Fifteen minutes. Unless I'm sleeping, watching a movie, showering, etc. that's probably about as long as I've ever gone without plugging into the Internet -- whether it's to check my email, read the news, find out whether it's going to rain or not, or some other random thing. It's incredible how much the Internet has become woven into the fabric of our lives -- from driving up our productivity (think hardcover Encyclopedia vs. Wikipedia), facilitating commerce (think eBay), fostering collaboration (think human genome project), and on and on...
But the Internet has also become an endless source of distraction, a black hole, where unless you're careful, your time gets sucked in and you've become an addict to a new kind of drug. While you're checking your Google+, playing Words With Friends, looking up scores on ESPN, reading the news, etc., a part of you knows that all you're doing is procrastinating, but yet you have no desire to snap back to the reality of what's on your plate. Or, how many times during a conversation or dinner with a friend do you check your phone -- even when it doesn't vibrate or ring? I know I've done both of these many times before, and as a result, I was never in the moment, so to speak, always wondering what spam (what else?) was coming through my inbox, instead of truly appreciating the time I was spending with the person across the table or on the other end of the phone. So, long story short, for the next 48 hours, I will totally disconnect from the Internet -- e.g., no wi-fi, no cellular data, my iPhone will just become an overpriced telephone. What if I need directions? I'll do it the old fashion way and ask a local. What if I want to know if I'll need a coat? I'll step outside and find out. What if I'm looking for a good restaurant? I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best. What if my job manager emails me? Well, that one I haven't figured out yet, but I'll probably cross my fingers on that one too.
The 48 hours begins now.
Last weekend I spent 52-plus hours (originally intended to only be for 48 hours) disconnected from the Internet. I did this for multiple reasons -- some including 1) I felt I had become an addict to the Internet, having my thoughts and actions constantly interrupted by a buzz or a ding 2) My attention span was slowly deteriorating and, worse of all, it was being dictated by a 5 x 2.5 object in my pocket (my phone) 3). Most importantly, I was losing the ability to truly appreciate the moment, the now, the present. I wasn't seeing, feeling, hearing, and smelling what was in front of me. Ultimately, I was giving more of my time to a server in Kansas than to the more important people and things in my life. This needed to change.
What did I learn? In no particular order...
• No Internet = less planning = more spontaneity. As soon as I closed my laptop and turned off the data on my phone last Friday, I realized I had no idea what I was going to do to fill my time. But the beauty of not having any plans is that it's easy to accommodate unexpected things. For example, we drove to Dallas Saturday afternoon, walking around downtown, basking in the Texas sun with the occasional drop of cool rain falling on us. As we wandered around mindlessly, we ended up on a bridge and saw a set of tents set up in a parking lot a couple hundred yards below us. Curiosity struck and suddenly we found ourselves in front of the entrance to Cirque du Soleil's Kooza. We got lucky and were able to snatch two tickets for their last performance of the night!
• Life can be more expensive without the Internet. I have taken a lot of things that are freely available on the Internet for granted. Case in point, after unplugging on Friday, I wanted to take a walk through the neighborhood. As I put in my headphones, I realized I only have about 10 songs on my phone (most of them I got from Starbucks' pick of the week, and so are not necessarily what I would choose to listen to). No Internet, no Pandora, no free music. Bummer. But this point is caveated by the next...
• The Internet is an escape from (life's) challenges. I put parentheses around "life's" because this can be replaced with another more specific or generic term -- from work, relationships, family, etc. In the past, I've frequently drifted over to my laptop or my phone and latched on to YouTube, Google News, Pandora (per caveat above), etc. to distract myself from my problems, specifically, to avoid confronting them. Now, I shut my laptop and take a long walk to clear my head so I can think clearly and face things head on.
• Constant connection drives down the value of a conversation. Imagine this scenario: You're in the middle of recounting what you think was an exciting day of your life, and suddenly, the person you're talking to pulls out his phone to check his email. I guess it wasn't so exciting after all. I've been in both positions -- in the former, I feel a little annoyed, and in the latter, I've recognized that I'm being rude and entirely missing out on a good conversation with a good friend.
• Unplugging prevents burnout. This is a no-brainer. I spend a large amount of my time in front of a screen for work, whether it's typing an email, making a slide, or reading an article. By the end of the day, my eyes are strained and, inevitably, all I want to do is walk away from any screen that glows. The 50-plus hour respite gave me just the opportunity I needed to recharge.
Being disconnected from the Internet, whether it's for 48 minutes or 48 hours, was a refreshing slap in the face that life doesn't happen online: it's present, it's now, and it's going on with or without you. While I was writing this post, I received an email with this article, discussing how technology -- at least in the workplace -- is pushing us towards a less and less balanced life.