My generation wasn’t born into the Internet the way today’s kids are. I can remember a time when a computer was less interesting than the fuzzy black and white TV in the corner. It was also less powerful and only slightly useful as a game machine. Sometime in the blurry days of dial up services, the blazing screech of modems became a dinner bell for people looking to satisfy their appetite for information, communication, and stimulation. Today, the screeching modem sound is gone, and with it the barrier between the Internet and our daily life. Not only is the Internet always communicating with our computers, but it follows us around in our pockets. We no longer ask the computer to connect. Our email, and message tones on our smart phones simply remind us that we are always connected.
Since the barrier between our attention and the Internet is never really broken, it is very important for us to occasionally break the connection and reverse what technology has become: go offline.
Like many people, I spend a large part of my day looking at computer screens. With my laptop, iPad and Smartphone, I spend more time engaging digital information than sleeping.
My work and free time both involve the use of my devices, and the only difference between work and play is the program I use.
Recently I went on to vacation and decided to not connect in any way digitally for two weeks. That sounded simple enough, but what happened during the two weeks awakened parts of my brain long inactive.
During the first couple days, as expected, I was constantly searching for a device so I could read email, google something I wanted to know, or find directions. As soon as I realized the easy answers were not there, my brain woke up. I had to imagine what something meant instead of reading what google say’s it meant. I had to pay attention to where I was walking, and revive the sense of direction that Google maps stripped me of years ago. And most valuable of all, I stopped caring what other people thousands of miles away wanted or thought. Instead of what people wrote in email, messages, or posted on facebook, I paid attention to what people around me said.
It is true that I have read much more over the last few years because of the Internet. Blogs, news, posts, comments, and wikis have been a never ending source of information for me. Actively turning my access off to this information did not stop me from wanting to consume information, so I turned to the technology I used as a kid: books. I had planned ahead and brought a book that was on my reading list for a long time, Joe Haldeman’s ‘The Forever War’. I assumed it would last me two weeks. I was wrong. Forty hours into my two week vacation I needed more and searched out a local book store (the English section had a total of 10 books). I read 3 other novels during the two weeks and realized that I love to read, and to be taken away by stories. I had found a long lost love, and was more relaxed than ever.
The Internet is a very difficult thing to completely step away from, and I don’t see a practical way at the moment. But I have forced myself to rely on it less, to get lost without google maps, to read a Nicholas Carr book instead of skipping through blog entries, and to stop my email and messages from alerting me that they have arrived. The result is more happiness and focus.
What is the importance of disconnecting from the Internet? I can now remember why that crazy tone of the modem connecting to the Internet was so exciting. I was connecting to the Internet, instead of the Internet connecting to me.
My recommendation to everyone:
1. Take a vacation, and don’t connect to the internet. The world will not fall apart and life does go on.
2. Shut the computer down in the evening.
3. Never let email and messages chase you. Turn off the notification system and take control.
4. Occasionally take an internet free day. De-digitalize your brain.