Over at The Verge, Paul Miller recently published a remarkably depressing but fascinating piece on living without the internet for a year. I share a lot of his thoughts, and have had an opportunity to live for the last ten months with limited internet access…until now. We’ve recently broken down and had broadband installed in our shared house in New Zealand, and it’s been an interesting experience.
My life in the US revolved around computers. I worked exclusively on web-related things, communicated with friends and family on the internet, and parked in front of a computer for most of my leisure entertainment time. But we’ve been traveling since last August without a cellphone data plan and I’ve had to adjust to a disconnected lifestyle. These have been my stages of internet dependency withdrawal:
First comes an uncomfortable feeling of missing out. I felt as if news was happening and important emails were piling up, usually to log in a week later to discover that not much had happened and I only had a few non-urgent emails to answer.
Then comes “alone and helpless.” This is when you do nothing but think of questions that would be easily answered by all-knowing Google, but are next to impossible to find out otherwise. Stuff like “who is that actor?” and “what’s 350 degrees fahrenheit in celsius?” This is a very frustrating period.
Acceptance is next. You are resigned to the fact that you won’t be able to turn to the internet for answers and begin to strike out on your own discoveries. I like to think of this as throwing off the shackles of technology and becoming more self-sufficient, but then I remember that we operated for many years just like this and didn’t think it was difficult. It’s a skill that needs re-learning, anyway. Yes, it turns out that movie showtimes are still listed in the newspaper.
Now you start spending more time reading stuff of greater value than blog-drivel (present company excepted, of course) and Reddit comment threads. Well, considering I’ve been waist-deep in a certain fantasy epic currently being dramatized on HBO, I can’t exactly make distinctions between high and low literature at the moment. But at least it’s written in compete sentences.
And right when I’m starting to feel less dependent, the tap is turned back on. It’s nice to have the internet back in our home, because it’s a powerful tool that makes a lot of things (checking the weather!) a lot easier. But it’s also a massive distraction. The time I used to spend brainstorming, writing, and editing for this blog has been shifted toward other pursuits, mostly fantasy baseball. But if I want to research something, I can find it very quickly. As with everything, it’s about balance. Sometimes that means removing yourself from distractions and other times its using the tools that are available. I love the power and democracy of the internet, but wish it was easier to turn off.