Not long ago, I used to leave the house and go about my day in the wilderness of the city without a phone, without internet, without the ability to reach someone “in case of an emergency.” It was a time before portable internet and smartphones. It’s a funny thing what you can get used to, and forget there ever being a time without: Without smartphones, without internet, without, without, without. It’s not like I haven’t tried to be without since, here and there, but it came out of frustration, annoyance and spite even, of an economy that turned my attention for sale to the highest bidder. I was simply young, idealistic, angry: It passes with time. Lately, through the passage of time and learning it’s mostly inconvenience rather than actual emergency that make connectivity on the go such a necessity, I find myself curious about a day spent offline. In fact, I have learned to love my smartphone and the internet these days,, but something about going out into the world without, when being without seems impossible, out of the question, even transgressive, that piques my interest, my curiosity to unplug.
It’s a funny thing, how much your life can change in a matter of months, weeks, even days. Back in August, a lifetime ago, when I unplugged for a 24-hour period, I spent most of it indoors. I mostly read and worked my way through puzzle after Sudoku puzzle; music blasting from my iPod shuffle for company. I couldn’t think of anywhere I could go, or more accurately anywhere I wanted to go. I missed home. I longed to get on the train and be at my parents’ house in half an hour but there were no trains, and no trains that would get me to my parents’ house anyway. Alone, and without the digital noise to distract me, I felt my emotions surface unbounded and I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. I felt the terror of my life take a seat next to me, uninvited and un-welcomed, and said to me, “you cannot go on like this.” And it’s not like I didn’t attempt to ignore it, tell myself, “don’t be stupid, this is as good as it’s going to get for you.”
I yearned for the internet. I wanted to scroll until I forgot to remember, to fill up the void gawking at me, to lose myself, my truth in the digital chatter. I held on instead, to being without, and without it, without the chatter of the internet to silence the gut-wrenching realization of my life as it was, on that ordinary day in August, in facing my life, myself, my truth, allowing the things I did not want to know to come to the surface, unobstructed by the tik tok, tik tok, tik tok noise of the digital world, I let go and let my life come crashing down. I was glad afterwards too, to be without social media, without FOMO, without reels, without the stories, and without this and that, as I took it one day at a time; one journal entry, one workout class, the books, the invites, the hugs and the relentless loneliness. Until I woke up one day and I was fine, and I went about my day.
That was then.
This time around, and with a good reason to unplug, I am simply curious to spend an ordinary Friday and Saturday without a phone, without the internet, without this and that. I’m curious to experience going out in the wilderness, in a city filled to the brim with people, things, activities, and go about my day without a phone. Will I get lost? Will I feel lost? What would I fill the in-between that I so often fill up with music blasting in my ears, an e-book, a glance at my phone? Would it feel liberating? Indulgent? It’s been so long since I left home without a phone, without someone with a phone, and yet I used to do it all the time, a time before, and I’m curious about that feeling again.
And with all that, here’s my plan for this year’s Global Day of Unplugging.
My Friday evenings are regular, week after week spent tucked away at a bar downtown. I know how to get there and back in my sleep, no apps necessary: one bus, a train, a streetcar. We simply show up too so I don’t need to text or call to confirm plans and once I’m there, I barely look at my phone anyway. It makes me happy to realize this about my life, how it has become effortlessly unplugged. It takes time, but the living adds up. Afterwards, I’m going dancing at a place I’ve never been before. It’s a five-minute walk from the train station, which I know how to get to, but I’ll need to write down walking directions. If anything, I can ask people for directions. The city is full of kind and pleasant strangers, they’d help you out with no qualm, and I’ve learned this by paying attention over the years. I love people.
My Saturdays are just as regular, and mostly offline. I usually sleep in until I must wake up at 11:00am- Oop- with just enough time to get ready and leave for my workout class at noon. I know how to get there and back if I were dead: I do it five times a week. The living adds up. After class, I usually make plans to see people- family, friends, dates, meetup events, or just solo outings to be around people. Otherwise, it’d literally be just me- no followers or internet people to keep me company at home. This Saturday, luck has it, I have found a digital minimalism meetup group that’s hosting an event about quitting social media. It’s at 3:00pm, so I’ll have enough time to go home, shower, and head out: I wonder how it’d feel to be without in-between these plans. The event is at a cafe, and Maps has already informed me it’s a three-minute walk from the train station. I know how to get to all the train stations in the city, which makes this whole being out and about without a phone thing easier. I just need to jot down walking directions before I leave and depend on the kindness of strangers for directions if I get lost.
Funny thing, I’m hopeless at navigation even with the apps, so I’m curious to see what happens without a smartphone to depend: Will it force me to pay more attention, be more alert to my surrounding, and be better at navigating directions as a result? The event ends at 5:00pm, almost sundown. I will have to get home to get ready for the event I’m going to that night. The only thing missing so far would be music on my commute, music and dancing while making food, podcasts when I want company, and I’m curious.
If any of these plans fall through, for one reason or another, I’d still have a good day offline. I have become an expert at spending time away from my phone, the social medias, the internet. I know how to spend time offline; time alone, time together, time apart, time wandering and wondering. I’m good at finding things to do offline; indoors, outdoors, on the go. I’m mostly curious about the in-between; commuting without music, and without a phone. Will I notice even more on the buses, trains, streetcars? Will I feel uncomfortable without a phone to look at to avoid paying attention? Will there be an emergency? Will I miss checking my email in between tasks, chores? Will I get lost getting to places I have never been before? Will I feel bored? What would it feel like to go about my normal life, a normal day, as ordinary as any other weekend, but without a phone, and without the internet?
I believe I will enjoy it; saviour it. I love the sense of freedom that comes from being untethered to the digital world, even for a short while. I sometimes feel it when I’m cuddled up with a book, late at night, my phone in the other room, and I think, it’s just me, myself and I, and I feel unburdened, free, safe from all the noise online. I believe I will feel delighted at transgressing the digital norm, the norm that says we cannot live without the internet, without smartphone, without this and that, that we need the digital to make it through life. I don’t agree, even if it’s too late to spend a lifetime offline for me at least, and I don’t want to anyway, I believe it is possible to be without. And once in a while, when there is a good reason to unplug, to go offline, to disappear from the digital space all together, just for a day, I’m happy to take it and unplug.
Until next time,
Sign up for my curated weekly newsletter, time spent offline, on spending less time online and (re)discovering the pleasures of the offline world. Five ideas delivered right to your inbox. Every Tuesday.
Leave a Reply