PEN American posted an email exchange between Jonathan Lethem and David Gates last week in which Lethem says he has a second computer with its internet functionality stripped out that he uses for fiction writing. Otherwise, he says, the temptation to fool around online is too great. Gates later calls this getting a computer "spayed." Lethem also talks about the nuisance of widespread WiFi in general:
I’ve been guessing that being offline will soon be the new luxury. Expensive safe zones in remote locales, coffee shops bragging of “No WiFi,” etc. I tried to persuade Yaddo that they ought to get ahead of this curve, and reinstate a Cone of Silence approach to art colony life, but no cigar. I appear to be alone in this.
Actually, he's not alone. A couple months ago, Seth Fischer from the Rumpus talked to the owner of a cafe in San Francisco that markets itself on the strength of not having WiFi, and there is software built to temporarily block internet access on a computer (an internet condom, to use Gates' analogy). A few years ago, author and former Harper's web editor Paul Ford wrote about what he called "Amish computing," or using an old battery-powered word processor for writing that is nothing but a keyboard and tiny screen.
I'm thinking this is a great niche market Apple is missing with the iPad. All the iPad models have some kind of internet access of course, but they could be marketing their WiFi-only models (the ones that can't connect over a 3G cellular network) to writers looking for less distraction. You can always carry it somewhere that doesn't have a free internet signal. Of course, this doesn't do a lot of good when you can also use it to watch The Wire and play pinball in HD.