I recently spent a day off the internet. It wasn’t part of some digital detox or planned in any way. An electrical outage in the area broke some equipment that took longer than expected to repair.
From start to finish, I was off the grid for about 30 hours. After getting over the initial shock of being unable to check email every 5 minutes, I did some reflection around my dependency on the internet and my online habits.
Here’s what I learned.
Being offline was very disorienting at first, which was an odd feeling. It’s not like I’ve always had a reliable high bandwidth internet connection. So really, it shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. However, so much of what I do these days requires being online. I couldn’t open essential programs because they relied on a connection for license verification or files that were stored in the cloud. TV, Netflix, music and other entertainment options were unavailable. I eventually figured out how to do a couple of items for work in my local environment without a connection, but the scope of the tasks was very limited.
Once I got a couple of things to work, I quickly realized that over half of my brain resides on the internet, literally. I used to write things down, keep notes, and commit items to memory. These days, I’ve chosen to forgo these ‘old school’ ways of doing things and simply look items up on the internet. Need a recipe? Look it up. Can’t remember the syntax for that function? Look it up. Need directions to a restaurant? Look it up. You get the point. The internet has become an extension of my brain, an information repository that I’ve chosen to outsource to the internet rather than retaining it in local memory, or in other words, my head.
While I rely on the internet a lot, I thought I had improved my online habits over the last few years. Well, I found out there’s room for improvement, a LOT of room for improvement. Here are a few of the habits I marked as areas for improvement:
- Email – it’s not necessary to check email every hour or so. I went almost 30 hours without checking email. Guess what? The emails were still there when I got back online, waiting for my attention. The world didn’t crash and burn because I wasn’t providing instant responses. The lesson learned? Email is a tool that I need to control and check on my time. Don’t let email drive how I spend my day.
- News – there’s nothing to be gained by checking the headlines every couple of hours. I didn’t miss any breaking news items. One check of the headlines 30 hours later, and I was back up to speed on all the current events. Once or twice a day is about all the time that’s needed with the news.
- Weather – checking the weather every 30 minutes doesn’t change it. If the forecast for tomorrow is 70 and sunny at 9AM today, it is still going to be 70 and sunny tomorrow when I check at noon. Checking the weather is an autopilot habit. It doesn’t need to be checked more than once a day.
- Sports – following sports and checking scores in real-time isn’t productive. Sports are a form of entertainment. They’re a diversion, period. Stop mindlessly checking ESPN multiple times a day. There isn’t anything I’m going to learn on that site that will help me in my daily life. If I’m interested in following a game or feel the need to be entertained, then stop what I’m doing and watch the game.
The most important thing I learned is that there is life without the internet. Once the shock and awe of no internet wore off, I got things done. I went for a walk, roasted coffee beans, cleaned up the yard, organized my desk, went on a hike with Amanda and the dogs. Basically, I found something better and more productive to do with my time than spend it online. I discovered life outside the internet, and that life, that time, is best spent in the real world.
The takeaways from a day unplugged: be here, live in the now, stay focused on the task at hand, engage in the real world, don’t give in to the siren song of the internet.