The past 168 hours have been a unique experience for me. Since I first launched Netscape on the family computer many years ago, I haven’t intentionally been offline. There were times when I was out of town without a computer, and times staying with relatives who never bothered to remember their wifi password, but other than that, especially after I started college, the Internet was home.
Over recent months and years, the Internet was where I had a voice. It helped me connect with people all over the world, it helped me take online courses and learn so much more than I had in any classroom. Blogger, then WordPress, then Tumblr gave me a platform for my writing. I was introduced to Web-Video, a new storytelling format with unprecedented trans-media interaction. I got my validation online since I felt marginalized and misunderstood in the so-called “real world.”
I kept some notes over this past week that illustrate how much my mindset has changed. It was a gradual process, as most processes are. At first, I worried about what I was missing. All the updates and posts, the YouTube videos and current events I was completely unaware of. I don’t plan on trying to catch up, we all know a week’s worth of activity would be a veritable mountain of information. I realized how much of a habit it was for me to check social media. I would sit down at my laptop, open Chrome, and flick the mouse over to my twitter bookmark (my cycle order is: twitter, tumblr, YouTube, Facebook) before I realized what I was doing. I had to take Chrome off my dock to stop that subconscious routine.
On days one and two, I had nothing to talk about. I noticed that almost all of my conversations with people revolve around the Internet. I would start every exposition with:
“On twitter today…”
“I read online…”
“I saw this post…”
Which of course isn’t inherently wrong or anything, but without social media, I didn’t have anything to talk about offline either. I had to pay more attention to the people I was with, and try to build a conversation from there rather than relying on whatever I found interesting online recently.
Over time, I stopped thinking in potential tweets as much. I used to have a thought, develop and rephrase it, try to make it funny or interesting, and then show it to the world and wait for the Favorites to roll in (still waiting). Recently, (presumably because I was off twitter for a week), that thought-process has decreased.
I also had LOTS more time. I would get back from work, check email, sync Evernote, write a bit of my book, and then just read or watch The White Queen and Dexter. I had more time to exercise instead of making excuses not to, since I didn’t have an entire Internet to keep up with.
I started getting validation from myself. I flushed the radiator on my car this week (no pics, so who knows if it even happened). It was an arduous process that took 2.5 hours on a weeknight. I would never have considered doing a job like that during the week, with all the Internetting I had to do, there wouldn’t have been time. So I did the flush and I felt accomplished. I didn’t need to get a certain number of likes to feel that I had actually done something.
I learned that if you don’t check twitter or Facebook for a while, they will send you emails about pending notifications. Which obviously I haven’t received before this.
Also, I became less materialistic. My bouts of minimalism come and go, but with no way to lookup a new camera, a new laptop, car parts, smartphones, books, and everything else, I was content with what I had. I didn’t wish to spend money I didn’t have to buy things I didn’t need this past week. Or at least not as much.
Critically, I noticed that I was living my own, actual, current life. Not anyone else’s life and not my theoretical future. There was less fantasizing about what I want my life to be, where I want to live, and what I want to do. Offline, my day-to-day was all I had. I wasn’t receiving a constant stream of information telling me which of my Internet-Friends was having car trouble, or trying to cook an ambitious dinner, or finally got the job offer. My actual life was it. And I heard how quiet the world became. Without a few hundred voices in my head, life seemed simpler and more peaceful. On day five, I wrote that I was in no hurry to go back online, that my life was much more relaxing offline.
Here I am with two hours to go and I feel apprehensive. I’m looking forward to returning to the Internet, I miss people, and I feel like a part of myself is missing without all those connections. There’s so much I want to do online now, since everything’s been piling up for the past week. Then again, the break was nice in its own way.
This was an eye-opening experience. I learned a lot about myself and how I interact with the world. Even though I missed out on lots of potentially life-changing posts this week, I made several positive changes too. I survived, voluntarily, without the Internet for 168 hours. Since I was able to post this, I imagine the Internet somehow survived my absence as well.
That said, it’s good to be back.