This is my brain. This is my brain on the internet. Some interesting questions.
So I quit the internet for a month. Sort of. I am going to admit right up front that I cheated a few times, but for the majority of the time I went cold turkey and you know what? It was harder than I thought, but not for the reasons I thought it would be.
In the last year, since I’ve been more homebound, I have found myself on the internet more than ever. Sometimes I would be on for hours at a time with no other reason than I started to check e-mail and somehow got lost on that left turn to flickr or facebook or whatever virtual Albuquerque I came upon. I started to worry in earnest that I was addicted, that I had become so compulsive in my logging in that I couldn’t stop, even if I wanted to.
Also, my attention span had gone to utter pot. It was getting harder and harder to read a book, something I could easily blame on new parenthood, but I also noticed I couldn’t even watch a movie all the way through without minimizing it and checking e-mail, which lead to flickr, blogs, facebook, etc.
Then there was the ol’ anxiety–and how it seemed to be on the increase. I was worried A LOT. Again, new parenthood was indeed a culprit, but specifically, my status anxiety was almost in constant rumbling, if not spouting like a dormant geyser that now blew faithfully at odd times during the day. I was worried about everything from career, to parenting, to appearance to popularity. Nothing NEW per se, but it seemed more REVVED up and CHRONIC than usual.
In short, my mind just felt bad. Not fully depressed, but muddied and clogged with too much input and not enough output. I was ready for a change.
My initial plan was to strip down other instant technologies that I used daily like the cell phone and the digital camera, but two things became clear to me: when on a road trip with a baby, I just didn’t feel comfortable without the cell phone. Yes, it’s a recently created form of worry, but what is wrong with a piece of mind? Knowing I could call in an emergency if I needed to was worth keeping the cell phone. Also, we could have used film, but Graham’s camera is broken, and I could not foresee going a FULL MONTH of Gus’ life without a single picture—including a couple BIG LIFE MOMENTS like taking him to meet his great grandfathers. Again, a relatively newly created need, but I was willing to keep those going. So it became just about the internet.
As it turns out, I am not addicted to the internet. When in California for two weeks, I barely thought of it AT ALL and in fact RELISHED being off it. Half way through the trip, when it came time to set up the internet sabbatical notices on my e-mail and blog I DRAGGED my feet. I didn’t even WANT to check e-mail, but I had to for one last time and to make sure my editors and PR lady knew how to get hold of me, if need be. After that, I cut ties and didn’t THINK of the internet again for another 10 days…
And then I came home and that’s when things got hard.
First of all, I had to go back to work. While I got calls from one of my editors and my PR lady about various book business, I found my natural compulsion to answer questions myself or seek out answers through the internet hard to resist. It’s somewhat more WORK to research things off line. I realized in a couple of cases I had even forgot HOW. I had things to plan, like a return trip to CA for a memorial service—how am I going to find the best deal? I used to call a travel agent, but I don’t know of any and where do ‘I find one when I don’t even have a phonebook?
Then there are the weird self-made up “research” that I had never noticed before. If I heard a song I noticed how my immediate response was to Google the artist, and see if she had a blog, facebook page, photos, etc. Now without the means to find out, I was struck at how novel it felt just to experience the SONG as the SONG instead of the whole life around it. Ditto for books or articles or mentions of things I felt interested by.
The first fall from grace though happened when I was home alone with Gus all day. Because his sleeping had gone to shit (more on that later), it was a very hard day. Getting out of the house would have been a good idea, but our subway line was down, and we’ve discovered that we got a stroller that I can’t pick up on its own and carry down the stairs, much less with Gus in it. I usually put him in the Bjorn, but it was 95 degrees out and the idea of strapping a hot 20 lbs baby to my body did not seem like a good idea. I tried calling friends, but they either didn’t answer or couldn’t talk just then. Finally, in a fit of desperation, needing a moment to check out by checking in, I logged in—oh the escapist ecstasy! As it turned out, it was a good thing I did check because there were three press/interview queries waiting for me. I went back and forth with a journalist, made a date to do a phone interview and then something interesting happened…
This little fall from the wagon was very informative to me: I realized the moment I feel bored, stuck, or isolated I reach for the internet. It gives me a weird sense of connection and gives me an often false sense of getting things “done.” After e-mail I watched the old root hog in me get going: I went from e-mail to blog to blog to blog and was just about to check Facebook, when I stopped myself.
That’s when I realized my real problem: I’m LONELY here. When in California, we were traveling, but also surrounded by friends and family to visit with. The weather was GORGEOUS, so when in need, we just stepped outside and hung out in the yard or went for a walk—simple things that require a lot more planning where we live in Brooklyn. There’s the stroller problem, but then there is the general isolation problem too. In order to go anywhere hospitable, we have to plan, pack, and journey on the subway. We have people we like and hang out with here, but it seems a lot more high maintenance to plan—sometimes requiring weeks if not months in planning just for coffee. We have to journey or they have to journey at least 45 minutes to get anywhere.
The truth is, we don’t have a life and I look for that life on-line more than I care to admit. Working from home and having a baby has only made that worse. I know there are people—smart people—that would disagree with me when I say that on-line life is not REAL life. It’s not exactly FAKE either, but for me, it doesn’t equate the real-time aspects of being with people and experiencing the outside world.
The benefits of being off-line included feeling more present in my life, and way less scattered because, lo and behold, my focus DID become better. Graham and I connected more. My journal pages went up, as did my reading of books, and (interesting to me) listening to full length CDs. Like ANYTHING that has become compulsive, I see that my internet usage was just indicating an imbalance IN GENERAL.
I’d like this to become a REGULAR thing I do, but considering how much logistical stuff it took to arrange it, I think I’ll need to try it in smaller doses. Graham and I have talked about having internet free days and/or evenings. It’s something I plan on exploring like an ongoing experiment.