One month unplugged from the internet – a self-experiment about (re-)discovering how life used to be when everyone was offline.
If you could travel 200 years back in time, you would not only become THE special guest at every event, but you would also be the one that has a lot to narrate about “the future” from which you were coming from. Something that I find truly fascinating is the thought of explaining our modern lifestyle to someone who lived in the 19th century. I guess it would be utterly difficult to explain most of what we do all the day, when keeping in mind that you would be speaking to ordinary farmers and workmen, who never heard of PC’s, Smartphones, Television or even the Internet.
So, how would you tell them that the people of our sophisticated civilization regularly came home from work, ate something and started staring at moving pictures projected on a flat portal called “television” – for hours, day after day? How would you explain them, that we are nowadays so advanced, that we can interact and speak with each other over huge distances of hundreds of thousands of miles, but also that a lot of us hardly meet each other face to face on a day-to-day base, as we have become used to meet our friends in a virtual reality called “cyberspace”, rather than in reality. What do you think would be the reaction of the people living in the 19th century if you told them that we are connected with all our friends, bosses and colleagues 24-7, thanks to small devices that we carry wherever we go?
Well, I believe that it would be rather difficult to explain most of the things that we are totally used to, but I also think that the reaction of your listeners wouldn’t be all too positive! After all, they might think that we have become robot-like humans that mostly gain knowledge by accessing a huge “hive mind”, called the internet, in which nearly every data about our past and present is stored.
Living a month without the internet would not have been difficult for a person that was living 200 years earlier. But for many of us who have experienced how addictive the dotcom is, how effectively it captures your mind and how entertaining it is – in so many different ways – it might be quite a challenge to unplug from the internet for a month. For all those who use the internet to connect with their friends, buy things online and gather important information for their jobs and studies, it would be tremendously difficult to abandon the internet just for a week. That’s the reason I hit on the idea to start this self-experiment and decided to waive the internet for exactly one month.
30 days without the internet – unplugged
The internet has become an indispensable part of our everyday life and since it became available to the vast majority of people on this planet we spend more and more time online with every year to come (see graph below).
Over the time, the internet grew to an effective tool that allowed us to do a variety of things, from educating ourselves to sharing one’s ideas with like-minded people. I believe that nowadays you don’t need to be an internet addict to be painfully affected if the internet would break down from one day to another. Just think about yourself and how often you turn on the computer to access the internet when you need some important information; when you check a road-map on your Smartphone, or glance at the latest headlines from your tablet computer. Same goes for all the students and pupils that research online for further learning materials, the travelers that book their tickets online and everyone else who makes use of the internet to ease his life a little bit.
The reason I chose to plug off the internet for one month lies therein that I consider myself as a person who would be really affected when the internet suddenly breaks down. Not that I’m very fond of the idea of being online 24-7, but I felt that I more often spend my time online in a rather unproductive way, even if it was just half an hour a day. I wanted to know how it feels to live completely offline for more than just a week – something I haven’t done for years – and wanted to see how being offline affected my life and the relationship I have towards my work/study, friends and colleagues, but also the relationship with myself. I was interested to know, whether I would be spending a lot more time with my personal-growth, or if I would give my best to distract myself until I could finally access the internet, once again.
I hate rules same as everyone else does, so I kept the rules for my self-experiment pretty short and formulated only one rule:
Rule #1: No internet – under any circumstances.
I think that’s a very easy rule that doesn’t leave too much room for loopholes. But, when speaking of loopholes I think I should clarify that the “no internet rule” also applies for Smartphones, Mobile Phones, tablet computers, notebooks/laptops, computers, fax machines and the like. However, I’ve allowed myself to use all of the above named devices (except the fax, tablet computer and Smartphone) for offline activities such as writing an article – this one for instance. Furthermore, the “no internet rule” also applies for internet cafes/cybercafes, wireless LAN networks, my friend’s houses and their computers and Smartphones, the library and everywhere else where I could access the internet “illicitly” during the time of my no internet self-experiment.
I went offline from Sunday, January 01, 2012 till Thursday, January 31, 2012. Here’s my experience:
Phase I: Sobering-up
As a precautionary measure, I unplugged the Ethernet cable and hid it in a staple of boxes in my basement, one day before the self-experiment began. Luckily, I do not have a Smartphone – or any Mobile Phone that is able to go online for that matter; also I do not posses tablet computers or a game console, which means I disconnected my home entirely from the dotcom by hiding that cable. I have no Wi-Fi network or anything else that could lead me into temptation to reconnect from a hotspot. Once again, lucky me.
At the morning of the first day, I got up, ate my breakfast as always, flipped through the headlines of the newspaper and read the sports section. Everything went as usual, until I turned on the computer and was abruptly reminded by the “unable to connect” error message that popped up, informing me I had no longer access to the internet. “Oh no, the experiment,” was my first thought – true enthusiasm sounds different. At that moment I was facing the severe reality: I was disconnected, cut-off and separated. And this wouldn’t change for the next 30 days. Internet withdrawal doesn’t feel good; it’s uncomfortable, unpleasant and makes you realize how difficult life without an internet connection can be.
The biggest challenge about disconnecting cold-turkey lies not so much therein that the massive stream of information you had access to is suddenly intermitted; it lies a lot more in the imagination of your mind. All of a sudden, the most creative and juicy ideas will pop into your mind, suggesting what amazing things you could do, if you only were online right now. “You could research this, write about that, check on Facebook about upcoming events you’re invited to. By the way, maybe you have forgotten that one of your friends has birthday, better check on Facebook!” Also, there is this omnipresent and very obtrusive feeling that you are missing something very important, which is quite a struggle – especially in the first week.
And in fact, you are going to miss major news and updates that are relevant to you; I don’t want to make you any false hopes in this regard. I became the last who got to know about current developments in the world; mostly my friends would inform me and anything else could be found in the newspaper at the next morning.
Phase II: Distraction
From day one I realized that being offline is much better to deal with when you are distracted, especially while being at home. Diverting myself by the use of a TV was not an option for me, as that would be like replacing one vice with another. I did however discover some old, yet amazing, books I delved into. Remaining distracted at home can be a challenge at times, but being diverted in the day-to-day life was comparatively simple with having to work, attend university and all the social activities. I realized that the longer I was away from home, the easier it was to accomplish my challenge of being disconnected for 30 days. So one of my strategies to deal with being offline would be to work longer, sneak into the library more often or call one of my friends to do something together.
I think its safe to say that after the first week it became a lot easier for me to ignore the desire to go online until it slowly began to fade away. Every once in a while I would be reminded about my challenge when I saw many of my fellow-students engrossed in their Smartphones, but as I do not own one of these it wasn’t much of a challenge to ignore that as usual.
Phase III: Acceptance
After a while, you get used to the state of being disconnected. Even more so, you fully begin to accept it, as the advantages of being offline present themselves right in front of your eyes. Surely, the need to reconnect will come up every now and then, especially when you urgently need certain information. But, most if not all the time-consumptive online-activities, like checking your emails or Facebook notifications begin to look less and less meaningful to you, once you accepted the fact of not being able to connect to the internet.
Phase IV: Realizing the advantages
Instead of surfing the internet for entertainment, in most cases without a real aim or destination, I would sit down to meditate. I would open an insightful book or have a fantastic conversation. I would grab my camera and discover new places, take amazing shots of things/architecture out on the streets I’ve never had the time to admire. Also, I would just sit around and reflect on my life, deeply and profoundly, without being abstracted or driven to check the latest headlines. I became engulfed in my own thoughts, and not in those of another person.
Interestingly, I began to come up with some brilliant ideas in various areas. Instead of staring onto a white screen, aimless on the lookout for new concepts on the net, interesting conceptions began to find me, easily and without any effort. That’s what the switch from a technological stream of information to a more natural flow of ideas feels like.
The Outcome of the Self-Experiment
I realized that without the continuous distraction the internet provides I feel a lot more relaxed. It was easier for me to set priorities and spend more time in a productive way, instead of allowing it to pass by unused. It felt like awakening from a deep slumber and with this awakening came the realization that the internet definitely can be a very useful tool, but it can also become an addiction that captures your mind on a certain level, holding you back of what you could be truly capable of. It is the re-remembering of what you were truly designed to be: a human and not a calibrated robot that connects back to its network as often as possible, in order to receive the latest updates about the most irrelevant things.
A huge bonus of disconnecting was that I would procrastinate much less, for instance when working on an article. Normally, I would easily allow myself to get distracted by the internet as soon as writers block would occur, allowing me to postpone my task indefinitely. However, without the internet one big distraction was taken from me, leaving me only with two alternatives in such a situation: either interrupting on what I was working on, or pondering about the problem until I would come up with another idea, allowing me to continue writing.
Living disconnected from the internet in a society where everyone is online 24-7 can be a though ride, but it is possible. Moreover it can be a very valuable experience, as long as you do not consider the internet withdrawal as a self-punishment. Once you let go of all the unimportant ego-related stuff, like the constant need for entertainment, or the desire to be always up to date about literally everything that is happening in the world, being disconnected has the potential to enrich your life in a subtle way. You will notice that you spend more time with yourself, instead of mulling over the actions of others (celebrities, sportsman and politicians). Being offline may exclude you at times, it will make you look stupid when you’re the last to get to know some major news and it will cut you off from all those friends that you can only reach via the internet. But on the other hand, it gives you the opportunity to get to know yourself much better and to meet friends you haven’t seen for a while in real life. And – if nothing else – it will certainly help you to be more focused on the important things in life, to be more determined about your real goals and all the projects you have successfully procrastinated for the last months or years.
The internet will break down one day, hopefully just temporarily, but one day it will be permanent. I can proudly say I’m prepared. Are you?
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