Sometimes I Want to Burn Down the Internet and Move Off-Grid

As much as I love technology and the convenience and connectedness that go along with it, I get weary of looking at screens.

Aug 24, 2012 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

Something pretty traumatic happened to me a couple of weeks ago: My laptop died. It was not totally unexpected. I mean, I bought it in 2007, making it approximately 95 years old in computer-years, but I was hoping to make it through at least 2012 without having to shell out a bunch of money for a new one, so.

In the five days I spent without a laptop (a period of time we shall call The Dark Times), I came to realize how much I depend on the stupid internet, and electronic devices in general. Not only do I make my livelihood on it, but it is my main form of communication with everyone, the way I pay my bills, and how I get all my news. Desperate to remain connected to the world, I used my iPhone for everything for a few days, until I gave myself a headache from staring at the tiny screen, and then I borrowed the world’s slowest laptop so that I could turn in a freelance assignment. It was a frustrating few days.

It wasn’t always like this. Sometimes I get nostalgic for the Before Times (the 90s, of course), when no one had Internet or cell phones. I mean, yes, some people had Internet, but before 1996, no one I knew had it at home. As for cell phones, my mom had a sweet bag phone for emergencies. One of my friends had a pager, and had to hunt down a payphone anytime someone paged her.

Maybe to those of you who were wee tots in the 90s, this seems quaint and old fashioned, much like relics of the 1970s (eight-tracks!) seemed to me when I was a kid. But every now and then I get this tug of longing in the pit of my stomach for the days when life was not so connected.

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In the 90s we used bananas as phones. True story.

I realize that my nostalgia for this time in my life probably has little to do with the technology of the time, and more to do with the fact that until the mid-90s, I didn’t have to worry about money, or buy toilet paper, or cook my own food. But I do remember life not being quite so fast. Without a constant stream of information, life seemed slower and less stressful. 

 The first time I had an Internet connection at home was in 1998, after I’d moved to Los Angeles. My roommate and I had dial-up and AOL, but neither of us used it for much. My “real” online life probably started in 2000, when I opened a LiveJournal account and started anonymously blogging (even though it wasn’t called that yet) about my life to the roughly 6,000 LiveJournal users at the time. And that’s when the internet, for me, became important. And now, 12 years later, I write about my life for all of you. 

As much as I love technology and the convenience and connectedness that go along with it, I get weary of looking at screens. While I enjoy the luxury of never getting lost again, thanks to the GPS on my iPhone, I resent that I’ve become so dependent on it. And sure, my Kindle is convenient for travel, but I prefer to read actual books made of paper. 

I am so dependent on technology, but there was a time that seems like not so long ago, when I wasn’t. After all, we human beings CAN live without 24-hour connectivity to the entire world. We will be fine if our friends and loved ones cannot reach us immediately via text. 

 I once drove all the way to the grocery store before I realized that I had left my phone at home, and this discovery was so alarming that I actually considered driving all the way home to get it. Which is, you know, ridiculous. We convince ourselves we “need” all these things: smart phones, iPads, giant TVs, DVR, Kindles, satellite radio. Luxuries, all of them. But to me, some of these luxuries now feel like necessities.

There is a not-insignificant part of me that wants to burn all my electronic "necessities," move off-grid and grow my own food and churn butter and shit. That same part of me is sort of praying for an EMP to wipe out everything (by the way, I fully intend to watch that new NBC show, “Revolution.” Anyone else?).  But the part of me that loves air conditioning wins this battle, every time.

 So when it becomes too much, all these screens, I take a break. I used to designate Sundays as “no Internet day,” though now that I work from home I’ve been violating this rule on the regular. Aside from that, I rebel against the technological wonders around me in little ways: I keep a wall calendar in the kitchen. I write out my grocery lists on a notepad. I leave notes for myself on scraps of paper around my desk. These are all things I could do on my phone and save myself the headache of a billion sticky notes falling off the desk. 

Turning everything off, even if it’s only one day a week, makes me feel more human. Here are my hands, they can use a pencil. Here is my brain, it can be still for a moment.

Somer is reluctantly tweeting @somersherwood (but not on Sundays).