On Saturday of last week, our internet died. We knew it was coming. Our connection had been getting slower and slower and our modem would blink out and then turn back on. But on Saturday afternoon, the modem turned up its (nonexistent) toes and died. We called our service provider and learned that we would be sent a new modem, by the middle of the week. They may as well have said next year, judging by my gut reaction.
I tried not to panic. It certainly wasn’t the end of the world, right? There’s the internet at work, which I could use on my lunch breaks, and internet on our phones. And of course, there was life without the internet, otherwise known as real life. Yet, it was scary to confront this new reality. What was I going to do?
In the five days that I lived without internet, I learned a lot about myself. More accurately, I learned a lot about my two selves, my online self and my real self. It’s not that one is so different from the other. I’m the same personality in both places (more or less), but I vibrate on a different frequency. Life feels different without the internet.
The first thing that I noticed, of course, was that I had more time. Tons of it. Without blogging/surfing/reading/obsessively checking email in the mornings and evenings, I literally had hours on my hands. Both my husband and I were shocked at how smoothly mornings ran when we didn’t wake up and immediately turn on our computers. In fact, we could both sleep in at least a half an hour more if we didn’t check our emails.
After I adjusted to the influx of all this time, I started to notice how the quality of my time had changed. When I have the internet at my fingertips, I sense an itchy impatience in everything that I do. I have become so accustomed to speed and flitting between sites that I come to expect that life is always like this. It’s as if I crave input at all costs, without acknowledging whether or not I want or need that input.
Tonight, for instance, I am not doing anything in particular. But I feel constricted, like I should and could do something, anything, if only I knew what it was I wanted to do. By reading blogs, checking Facebook, listening to Pandora, and writing here, I feel like I am accomplishing something. I’ve filled the nothing, for now.
When I had no internet, life was slower. I spent hours reading on the couch. I caught up on art projects. I thought more deeply about maybe cleaning the house. My husband and I took walks, because we didn’t know what else to do. Even the walking was without purpose. The walking was just for the sake of walking, for visiting places we like in our neighborhood. In this imposed stillness, I didn’t feel desperate to fill my time. I felt calm. There was nothing calling me, nothing connecting me.
Even within this almost serenity, this is where real life fell short. When I have internet, I feel connected. I know what my cross country friends are doing and I can read about what my blogging friends are thinking or creating. By reading these snippets of other people’s days, I escape my inner monologue. Through these mutually voyeuristic relationships, I can shift my perspective and think about something other than me me me all the time.
I feel like there’s a trade off that I make when I go online. I forsake self-reflection for other-exploration. I choose connectedness and observation over solitude and introspection. I don’t think one is necessarily more valuable or more worthy than the other. I know that they are both necessary for my happiness and for my ability to create. After this accidental experiment, I think that I need to find the balance between them, so I don’t always plunge so completely into one or the other.
Maybe I’ll start by leaving the computer off on weekday mornings.