A couple of weeks ago I decided to take a mini-break from the internet. I realized that I had become paralyzingly addicted to wasting time with the help of my laptop. But to understand why, I need to add a little background.
As many of you know, I have been without a job for almost a year now. The project I was working on had been having its budget slashed year over year and it finally caught up with my position. I have done a few freelance projects but for someone with my professional background (urban planning and historic preservation) and at my experience level, job opportunities aren't exactly thick on the ground. Especially in a region so dependent on federal spending. Thankfully, we are nowhere near destitute thanks to John's hard work, but it does mean that I have oodles of free time.
But what is the quality of that free time? At first the days seemed to be limitless. Unprogrammed hours just vibrating with potential. But over time that morphed into existential angst about my place in the world. Feelings of guilt that I am not pulling my weight at home or in society at large. Then mundane tasks began to fill my time in a way that they would not have if I were working. I don't mean that I started to add housekeeping tasks because I had additional time, but rather the same tasks I did before began to fill more and more time. Or, if not the tasks themselves, the whole downward spiral that is procrastination wherein I am neither doing what I should be, nor doing something more fun and interesting because I am thinking about what I should be doing.
And that is where the digital double-edged sword comes into play. The internet can fulfilling and it can be deadening. But let me break down the villains in this festival of procrastination.
Facebook - Love that it keeps me in touch with friends and family in a way that I think is very positive. Hate that I find myself repeatedly refreshing the page hoping my working family and friends will say something to amuse me or respond to something I have posted.Simon Savidge and I have chatted a few times on our podcast The Readers about the internet's impact on our reading habits. We talked about how great it can be for bookish fulfillment, but we also talked about how it can be a big time waster and keep us from actually reading books.
Twitter - Love that I have connected with so many wonderful bookish people around the world. Hate that I find myself scrolling and scrolling and scrolling looking for what?
New York Times, Washington Post, and The Daily Dish - Love the fine reporting and commentary in each of these online news organs. Hate that I reflexively look at them throughout the day when FB and Twitter don't satisfy. Also, really hate how they can get me incensed about the state of the world and feeling frustrated that there is little I can do about anything.
As I have had such a slow reading year, I thought I would give myself a partial break from the internet to see if I could reconnect with reading. So a week or two ago I decided to go five days without looking at Facebook, Twitter or any news website or blog. I didn't rule out my blogs, or other book blogs, and I didn't rule out email. Not only do I not consider those to be time wasters, they have actually been neglected in recent months because of my addiction to the others mentioned above.
So what happened during my media moratorium?
1. I realized that checking Facebook, Twitter, and news sites was so reflexive that I found myself wanting to check them after about every two pages I read in a book. I had no idea I was interrupting my reading that much for social media. HUGE revelation.
2. Oddly, I also watched less TV. I think because when I watch most TV I have my iPad in front of me and the two things together just put me in a media coma.
3. I was more productive around the house. I discovered that BBC Radio 4 has lots of fun and interesting programmes to listen to while ironing and doing other chores.
4. I got more exercise.
5. I realized that people assume Facebook is a fail safe way to contact me. Even though I said I would be gone for a while I still got messages on FB that required answers from me. I didn't see any of those messages for five days.
6. I realized I could happily do without reading or hearing the news. In addition to avoiding news websites during this time I also avoided NPR news on the radio. Blissful. I missed nothing. Does this mean I will forever be ignorant about what is going on in the world? I doubt it, but it did prove the maxim that ignorance is bliss.
7. I felt more isolated. John was out of town and I began to feel a wee bit lonely. I realized I only have about four people in the world who wouldn't find a phone call with me to be unusual.
8. The experience made me totally rethink my recent decision to get a smart phone. I shouldn't do it in the first place just because of the expense, but I was close to taking the plunge. But now I think I really don't need or want that kind of time sucking potential to be at my side 24 hours a day. To anyone who thinks smart phones are indispensable, I get it. They can be extremely helpful and handy and fun. I know at some point I will get one, but I hope to god it doesn't become the crutch it has become to so many users.
No one will convince me that everyone needs to be connected to everything all the time. You don't. You just don't. No, I know that, but you really don't. You aren't that important. None of us are. And I will be annoyed and offended if you and I are sitting together and you need to check whatever feeds you are following. Why don't you just go somewhere else and be with your phone. You don't need me for that. And if I am so boring that you would rather be doing something else, please, by all means, go do it.
Unoriginal and not really surprising final thoughts on the experiment?
Everything in moderation.