As is with most things in life, spending time offline just takes getting used to, and I know a thing or two about getting used to: Getting used to a new country, a new language, a new city, a new life. People get used to war, peace, high gas prices— it’s all kind of the same in a way. It’s just easier to get used to when getting used to is the only option, much harder when you have choices.
August 6, I spent a full day offline. No phone, no internet, no TV, no nothing. It was Global Day of Unplugging and it was much easier this time around: I am getting used to being offline. In a way, it has become my normal. I have removed a lot of the choices I used to have: I’m not on social media, I have tricked myself into finding the internet a boring waste of time, an endless noise, and fwer and fewer things truly grab my attention online these days. The internet is my absolute last resort of escape. So I knew the hardest part of spending a whole day offline would be facing the rush of emotions that plague a mind so often used to constant, high-speed, infinite escape. That’s what happened around 10:00am. ‘
I started the day how I usually start my day, with coffee, a book, and journaling outside. I was reading the Dilbert Principle, a laugh-out-loud comedy-horror look at corporate America and its glorious lunacy, a page turner. Usually, I would also check texts, emails, YouTube, and other digital content in-between making coffee or going from reading to journaling. This time, I didn’t have what Nicholas Carr calls Net fixes in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains: A pacifier for the anxieties of modern living. Once I was done with my morning routine, and despite my best effort to get on with the daily tasks as planned, and with self-imposed cruelty because you know I could just go online and distract myself to feel better, I faced my emotions; first on the bed staring at the ceiling, and when that wasn’t dramatic enough, sprawled out on the floor. Real, raw, genuine; empty, emptying.
It didn’t last forever. I got myself together and got on with my daily tasks: What else is there to do? Still, it was only early afternoon by the time I finished most chores: Time feels infinite when you unplug. To fill the infinite space and time remaining, I blasted music from my trusted iPod Shuffle and grabbed the Sudoku puzzle book; one puzzle after another, after another, after another; song after song, after song, after song. I sang along, I checked off completed puzzles, I teared up, I zoned out, I got up and danced, I checked off more puzzles. It was fun. I felt things, and I felt okay. I wondered, why don’t I do this more often? The answer came to me just as easily: It takes getting used to. It takes getting used to picking up the Sudoku puzzle instead of checking my email, listening to music and dancing, instead of scrolling through reddit, and so forth.
When Suduko got boring, really I felt ridiculous after doing over 20 puzzles in one setting, I picked up Lady Oracle: I PLANNED MY DEATH CAREFULLY; unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it. I tasted each word, felt their texture of the sentence in my mouth. I read, and read, and read; undistracted, happily lost in the story of Joan Foster, a woman with numerous identities and a talent for shedding them at will. By the time I put down Lady Oracle, after what felt like hours and hours of reading, I noticed time was staying put. Time that runs out, runs away- time that flies- when I’m just going to check email quick, just going to Google how to pickle cucumbers, just going to see if there are any new uploads on YouTube, has decided it would now slow down, stay put, and mock me: What are you going to do now? I sheepishly did more Sudoku puzzles, and I contemplated time, boredom and loneliness. I was bored. I felt restless and anxious, but even then, I didn’t find the option to go online enticing: I knew it would disappoint me, bore me to self-loathing, despite its sweet escape.
So I contemplated more and arrived at perhaps the real reason why we don’t radically unplug, despite all the evidence that Silicon Valley is destroying us all: It is entirely way too much burden to face the quietness of the offline world, to face ourselves undistracted and without escape, after years of a mind that has been conditioned to be anywhere but in the here and now, unless we all unplug together— and we can end world hunger while we are at it too: Wishful thinking either way. And while time inched on and I got more and more desperate for my Net fix, the sun finally went down- a sizzling hot summer day- allowing me to go outside and pick some tomatoes and cucumber from our small garden, and I pulled out some weeds and watered the garden while at it. To end a day that wouldn’t end, time that wouldn’t pass, I did more Sudoku puzzles and read Lady Oracle until I fell asleep.
The next day, or maybe writing this post, I wondered why I don’t spend more of my days this way: It takes getting used to; getting used to the boredom at first; and facing your emotions as they come up to the surface, one by one, then all at once; getting used to the loneliness of not being where everyone is, feeling left out at times. It gets easier after that. After that, it just takes getting used to picking up a book instead of opening another tab, leaving the house for a walk instead of scrolling through the apps, paying attention to the real world around you instead of the digital noise online; getting used to searching for things to do offline instead of what is easy and there for your entertainment. In doing so, you learn to get used to your thoughts, your self, your own company, undistracted and without escape, and maybe learn you’re not so bad after all.
I sometimes forget about getting used to and I get impatient, and I run back to my Net fixes, to distract me, to pass the time, to forget. Then I’m at the library, picking up and putting down books, until I find it: I PLANNED MY DEATH CAREFULLY; unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it. I cannot fathom why I choose the internet- with its boring, bland sameness, loathing every moment I spend in its trenches, when I can get lost in the story of a woman who changes her identity at will. I cannot think of a good reason, except that it takes getting used to, and that is the good news; it’s not easy, but it just takes getting used to.
Until next time,
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