Recently I became concerned that my 6-year-old might grow up thinking the computer was the only form of entertainment for adults.
My husband and I both work from home, sitting in front of our computers all day. But I'm usually not online for many minutes consecutively; I use the Internet in the spare moments between other things.
When I want to rest before I start cooking dinner, I go on Pinterest or Facebook, check my email, read blogs. The Web, for me, is mostly a distraction, though I also use it for research and communication with editors when I’m working on a story.
What if I took a break from the Internet altogether? Would I function? How would I deal with not knowing what was going on online, not being able to look up anything I needed to know, and being forced to actually pick up the phone and call people?
I decided to do a five-day no-Internet experiment to see if I was capable of tearing myself away. Before I began, I turned all my stories in, as well as any other work that was due that week. Immediately, though, I felt the effects.
On day one, I woke up to an important text message informing me that I had to go online to take care of some business. Well, I couldn't do that, so I asked my husband to deal with it. Though this was a necessary solution, technically I still used the Internet ... just via someone else.
I wanted to make a stew for dinner and I needed a recipe, but I gave away my cookbooks because nowadays I find my recipes online. So I just threw a bunch of vegetables into a broth. Instead of checking out social media while the stew brewed, I read some of the local newspaper and edited a few paragraphs of my manuscript.
A couple of times while editing, I wanted to Google something historical. Instead I left a blank space to look it up later. In essence, I wasn't eliminating my need for the Internet, only postponing it. (And the stew turned out pretty good, even though I forgot the tomatoes.)
By day two, I was insane with craving. I thought I would die if I couldn't feed my brain with clever information, pretty pictures, and funny quotes. It hurt a little. I was having withdrawal.
On day three, the temptation to go online was so strong that I had to turn off all the notifications on my phone. I really, really wanted to click on that link about the baby pandas. My mother wanted to Skype, but I told her we’d have to use the phone. I took the cutest photo of my toe ring, but I had to wait two more days to share it.
It became apparent by day four that many of the things I like to do on the Internet are fairly dumb, and I started to enjoy not filling every moment of free time with Twitter or Words with Friends. I got into a really good book and taught my daughter how to do the cobra stitch.
Upon returning online, I learned that I'd missed a business deal. I had 12 Facebook notifications, but none of them were important. I had 68 email messages, but right away I was able to delete half without reading them.
In all, being without the Web was pretty inconvenient, and I didn't find that I got much more done. I did sit in front of the computer less, but I still sat in front of it a lot; I just used it for writing instead of surfing. It took me a while to catch up on all the work I fell behind on –- the money lost, the social connections missed, and the emails that needed to be answered.
Here are the things I found myself unable -- and other things I was able -- to do when I was offline:
Things I'm Forced to Give Up Without Internet Access:
Procrastinating on Facebook
Reading book reviews on Goodreads
Looking up recipes
Responding to/sending email messages
Shopping on Etsy
Posting photos on Instagram
Sending out an invitation
Looking up facts
Looking up words
Booking a hotel room/flight
Things I Can Do Instead:
Help my daughter make jewelry
Write in my journal
Read the local paper
Finish a book that is overdue at the library
Go out for coffee with friends
Go for a hike with my husband
Work on editing my manuscript
Use a dictionary
Read a travel guide
Since my experiment, the Internet has started to feel like a trashy magazine I automatically pick up in my dentist’s waiting room. It’s irresistible, yet pointless. Of course, not everything I do online is insignificant. I can make a living and raise a child because I work from home online -- for that alone, I'm eternally grateful.
Nowadays I'm making small attempts to not jump on the computer every time I have a free moment. Instead I pick up a book or my guitar, and I can engage more with my daughter, which is always a good thing.
But finding a balance between the awesome, substantial stuff and the mind-numbing side-tracking stuff will be my eternal struggle, I guess, Internet or not.
Have you ever taken a break from the Internet? How'd it go?