One evening, when I was courting my wife-to-be, we were at my place when the phone rang. Since we were talking, I ignored the phone. “Aren’t you going to answer that?” Nope. If it was important, they’d call back (I didn’t have an answering machine). This was my relationship with technology in those days. Technology was my servant, not the reverse.
Well, sometime during the last three decades, that has changed, so I’m just now coming off a full week of an “internet fast.”
Overall, I am surprised at how easy it was. I stuck to my “going dark” guidelines so successfully that when I tried to go back online, I found that all my little electronic connectimoids needed to be charged up. The computer, the tablet, even the smartphone had gone almost entirely unused for a whole week.
What did I miss? What didn’t I miss?
What I didn’t miss
Surprisingly, I found that I didn’t really miss social media. Okay, granted, my wife was still connected and fed me the occasional tidbit of news about friends and neighbors, but I did not miss the constant crawl of cat videos, self-affirming aphorisms, and Takei-memes.
I also did not miss online and console gaming, at least not in proportion to the time I had been spending on them. The only time I felt the lack of a gaming gizmo was when I had to wait for a few minutes–waiting for my wife to get ready for our evening out, waiting in the check-out line, etc. Whenever I had four of five or ten minutes to sit idly by, that’s when a quick turn of Scrabble™ or game of solitaire would have worked really well. For the rest of the hours I spent on puzzle quests and first-person shooters, there was a distinct lack of withdrawal symptoms.
What I did miss
What I did miss during the fast was the instant access to information in response to “burning” questions. Where have we seen that actor before? Go to IMDB. What are the dimensions of a football pitch? Go to Wikipedia. When cooking a cheesecake, what internal temperature am I shooting for? Go to Google.
Also, it wasn’t until this week that I realized: we don’t have phone books anymore. No white pages, no yellow pages. Nothing. Want to make a reservation at that new restaurant you drove by on the way home? Sorry, you’re out of luck, unless you get back in the car and drive down there to do it in person. When did we stop getting phone books each year? I don’t know.
This is how change occurs, not by leaps and bounds, but by creeping quietly into your life, supplanting one thing and then another, each little modification so subtle that you don’t notice it at all. Years later, you turn around, and things that had been ubiquitous are now absent.
What I did instead
Eliminating social media, instant messaging, and electronic gaming from my week left me with a lot of time. I mean a lot of time. Seriously. Suddenly I had a ton of time on my hands. This was perhaps the most enlightening revelation of the entire experiment; I simply didn’t realize how much time I wasted on these activities.
Unfortunately, I did not fill that time with writing. I’m getting around to it now, but writers, dropping the internet for a week is not a magic bullet to solve your writer’s block. At least, it wasn’t for me. I found plenty to fill my unplugged days.
I cooked. A lot. In one week I tried new recipes for homemade corned beef, leg of lamb, nobu black cod, cantaloupe sorbet, brioche, olive oil ice cream (much better than it sounds), and fresh fruit ambrosia with slivered almonds. I also tested a revision of my cheesecake with salted caramel glaze, and got in some practice making sushi (futomaki, nigiri, hosomaki, and uramaki were on the menu last night).
The World Cup also filled hours and hours. Had the World Cup not been underway, I might have achieved my writing goals for the week, but no guarantees.
I spent an hour each day reading the newspaper (yes, I not only have a milkman who delivers fresh milk to our doorstep, there is a young man who throws a newspaper at my roses every day). The breadth and depth of newspaper coverage was a welcome change to the “trending” topics that compete for my attention when online.
So, what now? Back to normal?
I don’t think so.
I am once more the one in charge here. Technology is my servant.
Oh, I’ll still check in on social media, though I’ll probably trim my feed down drastically. And I’ll still play the occasional game while waiting for the coffee to brew. But this has been a major “reset” for my patterns and habits, and for that reason alone, it was a worthwhile experiment.