THE BLOG

The Offline World

10/31/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Go online, and make the reservations ..."
"You can read about it online ..."
"We met online ..."

The concept of "online" -- of being, or existing, solely on the computer -- has become so omnipresent, such a staple of contemporary existence, that it seems to me that there are only two realities that one can presently occupy -- one is either on the computer, or one is not. That is, one is either "online," or one is not.

It further seems to me that the online state of being is steadily gaining the upper hand, particularly, of course, among younger people -- the virtual generation, or "generation download." For that demographic, the world seems to be a primarily digital landscape --a throbbing emailing, Googling, Youtubing, Facebooking, IMing, texting universe.

It seems that a modification in the language is called for. Increasingly, it's the state of being offline, rather than being online, that is the unusual state of being. It is the condition, in fact, of going offline, rather than online, that needs the appropriate signaling to others. As in:

"Let's go offline, and play some basketball ..."
"Offline, I was talking to my boyfriend ..."
"Last night, offline, I read The Great Gatsby for the first time..."

Being 45, I'm caught in the middle of the offline and the online world. I'm at the heart of the digital divide. In fact, I spend most of my time Googling and Facebooking and emailing and powerpointing and posting and blogging. For writers especially, this computer thing is pretty great. I researched most of an entire book without every having to go to the library. And as a retiring sort myself, I particularly enjoy being able to stay in touch with people without actually having to talk to people. But it also seems to me that a day spent entirely looking into a screen is somehow flimsy and empty. Not quite the real thing. Ultimately unfulfilling -- at least as a steady diet.

Last weekend, I happened to go offline with my six year old son. We played baseball for three hours in the cool fall air. We played first in our yard, and then migrated to the town green of our small New England community, where a little country fair was going on.

There we partook of the ancient father-and-son rhythms of pitch and catch, of strike and ball. The layers of sunlight filtered through the trees and created long shadows on the emerald grass, which was unusually green for this time of year. My son laughed, and threw, and hit, and struck out, and laughed some more. My Blackberry sat in the grass, beeping and blinking and ignored.

After a while our friends started playing jazz guitar and piano, and my wife watched us throw and hit, and it suddenly came back to me, with relief, that there exists more in this world -- a virtuous reality -- than what transpires on my beloved and toxic computer screen.