, operated by Floodgap.
  12. wttr.in - a nice and customizable text-based weather forecast service that has a lot of output format options. Yes, it’s HTTPS-enforced, but uses the older algos so works fine on Mocor browser. For feature phones, I found the best one to bookmark looks like this: https://wttr.in/{location}?M&format=%l:%20%t,%20%C,%20%h,%20%w,%20%P,%20%p
  13. mailnesia.com - one of the most famous disposable email providers, you can directly bookmark links like http://mailnesia.com/mailbox/{username} to access the inboxes. It also has a feature of auto-clicking on the confirmation links whenever you register somewhere.
  14. rate.sx - purely text-based page to view cryprocurrency exchange rates (from the wttr.in creator). For the phone usage, I’d suggest bookmarking individual crypto pairs with minimum bloat, for instance, USD to Nano (XNO) URL would look like this: http://usd.rate.sx/xno?qFT.
  15. Suddenly, mbasic.facebook.com - no, I don’t use it, but lots of people who still need to access FB Messenger can do it from there. Surprisingly, they manage to keep it on the older SSL algos without anyone complaining.

Some old-school pirate download portals like waptrick.one and russian-speaking spaces.im/sz, as well as temporary SMS services like sms.sellaite.com, also work fine from such feature phones, although you, as always, must use extreme caution when sending anything through or downloading anything from them.

So, despite all the corporamus efforts at the planned obsolescence of billions of older and “dumber” phones and other portable devices from the past, you still can do a lot from them online in 2022: search, read news and emails, find out about weather, explore large text libraries, view crypto rates and even publish your own pages. And I want to express my sincere gratitude to the community that keeps such resources up and running, as well as conference services like Globafy for everyone to be able to connect without a trendy shovel that helps to track you and sells your data.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no Luddite and recognize all the convenience and performance modern tools like smartphones give us, but that shouldn’t be a reason to exclude the rest of us from the connected world. We should be able to chill in our hammocks with flip phones as old as RAZR V3 and not feel outdated in any way, as the devices we know and love still work. Oh, and by the way, from this day onwards, I remove the force-redirect to HTTPS on this very blog. It will be served under both standards for the information to be accessible for really everyone. It might not look pretty but at least you can read it from low-end feature phones. Search ranking? I don’t care. Fuck Google. Ask me.