Proving a digital life is possible

Brady Gilchrist may prove to be Canada’s answer to Robinson Crusoe or he may simply be a tech-savvy entrepreneur who’s made an impossible vacation come true.

Either way, the Toronto-based Internet strategist and former advertising firm vice-president has stashed most of his worldly possessions, abandoned his house and moved into a 27-foot sailboat, all in the name of digital living.

The sailboat is meant to demonstrate how convergence works, and the experience will hopefully pay off when Gilchrist returns to land to embark on future Web projects. With Hewlett-Packard Canada and Microsoft Canada providing product and technical support, the 33-year-old figured his temporary self-imposed hiatus from traditional media will definitively prove whether or not technology’s promise can be realized.

“[My day job is to] help companies figure out marketing-oriented Web strategies and try to figure out where it’s all going,” Gilchrist told ComputerWorld Canada. “The whole reason I’m doing this is I’m passionate about boats, and I’m passionate about technology. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to practice what I’ve been preaching, and dive in with both feet into what this whole thing of convergence is all about.”

Gilligan’s Island this isn’t.

Sailing for the summer with Myne Toye – Gilchrist’s beloved sailboat – on the Great Lakes, equipped with all the latest laptop computers, DVDs, e-books, e-music, digital cameras, et al. doesn’t sound too trying on the soul at first glance. But Gilchrist says that as an Internet strategist, his is a glorious opportunity to gain a greater understanding of how media, entertainment and lifestyle is changing in the face of the modern age from a first-person perspective.

“I wanted to see if I could take a lot of the entertainment stuff in my life and convert it over,” he said. “What’s amazing is…mainstream publishing is changing so quickly [that] most of my reading I’ve been doing on my hand-held device. It took me about 15 minutes to get used to reading off a hand-held device and I’m now totally hooked on it.”

Virtually every element of Gilchrist’s daily communication needs are addressed via the Internet. The sailboat is intended to demonstrate the power of the new Windows PocketPCs, small local area networks, data furnaces, the integration of computers into entertainment systems and cheap digital video production.

The four-month experiment will last until the end of September. The curious can keep up with Gilchrist’s exploits at

Gilchrist isn’t the first person in the world to attempt to embrace technology while shunning traditional means of survival. Others, such as the Dotcomguy, have gone to greater extremes by barricading themselves within the confines of a wired house for one year with nothing but a laptop and Internet access – hell bent on survival through e-commerce only. But Gilchrist frowns upon what he considers a manic approach to digital adaptation.

“I’m not locking myself in a dark jungle; I do get off the boat,” he laughed. “It’s a matter of choice. I wish to share the experience but I don’t wish to share my entire life…this is more publishing and having fun building dialogue with people instead of wiring your house with 24 cameras. I’m not trying to prove I can replace my (traditional) life with the Web…in order to live life you have to enjoy life.”

Spending the sunny months in a souped-up boat that’s loaded with all the necessary hardware to surf cyberspace while sailing the Great Lakes must equal one fine summer.

Hmm…is there a second bunk bed on that boat somewhere?