What Happened When I Went Completely Offline For A Week

Any day now, some biologist will declare that the DNA of the average 21st-century person is organized not into chromosomes, but into IP addresses.

I, for one, won’t be shocked by any such announcement, because that’s the extent to which computers and the Internet seem to have taken over everyday living. Our lives now stand divided into two categories: online and offline. That we need a separate label to describe life without a computer/computer network is quite telling.

In the past couple of years, I have often wished to slip back into the past to a simpler time when I did not feel throttled by information or the need to access it 24/7. Occasionally, I managed to stay offline for a day here, a few hours there. Since these short periods of digital disconnect were more often than not enforced by power cuts, a faulty Internet connection, etc., I couldn’t really take credit for them.

online   What Happened When I Went Completely Offline For A Week

Just a week before Christmas, as I packed to leave on a vacation, I decided that it was the right time to conduct my “completely offline” experiment. I went ahead with the week-long attempt to stay away from all things digital. Here’s the story in detail.

How I Prepared For My Digital Sabbatical

To fill the gap that would be created by the lack a digital screen, I packed in a book I had been wanting to read – Scott Adams’ The Dilbert Future. I also added a notebook and a pen to my handbag in the hope of getting some serious brainstorming and writing done in my free time.

Then I wrapped up some pending online work, sent out a few last-minute emails, published a post about my experiment on my personal blog, and shut down the computer. Unlike my previous holidays, this time I did not instruct anyone to check my email for me everyday.

Leaving behind my 7-inch Samsung Galaxy tab was more difficult than I had imagined it would be. The temptation to grab it just before I went out the door was strong. Nevertheless, it stayed put on my desk.

I carried my dumb phone with me, but only as a replacement for my watch. With very basic features and without a data plan, it was toothless anyway.

How The Experience Turned Out To Be

On December 18th, just before dawn, I reached the airport and found it bustling with activity even that early in the morning. Being around so many people glued to colorful devices with Internet access made me want to get back to my trusty old Lenovo laptop. The sight of a guy logging into a social media account taunted me further.

screens   What Happened When I Went Completely Offline For A Week

Thankfully, the distraction of checking in and the excitement of the upcoming holiday soon made me forget all about digital connectivity, if only temporarily.

Upon reaching my destination, like any other tourist, I got pulled into the usual sightseeing routine. Perhaps it was the magic of being on a vacation or maybe it was the feel of being in a new, smaller, slower city, but I did not miss the Internet too much.

What Worked And What Didn’t

The only time I wished I had access to Google was when we could not find a tour guide to narrate the history of a couple of beautiful ancient ruins we visited. Since we had set off on the trip in a hurry, I had not found time to read up on our destination. But despite the missing information, I savored every moment spent in the serene environs of the ruins, which happened to be Buddhist monasteries from 6th century AD.

We also lost our way a couple of times, mainly because we misunderstood the directions given in the local language. But it cost us nothing more than a circuitous journey and gave us something to laugh about over dinner.

One significant thing I noticed in the absence of the Internet was that throughout the trip, I was living in the moment and actually paying attention to the people and places around me. This has been quite rare in the course of my daily life since I’m usually looking at a screen or biding my time till I can look at one.

lost   What Happened When I Went Completely Offline For A Week

The feeling of being offline really hit home when I returned to my hotel room every evening after a day of sightseeing. The urge to check my email and catch up on online news returned with a vengeance.

For the most part, I couldn’t settle down easily to read or write as I had planned. I managed to read only about 45-50 pages of the paperback I carried and took down just a fraction of the ideas flying through my mind. There was also a sense of restlessness, which was understandable since I did not have the means to surf as usual. The feeling abated after some time and completely disappeared when I set out for yet another day of exploration.

There were a couple of times when I longed to go back just because I desperately wanted to check something, anything, online. I don’t like cyber cafes, so those weren’t a option. Besides, the thought that accessing the Internet would wreck my experiment put things in perspective.

I came back home at around 2 am on December 25th. Despite being wide awake, I did not rush to the computer to check my email, as I normally do when I return home. Instead I enjoyed a cup of tea and chatted with my sister before going to bed.

Surprisingly, I was content to wait till morning to get back online.

The Discovery

The world did not end.

I was able to pick up right where I left off. I did miss interesting global news about products being launched, companies being taken over, and videos going viral. But it was nothing that I couldn’t retrieve if I so wished and it most certainly wasn’t anything that prevented me from getting on with life.

The Verdict

We live in the deathly clutches of information. Many of our major concerns involve questions like how we can find information, what we should do with it, how it will impact our lives, and what will happen if we don’t find it. Even the solutions we look for are often to fix problems created by our online lives.

Living in the Internet era has changed us to such an extent that the idea of having to live completely offline even for a little while sounds like a prison sentence. But it really isn’t. It can turn out to be the perfect time to return to all those activities you enjoyed before you got introduced to a computer.

simple   What Happened When I Went Completely Offline For A Week

The Internet is a brilliant and useful tool for learning, communication, and global as well as personal change. It has definitely transformed the world for the better. But it doesn’t deserve the lifeblood status we have given it. And really, your digital absence matters to fewer people than you think.

The Takeaway

After my conscious attempt at staying offline, I have come to the the conclusion that I’m frighteningly overdependent on my online life and I must get over it.

To do that, I need to take a break from the Internet on a regular basis. With that in mind, I have decided that starting 2014, I will stay completely offline for at least two Sundays a month. I’m hoping that as I get used to these digital time-outs, I will find it easier to increase their frequency without feeling as if I’m chopping off a limb. I will also go on a better information diet.

Over to you. What are your thoughts on and experiences from total digital vacations? Also, in future, how about a little less of powering up your computer and a little more of plugging into life?

Image Credits: #Flick12Days by sandeepMM, Unplugged – no computer, no internet, possible? by photosteve101, Ya Internet by miss karen, Oh, of course. Now I see. by dvs , Tea Time! by martinak15 

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114 Comments -

2 votes

mangatron

my word, this was a great read. I myself have been online since 1997 on average 300 days a year, with the off days similar to what you described, be it I’m in a place without a computer, or I spent a lot of time on the road (back then in the early 2000′s, mobile internet wasn’t as 3G’ish on high-res color screens as it is now). Lately though, with my health being bad too regularly, I decided to spend a single day offline just to rest my eyes. I really recommend others spend time offline regularly, it makes me appreciate my online time more.

2 votes

Akshata

Thanks! In eight years the Internet has left me mentally exhausted. You have been online for an entire decade longer than that. I can’t imagine how much more the online/offline equation affects you. As you said, the time away from the Internet does make the online time more precious.

0 votes

Tom W

I don’t mind staying away from the internet, but it does have some side effects. For instance, most of the reading I do is web comics. If I don’t check them regularly I miss out on parts of the story. The same goes for episodic Youtube series, which I usually watch while working at the computer.

Things like emails I’m not too bad with. I check them a couple of times a day at most and can go several days without checking them. The same goes for social networking, there’s rarely anything important there. Anyone who needs me desperately can ring or text me.

1 votes

Akshata

You seem to have struck the right balance between doing things online and offline. The Internet is a wonderful resource, so I’m all for taking advantage of it. All I would say is that we just need to take it in healthy doses, just as you seem to be doing.

0 votes

Jaime Buckley

Totally agree Tom…the only real difference with me is I own a Nook and have 600+ books collected that I read from every day.

Other than that, I spend 15+ hours a day writing and researching at a computer, less on Saturdays and never turn on an electronic device (except the Nook) on Sundays. That’s family and rest time. I don’t care much anymore about In-Yer-Facebook and my work has automated feeds anyway. Gave my iPhone to a friend who needed it for work–as I use my Google # instead.

What gets me is when my kids and grandkids are around and I see all the bleep-bleep-bleep going on and so little conversation. *sigh*

Great article Akshata!

0 votes

Tom W

E-readers are an interesting subject. They are obviously technology, but the ones with limited functionality (apart from books of course) and magnetic ink can’t really be classified as anything other than a better way to read traditional books. At least in this context.

I haven’t made the switch to an e-reader yet, partly because my reading can be sporadic (I read nothing last year, but I’ve already read 5 books in the past few weeks) and partly because I prefer the way a traditional book feels in my hands.

1 votes

Akshata

Thanks, Jaime!

0 votes

Daniel

More people should do this regularly.

Vacations are a perfect example when to try this.
But you don’t have to be completely offline, the key is to avoid all your usual sites and activities!
Only use it for a limited time to get specific information related to your trip, and nothing else.

It’s a great opportunity to relax and get away from your everyday life, to focus on other things.
When you get back you’ll have renewed energy to take on whatever you like to do, it’s like rebooting your mind!

What happens if your internet connection fails for a few days?
Some people will get into a state of panic, maybe even more so than a drug addict who cannot get his fix. Can you imagine yourself in the company of addicts?

For many people social media is the main culprit, the fear of not keeping up with everything everyone else is doing may hamper your own experience of life.

0 votes

Akshata

You’re absolutely right, Daniel. Internet addiction can turn out to be a very serious problem indeed. Even limiting your Internet usage, instead of going completely offline, goes a long way.

0 votes

P. Chandra

You should take up an outdoor activity to stay away from your online cravings. Most people, especially the younger generation, don’t know how to sweat in the hot sun and get something useful done in the yard. I, for one, can stay away from the internet whenever I want even though I am addicted to it. If I step out, I have no problem staying away from being online.

0 votes

Akshata

I do need more outdoor activity, but not mainly for the reasons you’re mentioning. Even before computers came into the picture, I was outdoorsy only in short bursts. Usually, I was the kid sitting in a corner, reading, solving crosswords, writing, etc. So I guess my Internet addiction is not so much because of living in the digital era as much as it’s because I have always been curious and addicted to information in other forms as well.

But it’s nice to hear that you have no such dependence on the Internet. There are very few people who can claim that.

0 votes

Stuart

I’m grateful that I lived and experienced the world before “t’internet” (i.e. 1995 and yes I know it existed before that in ‘other ways as I’ve been online since 1985 in one form or another) as it has given me such an appreciation for my down time.

I still love nothing better than being able to find somewhere that forces my children to have to disconnect from their devices and frequently plan holidays around poor signal areas and no wifi just because. It’s enlightening to see a younger person has re-discovered that the world does exist and is the better for it when dis-connected. Despite working in IT (network & firewall engineer) I love nothing better than to dis-connect and me and my camera go exploring.

Good read – maybe more folks will do this now.

1 votes

Akshata

Thanks Stuart. Being online for two-three decades sounds simultaneously interesting and painful to me.

1 votes

Arturo

Stuart, besides how it is” enlightening to see a younger person has re-discovered that the world does exist and is the better for it when dis-connected”, once you are off-line it is impressive to see how specially young people –sorry I’m 56– can’t live without checking their phones every other minute. Last week we spent almost a whole week at Puerto Escondido, a rather remote beach in Mexico –by the way we are Mexicans. My iPhone broke down and had no ways to make calls, just sporadic WhatsApp messaging. That gave me the opportunity to observe how frightening is that eye-balls are upside down instead of enjoying the view, or, more important, giving a break to you mind. It seems that as of today, we “can’t” have an off-life (if you can say so…) but, once you have no other chance, you actually can. Instead of asking Google, you can ask People. Being offline may “hurt” but sooner or later it’ll heal. (I hope I was clear enough, as English is not my primary language).

0 votes

Vipul J

I would disagree when you say take a vacation. By personal experience I’ve noticed that the cause of social addiction isn’t internet itself but actually “Notifications”.

Notifications can possibly ruin your every moment, be it, FB, twitter, feeds, G+, tapatalk, etc.. So instead of taking a break (which can be disastrous in events as you described, finding a route, translating languages, searching for something), just try turning off all your notifications and then feel the difference.

I myself was caught up, checking my phone every second. I realized that it was becoming a sickness actually, because when I didn’t have a notification I would just add more apps so that I would most definitely have one whenever I looked.
That is when I decided to shut all of them down except for my Whatsapp. I am yet to turn its notifications off. Because all my friends communicate via this, so disabling its notifications would mean missing out on important stuff & possible weekend plans!

Anyway, I can truly tell you, I live a peaceful life now!
I do my stuff, roam around, watch stuff, and check the apps manually when I feel like it.

1 votes

Akshata

I’m not exactly recommending digital vacations. Being a writer who works online, I can’t think of taking one myself all that often. This was a vacation that I had already planned for, so it came as an opportunity to test how much this online-offline gap meant to me.

I do agree with you about the notification thing. Things are worse when you’re simply reacting to whatever the Web throws at you instead of choosing for yourself what you want to focus on. But you seem to be doing very well managing the Internet and not letting it manage you.

0 votes

Stuart D

@Vipil J (sorry, have to use a.n.other account as Makeuseof has decided not to recognise the other one I clearly commented with!!!) – I understand what you say but those notifications are *only* occurring because of the internet.

So by extrapolation you get that the internet is the problem.

@Arturo – I understood you easily.

I’ve had a disconnect with the real world (i.e. the one that allows us to be online) for a period and the reality is that it was just a place to hide away from solving my problems. Not anyone else’s problems but mine. Once I started to dis-connect I spotted the flaws and bit by bit have been able to deal with them.

I know that part of ‘social issues’ now is that because we live in such a connected world we hear everything so much quicker but has anyone ever really considered that the opposite is true and it’s not that we hear the issue quicker but that the very act of being online may be causing the issue in the first place. Consider that we feel braver, more aggressive, prepared to fight, etc when IRL we would never dream of doing so. I can only see that the future will bring more places that introduce technology (contradictorily) to stop us using our eDevice such as mobile phone signal killers, etc. And do you know what, I say yes. Bring it on, make people have to interact face to face.

0 votes

Arvinder K

Nice one!!, I know this feeling……I kept my phone in bank safe deposit for couple of weeks during my month long vacation this fall. Worked out great. Disconnected life was lot simpler.

0 votes

Akshata

Thanks Arvinder. It’s good to hear that you enjoyed your digital vacation.

0 votes

Mittu

I got addicted to the internet just some time ago,two years to be exact. And its something I cannot live without even one day. I need to know how the team I support in the USA is doing,I need to know whether Modi’s targeted Rahul Gandhi yet again in his new speech, I need to know what Woody Allen’s next is going to be about. But if I go back two years ago and ask myself whether I missed much just by reading the papers, I ‘d say, ‘Not Much’. A very good read by the way.

0 votes

Akshata

Thank you, Mittu. I know exactly what you mean since I have had similar thoughts and experiences.

0 votes

Abhimanyu

A very nice article.

It reminded me of how we have gotten really sucked into the unending world of content and information.

Made me think of why the internet was made. There are so many things we have done with this connectedness, but in this whole rush of all the things that keep happening , we kinda got lost on what the internet kept becoming rather than thinking about what we could and should do with this huge connectivity and information.

0 votes

Akshata

Thanks Abhimanyu! These days, many of us are coming to similar conclusions as you have.

0 votes

Ben

this seems similar to deciding to do without electricity, or combustion engines, or some older technology. I feel like people target the internet, smartphones, etc only because they’re newer.

0 votes

Akshata

You may be right there, Ben. I guess every generation has some different piece of technology/advancement to deal with and argue over. But there’s a big difference between using something mindfully and doing without, and I’d definitely recommend the former.

0 votes

Santiago

Great article! I really need to work on being less dependant on my phone or laptop. I recently stayed offline for three full days and I really enjoyed the time with family and friends, I will definitely take the challenge of staying offline at least two days a month and try better at not obsessively checking my phone every 5 minutes. Thinks for the story.

0 votes

Akshata

Thank you, Santiago. Good luck with your task.

0 votes

Dave P

While I wasn’t completely offline over the holidays I was online a lot less than normal. It was nice to reconnect with people in the real world, and I would certainly recommend everyone do it occasionally.

0 votes

Akshata

You seem to have found just the right balance :) And I agree, it’s really nice to reconnect with people in the real world.

0 votes

D R

Good article!

As much as I love and rely on the internet, I’ve discovered I certainly can live without it, for short periods of time. My spouse and I will go ‘dry’ camping for four to six-day stretches during the summer months, in remote areas where there is no water, electricity or cellular service (and absolutely no way to access the internet). I did bring my tablet once (to use as an e-reader), as well as a solar charger, but we were so busy hiking, fishing, sightseeing, etc., that I didn’t use it at all.

When I’m back in ‘civilization’, I find it much harder to stay away from the internet, but when I’m out in the middle of nowhere, it doesn’t really cross my mind much. The first time we tried it, I really thought I’d go through the internet withdrawal-panic process, but it didn’t really happen. Now that I know I can live without it, it doesn’t bother me at all when we leave.

0 votes

Akshata

Thanks! Your trips sound busy and fun, and that’s just great. I have no idea how I’ll cope with no water & no electricity, so I guess that’s all the more reason for me to give it a shot.

0 votes

Horace C

This is exactly like right now for me, except that it lasted for a month. It’s driving me crazy. Thankfully, little bits of internet here and there is keeping me alive, like right now.

0 votes

Akshata

In these times, a month is a long time to stay mainly disconnected, so I can imagine how frustrating it is. But you seem to coping fairly well.

0 votes

kihara

Great article Akshata, I really enjoyed reading it! We should all try this once in a while.

0 votes

Akshata

Thanks, Kihara :) We really should.

0 votes

historyb

I enjoyed your article. One of my most enjoyable times was when I took a college course and there were no computers in sight, I can say it was very relaxing and I found myself looking forward to it.

I do think we are becoming way to dependant on computers and social media

0 votes

Akshata

Thanks!

0 votes

Sinuhe69

Of course I think I can live one week without the internet but I would truly miss it badly. Whenever I watch a new movie or see something interesting, my first reflex is to grab my tablet/phone and do some research about it. Speaking of traveling, it’s almost unimaginable for me just to flight over without to check it first on TripAdvisor or similar sites. However it’s also true that we spend too much time on social networks, always trying to catch the latest trends or update every tiny details of our (agreeable total normal) life. But it’s the human trait, which still left by us in 21. century: the need to be in connection with our human-being.
One day, our brains will be permanent connected to the net. Will that change our human-being? Let’s hope not.

0 votes

Angela A

Nice post! Someday I’ll need to write properly about my 6 months offline. But it still makes me so pissed off that I need to leave it for later. :)

0 votes

Akshata

Thanks, Angela :) Six months is a long, long duration to stay disconnected in these times. You have got me curious. I would love to know more about your time offline, whenever you happen to write about it.

0 votes

Jason N

How do you think this would have been a different experience for you if there had not been any vacationing involved, and you were doing this during a “regular” week? Being at home, otherwise going about your normal routine, etc? I know many people require internet access for thier jobs or otherwise need a computer to get a paycheck, but I wonder how would many people fare if that’s *all* they were using it for…

0 votes

Akshata

That’s an interesting question, Jason. If I had not been on a vacation, I probably wouldn’t have lasted a week, especially if I was at home for most of that time. But I probably would have had less trouble staying offline over the weekend than during the week.

0 votes

Phil

We all should probably take offline retreats, if for nothing more than to live through the withdrawal pain, and know there is life after withdrawal. I’ve never managed to live through it.

0 votes

Stephen H

This was probably the best article on MUO I have read in a very long time – if not ever. I myself have been online since 1995… hard to believe I waited around for dial up speeds through aol on a 14.4 modem.

Since then, my online-ness has only increased to the point that I have been online every day for the past 12 years at least. Power outages – battery backups and generators, internet outages – smart phone hotspot or public internet access.

My job and my livelihood relies on me being connected. The though of not having all 6 of my email addresses or 4 phone numbers at my fingertips actually scares me.

I like the idea of slowing down, however. I would love to SEE the world around me, not just images of it on google maps and websites.

Here’s to a 2014 with days in “the real world” mixed in to the matrix. I plan to follow your lead and schedule off line time regularly.

Thank you for the reality check.

0 votes

Akshata

Thanks a lot, Stephen. The Internet speed is another thing I often think about in connection with this. We have all had ridiculously slow Internet speeds at some point of time or the other, but I don’t think it bothered us all that much when we didn’t know such blazing speeds were possible. Now we don’t have even a little patience to handle a slow connection for five minutes, let alone an entire day.

6 email addresses and 4 phone numbers sounds like a lot to handle. I myself had 6 email ids not very long ago.

My work is also dependent on being online. But, I’m trying to introduce offline elements wherever possible. I have even started writing first drafts (for my personal blog) by hand.

0 votes

Stephen H

All told – including email aliases and Google voice numbers (which I use heavily) – I have more than 1500 email addresses (no idea the exact number) and 28 phone numbers. I have consolidated and routed down to 6 emails and 4 phone numbers.

It is amazing how connected you can actually get with a single device. Google is building the matrix, and we are all eating it up and cheering them on.

0 votes

Arun

worth a read..! when I say worth a read I mean that reading your post is useful for me. Same applies for everything. when you go online for the stuff you need and stick to that, Internet is not that much addictive. but usually with the digital adds and social media.. we were tempted to stay online even for days continuously with out any productive purpose. When we create an agenda for ourselves each day (as you did for a week without internet)and work towards it, internet will surely assist you and I m sure you cannot be arrested by it atleast for a short while.

0 votes

cthomerson

Great read… my job requires me to check email throughout the day from those with which we do business. Research of technology in the industry which I work comes about from time to time as well. However, after reading your article and your reader’s comments; I too feel I could certainly do better by not feeling the need to be connected.

I don’t make new year resolutions largely in part because I aspire to make today better than yesterday (sometimes impossible), but I will add that I will do my best to take a offline vacation more often and enjoy what is going on around me instead of the world. Thanks again for your enlightening article.

0 votes

Akshata

Thank you!

0 votes

Bakari Chavanu

Akshata, congratulations on taking your hiatus from the Internet. I tried doing that several months ago and didn’t succeed. I took off from MUO for a week, and stayed off the Internet for the first two days, but by that Wednesday I found that I was missing out on information and other entertainment that I don’t get anywhere else. I don’t watch television, and though I read a lot, like browsing the internet, posting social network messages, and watching videos is what I do in my spare time. And since there’s hardly no places to hang out where I live, there’s little else to fulfill my time beyond the internet. I do though try to avoid getting on the computer on Saturday or Sunday. I still use my iPad, but I try not go on the computer.

Great article. Glad you were able to write it.

0 votes

Akshata

Thanks Bakari :) I would have had a similar problem staying offline if I had tried that at home. I also like browsing, but I keep going off on tangents and cutting into my work time when I do that, so I have reduced it.

0 votes

Sue

I am sure that I am much older than you. Our family gets together often and there is usually a really interesting conversation among us. My grandchildren are so busy with their devices that they don’t a thing being said. Sadly they miss out of lots of family history, current sports in which family members have been involved, etc. Some day they will want to know this info and will have missed the opportunity to hear it first hand.

0 votes

Akshata

Despite finding all kinds of info on the Web, I take part in the kind of conversations you just described because they form another source of information and I like that. I guess only after we’re saturated by do we feel the urge to give it up :)

0 votes

David

As a practicing Jew, I get off all computers phone tv or indeed electric appliances every Sabbath (Saturday ) for 24 hours. I am as hooked on the internet as the next guy, but this religiously prescribed break does create a totally different and very welcome rhythm, and the opportunity to savour life.

0 votes

Akshata

I agree with you, David. As I also have experienced, an enforced break for any reason is not as bad as we imagine it might be. It does often turn out to be wonderful actually.

0 votes

Pijush G

I use to be a great fan/reader of MOU’s articles. This ship gonna sank soon.

0 votes

Joel L

It’s hard for me to break away from the Internet but I always find it refreshing when I do. This article was a great read and a great reminder that I should probably take another break soon.

0 votes

Akshata

Thank you, Joel :)

0 votes

dragonmouth

“Any day now, some biologist will declare that the DNA of the average 21st-century person is organized not into chromosomes, but into IP addresses.”
Possibly. It is also possible that in the not-to-distant future people will have electronic connectors implanted into their skulls. These connectors will be wired into the brain, allowing us a direct interface to our electronic gadgets without the need for a keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc. Just imagine 24/7/365 real time Facebook/Twitter/Tumbler!

I don’t know about being “offline for a week” but it was a very trying time whenever our computers or the networks went down at work for any amount of time. We got so used to doing all our work on a computer that when we could not because of some glitch, we felt like drug users who did not get their fix. Feelings of loss, disorientation, etc. quickly set in. Most of the work could not be done off-line because our files were stored on the company servers. It is tough work trying to look like you are working.

Having said all that, whenever I went on vacation, whether it was for a week or a month, I completely disconnected. No electronic gadgets. I did not want to drag my electronic umbilical with me. Vacation meant time off from work. Any emails, IMs, texts, phone calls could wait until the time-off was over. If the world came to an end during that time, I would find out soon enough.

0 votes

Akshata

Google Glass is well on its way leading us into the kind of future you described :) Staying offline when you’re on vacation is easier compared to staying offline when you’re at home and surrounded by gadgets.

0 votes

dragonmouth

“Staying offline when you’re on vacation is easier compared to staying offline when you’re at home and surrounded by gadgets.”
As Nancy Reagan used to say about drugs “Just say NO!”
For most of us, our gadgets are an addiction and we cannot say “NO”. We crave 24/7/365 contact, afraid that we might miss some earth-shattering news such as some totally forgetable non-entity developing a zit on his/her butt cheek. We are a speicies of gossipers.

0 votes

Paul S

Recently I was in the hospital for about 3 weeks. Except for 2 days when my wife wanted me to type up the Christmas letter that she composed longhand, I didn’t have access to the ‘puter. One day I saw over 680 eMails that needed to be dealt with. Later the exact number was 666, a more interesting number. When I was dismissed I got to go at my machine and wade through the messages.

0 votes

Akshata

I know that feeling of rushing to your computer to check for messages :) But I try not to give in to it every time.

0 votes

Pinky

One of the most balanced, well-written articles I’ve ever read.
The saddest thing I ever saw … My husband and I were dining at a restaurant. I looked over and saw a mother, father, young teenager and perhaps an aunt sitting at a table. From the time they walked in until the time they got their meal not one of them looked up from their device. They ate and as soon as they were done they were right back to the electronics. Even the most positive things can become a negative if we overdo or don’t keep them its their proper place. Access to information is a wonderful thing, but the human factor is what brings inert information to life.

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ShorePatrol

Really, not to be too sarcastic but, this is the first time? You did not mention your age as this may shed some perspective on the matter. I am puzzled why you would need to bring these superfluous items anyway, a simple cell phone is understandable. I am by no stretch a doomsdayer but I carry a bag with paracord, local maps, magnifying glass, Gerber multitool, sightable compass and more but the best part is they fit in a fanny pack and require NO power, and yes I do notice my surroundings. You may say it was Boy Scouts or my strict Catholic upbringing but who would fair better when the worst happens. I worked outside for 40 yrs. from -20 to +105 I am in superb condition and weather permitting have a great tan if your job requires you to check your computer or … every 15 mins. you need another job. Leave your electronic crap behind learn how to tie knots, skin a rabbit and begin living again.Sorry for my rant but this is truly what I feel and do. Have a great year and look me up when the power grid becomes compromised you will find me near the sea shore!

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Akshata

This was not the first time I stayed offline while I was on vacation, but it was the first time I did it consciously and paid attention to my response to a digital disconnect. It was also the first time I did that after buying a gadget that was usable and conveniently portable. I don’t own a smartphone and I often go without checking my dumb phone for days. I’m all for becoming less dependent on the Internet, just like you are. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong having a job that requires a computer or some other piece of technology. Knowing where to draw the line when it comes to our usage of all things digital is what I think we should strive for.

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decimalhead

I enjoy taking my GF’s dogs for walks in the woods everyday and that brings me lots of satisfaction to make them happy and I don’t miss being online at all!

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Janet

You’re very brave, Akshata, and this was a very good read. I suppose one key to balanced Internet usage is to pause sometimes to consider what it is one SHOULD, COULD, or OUGHT to be doing. For example, should you actually be writing? Another key thought: how is the Internet helping you to be the person you wish to be?

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Akshata

Thanks Janet! You have captured the whole online-offline dilemma perfectly in just 2-3 sentences.

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Shoprgyrl

Just posted this on facebook…
The irony of posting this article on facebook is not lost on me. If you unplug yourself, do you still have friends? I mean real friends, the kind that will actually call you. I doubt anyone of us over the age of 35 has 300-500+ “true” friends. Those friends post a generic invitation on facebook, with not even a thought of picking up the phone to invite someone to their event. So is that the real fear of unplugging yourself? Have we regressed to our high school mentality that the more friends you have = how popular we are thus defining our own self-worth? It has been proven that when recording, tweeting, or otherwise electronically experiencing an event, it actually takes our focus off the event, thus reducing the imprint the event will leave in our memories. We rely on the electronic device to experience it for us, rather than our brain. Our brain has the capability to record the emotions felt with every event and interaction, electronics do not. I think I’m going to log off and try this experiment. If you need to relay anything important to me, you know how to get a hold of me the old fashioned way, with a phone call. Have a great week!

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dragonmouth

“If you unplug yourself, do you still have friends?”
The question you should be asking yourself is “Do I really have REAL friends online?” or “If I plug in, how many real friendships am I neglecting?”

Most of our so called “friends” online wouldn’t even notice if we went offline permanently.

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Mr. Lee

Akshata why would you do that? We have been blessed with the Internet. Let us enjoy it each and everyday and give thanks to whatever god(s) we believe in for being alive in the Internet era.

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Akshata

Lee, I love living in the Internet era. The digital break is just so that I can enjoy it and appreciate it more, and also not let it take away from other interesting things in my life, which happen to be away from the Internet.

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George

Great article, Akshata! I find myself getting drawn into the same mindset as most of the others around me – constantly checking email, making (possibly trivial) calls, and I even carry two phones and an iPod Touch around with me most of the time. Let’s try to make 2014 a more balanced year! I may start by leaving the gadgets at home for 1 day …

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Akshata

Thank you, George :) Leaving the gadgets at home from time to time sounds like a good way to start becoming less dependent on our online lives.

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Akshata

Thank you, George :) Leaving the gadgets at home from time to time sounds like a good way to start becoming less dependent on our online lives.

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AT

Totally agree, an eye opener to those internet addicts like me!

“The world did not end.”

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Mike

Hi Akshata,

I’ve working with computers for over 27 years. I was on the Internet before it was called the “Internet”.
Apart from my career work I hardly use it. I find it mostly borring and over hyped.
Social networking I was doing over 30 years ago through what was called BBS’s. using dial-up modems. You posted messages and eveyone on the system commented on it.
I had a cell/mobile phone when they were big and clunky.
You know I stopped using a cell/mobile phone when I didn’t need it for my clients anymore.
My friends have no trouble getting in touch with me and I have lots of spare time to relax.
I think that most of the human race is on a honeymoon with technology. It will pass, I believe.
I use it where I find it usefully. Doing research on the Web is useful but still find flipping through paper and ink books blissful. You can get hard data very fast. The Web is often very superficial or requires a great deal of searching to find detail.
Phones? Well I don’t like being “on call” 24/7. I have a life in the real world.
Make something beautiful with your hands. In terms of enjoyment and satifactions it beats ANYTHING I’ve done on line by at least 10x’s. Well there have been some nifty lines of code I’ve written that may have well up there -grin.
I hope my 2 cents worth is helpful.
Mike

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Akshata

Hey Mike,

I think that only when we become disgustingly saturated with something do we begin to think that there’s a world beyond it.

I also prefer printed books and no phones, and I like creating things from scratch whenever possible. By the way, it’s interesting to know that’s how “the Internet before the Internet” worked :)

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Randy

I find that Spring and Summer are easier to stay offline for a day here and there. My job requires me to be online and on the phone most of the day, this includes the weekends. I was on vacation a couple years ago and having a 45 min conference call while at Disney’s Epcot did not go over well with the family. After that moment I try and stay away from having my phone on for at least a day and works out real well when I’m in the mountains where I live. I didn’t even see it coming, to be so dependent on the Internet and smart phones that after reading this article I took a look around. My grand kids are growing up in this age and to see them without some kind of tablet or smart phone is all most nonexistent. Maybe I’ll do a little experiment of my own and see if I can get the kids to put their tablets and computers away for one weekend a month.

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Des

I’m a dinosaur from the days of pen and paper, pre-internet, back when people preferred to communicate verbally. But I love the ‘net. I also haven’t let it dominate my life. There’s so much more to do. So, back in 2012 I took 4 months out – no ‘net, no TV, no radio, no newspapers. Went travelling around Western Australia. It was cathartic. Cleansing. And when I got back online again, it was as though I hadn’t missed a thing! We don’t need the ‘net, it needs us. So, get your life back, see the world. Talk to people. Meet new friends – the real variety, not the fake FB type. Take in new experiences. Volunteer. Plant a tree – goodness knows the planet needs it. That’s enough of my rant! I’m outa here.

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Akshata

You’re right, Des. It can be cathartic, as I’m starting to find out. And I have begun taking my life back now.

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Megabit

The internet is like being addicted to a pleasure ‘drug’ sometimes you need it sometimes you don’t, unfortunately like any addiction it’ll pull you back to it like a mag-’net’. Break the habit you say… ‘I wish!!!’

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Stephanie S

Thank you for providing your experience of a “digital fast”. That is what I would call it for me anyway. It is not a bad idea at all. I do read a lot of “real-life” books but my computer goes on as soon as I get up in the morning “just in case I need to look something up”. Really? Who am I fooling? Not only do I have a computer, but a tablet that sits on my desk along with my smartphone! There is absolutely no reason for me to have all this around me! I realized this as I read your story. I get a bit anxious even thinking about turning it all off. That is BAD! I am a 69 year old grandma, for heavens’ sake! Time to do some serious soul-searching. Hubby is just like me except he only has a computer but he is literally on his machine all day and late into the night. That is the reason we get along so well. He is not “jealous” of my digital time and neither am I of his. Even when we go away, we are still doing something digital at least once a day. Wow, really, you opened my eyes! Thanks!

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dragonmouth

“Thank you for providing your experience of a “digital fast”.”
“Fast” has negative connotations of “abstaining from” or “denying yourself” something. You should reverse your thinking. Instead of thinking of the time you stay off the Internet as a “fast”, think of the time on the Internet as a “feast” to reward yourself for staying off for a while.

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Akshata

@Stephanie:
I also have that switching-the-computer-on habit “just in case I need to look something up”, and I agree that we’re only fooling ourselves. Thanks for your comment :)

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ahorn

Amazing insights and self-awareness! I am totally addicted to the constant stimulation of being over-informed, with new information about my career, hobbies and personal finance coming at me from every direction. With 5 email accounts to check, plus Facebook and Twitter, I know I’m hooked and find it extremely difficult to let go. Your experience has given me the courage to try unplugging a couple of Sundays a month as well. Since it’s Thursday, I have some time to sort of psych myself up for it. Maybe there’s another blog or article I can read on this topic…

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Akshata

Thank you! I have been similarly overwhelmed by my online life, but things have started improving slowly after I started cutting down my digital usage There are several simple living blogs that explore this topic further. Zen Habits is one of the popular ones that’s worth reading.

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Redmiata35

I sold cell phones in the early days of the 90′s. Part of the well thought through marketing strategy was to carry and use it in public spaces all the time. We wanted to manipulate the public into believing they could not love without a cell phone. (Look how successful that strategy was!)

This was the heyday of pagers. While on a date in a restaurant, a pager went off at the table next to us. Without thinking about my date, I reached over and offered my cell phone for the gentleman to use to respond to the page. Once the man completed his call, I handed him my card and suggested he call me to talk about getting a phone. Yikes! I am very sad that I was a part of “training/brainwashing” the public to depend on electronics and lose their ability to have time off from being “accessible at all times”. Once I changed jobs, I gave back the phone and did not get another for 12 more years!

Each of us has to decide what they want their life to be about and what to include or exclude. Amazing marketing plans, advertising and social pressure have led our society to come to depend on these tools as a necessary part of our existence. I appreciate your candor in describing the almost physical pain you experienced by your addicted brain jonesing for its “fix”. I hope that moving forward you will not fall back to where you were, but recognized its insidious siren’s call and temper your attention and become more balanced.

For those Folks who really do not see the value in scaling back on their dependency, get in touch with anyone who was involved directly with hurricane katrina or sandy. There was no electricity for days, hence no ability to “stay connected”. What did they do when left to fend for themselves? No cell phones, no internet, no tv or radio… I imagine many people were truly lost and desperate. We would like to think that only happens to “other people” and it will never happen to us, but think again.

These are just tools that were developed to help, not master our lives. Ask yourselves how you will find your way out of the area you live in if there is no gps or google maps to access for help? Unplug and give yourself the challenge of learning how to take care of yourself without the electronic gadgets and tools. Learn how to cultivate face to face conversations and friendships. Master your destiny by mastering these tools. One last note of thought, what has been created in the last 50 years that is new/revolutionary? Computers, the internet, radio transmissions, telephones were never before created when they came into being. So beside the next version of an already existing technology (no the smartphone is not new, just a blending of technology already in existence) what has the last two generations contributed to. The betterment of society? We are consumers, not creators. The longer anyone stares at a screen to be given information, the longer it will be before really creative thought will emerge.

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dragonmouth

HEAR, HEAR!!!!

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Akshata

@Redmiata35
I agree with you that we have let most tools become indispensable. Like you have mentioned, falling back into the trap is a real concern, but I’m doing my best to avoid it. For the most part, I’m staying on track.

It was interesting to read about an experience from the other side of the buyer/seller divide. Your thoughts are certainly worth bringing back into focus at the societal level. Thanks for sharing your story.

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Done

Stopped reading at “Go back to a simpler time” the battle-cry of the historically uneducated. There’s never been a “Simpler time” there have just been times with fewer rights, more oppression, more inequality and less access to information and education. There is no magical time in our history when things were swell. This IS the simpler time, when we don’t have to worry about bears coming into our cave and eating our babies. It’s simpler to pop a meal in a microwave than to get up and feed the chickens at 4am. It’s simpler to do just about anything, because YouTube has 1,000 videos to learn it from, instead of having to be the right race, gender and class to attend a university. I find it particularly shocking when women propose we march backward through time, because I don’t know of any time in history that was kind to women, and while present day is still rough, it’s a lot better than just about any moment in human-kind’s brief history.

Maybe we can go back to having babies so they could farm our land so we could pay the local serf. Maybe we can go back to when certain races were considered subhuman and used as tools for industry. Ooh, let’s go back to when tribal wars split families apart and kept innovation from coming into being. Let’s go back to those simpler times!!! Follow me.

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dragonmouth

“Stopped reading at “Go back to a simpler time””
A man must be both stupid and uncharitable who believes there is no virtue or truth but on his own side
Joseph Addison, English poet and essayist (1672-1719)

“This IS the simpler time”
It’s simple until the power goes out for more than a few minutes.
The microwave does not work so you have to actually cook on a stove. Do you know how to cook? Do you even have a stove? Do you even know what a “stove” is?
You can’t connect to YouTube and you have to, GASP!, read a dead-tree version of a book for entertainment, or maybe, DOUBLE GASP!, talk tp people face to face.

“let’s go back to when tribal wars split families apart ”
We don’t have to because it’s happening right now. Or have you missed the news of South Sudan, Muslim vs Christians in Africa, Muslims vs Jews in the Middle East, Protestants vs Catholics in Ireland, Sunni vs Shiia, etc, etc, etc, while you were instructing yourself with YouTube videos??? DId I hear someone mention “historically uneducated?”

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Stephanie S

@dragonmouth Perhaps “fast” has a negative connotation to you but it does not to me. I find putting something aside for a while (food or electronics such as TV, etc.) is a mine-opener and time gift for me to take a look at some issues that need looking at. So I look forward to fasts for that reason. Thank you for replying to my comment. :)

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Barbara Schmidt

I had a similar experience on my christmas vacation 2012. Not on purpose though, but because we rented ourselves a little cottage in the woods with no connection at all. Not even for our mobile phones. The first two days we jumped around the attic, the only place where we could at least get a tiny signal. I felt like on “turkey”. But after two days that was over, I put my smartphone aside not even trying anymore. We found a lot more time for reading books, playing card- or boardgames, we went sightseeing. Did relaxing stuff. I really enjoyed it!

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Akshata

That sounds like a happy vacation, Barbara :)

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Barry Robertson

I really enjoyed your article. I go through phases of whether or not to use the internet when I’m off work. I guess I get my “fix” when I’m at work even though I rarely go online – email mostly. I actually went a month at home without getting on my computer and I survived.

It’s sad to see that these great products – computers, laptops, tablets and the internet – are causing problems with our social skills and health. Three times I’ve read the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv talking about how we don’t get our kids outside and into nature enough. He explores the negative consequences caused by this absence from nature due to video games, cell phones and the internet.

I work for state parks in my state and it’s amazing how many people panic because they’re not connected to the rest of the world when they come to one of our parks. Magically, though, they survive and they have fun while they’re disconnected.

As the old saying goes: everything in moderation.

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Akshata

Thanks Barry, glad you enjoyed reading the article. I agree with you about the impact of these gadgets on our health and social skills. Like the visitors to those state parks, I have experienced that panicky state while disconnected from the rest of the world, and I agree with you there too. We survive, and do have fun once we stop trying to fight it.

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Gary Arbuckle

My solution is simple: never use anything that *demands* my attention. The Internet is there for me, not me for the Internet. I mostly use e-mail, because it will wait until I have the time to deal with it. Information services only interact with me when I want them to. I don’t have a profile on any online service, except for a Facebook account in the name of one of my video gaming characters…. and that’s partially a joke anyway. The only chat service that I use is Steam chat for online gamers, and that’s only because my partner is an even more fanatical gamer than I am and that’s the way we communicate (we live in different countries). But I stay away from anything that can compel me to participate. I don’t even game online with anyone but my partner (we met in a game of Left4Dead), but we spend more time talking about games and analyzing them than actually playing them (we both have a semi-pro interest in the field). I spend an immense amount of time on the computer and consider “Nature Deficit Disorder” to be sentimental glop, but nearly all of that time is in enormously complex single player games such as Skyrim or Fallout 3, where I can play on the one hand, analyze what’s going on under the hood on the other, and not have to put up with some fourteen year old calling me a fag because… well, just because. And if the Internet somehow went away, I’d be doing almost the same things in a less efficient way — as an old Dungeons and Dragons DM and addict of Avalon Hill’s strategy games, I can remember how it was when there was no Internet at all — not really very different, just drastically less efficient.

Games are developing in interesting ways, and not only with the large-budget efforts. Indie and single-writer productions like Christine Love’s “Analogue: A Hate Story,” Tale of Tales’ “The Path,” thechineseroom’s “Dear Esther,” and the recent “Gone Home” explore feelings and personal relationships in a way no other form of media can. And there’s not a single gun or bomb in any of those four…. they concern discovering secrets about another, sexual awakening, growing up, and dying…. not necessarily in that order. More interesting than any forest, for me at least. But tastes differ.

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Fatih

“By Taboola” Why are you writing as “Akshaka”? (Sorry if I wrote it wrong)

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Sean Tm

Hi Akshata, Thank you for sharing this. I believe you captured the sentiment and experience of many in your narrative. Many of us have been carried away by the momentum of all the new exciting possibility presented by the digital age without seeing the limitations and other ramifications… It’s so easy to get out of balance. I think your digital fasting days are a great idea, we call it “unplugged time” in our house and we also purposefully do it now and then but I like the idea of scheduling it regularly… Once more many thanks for sharing!

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Akshata

Thank you, Sean :) And “unplugged time” sounds apt.

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Benotman F.

Very interesting article. I always realize everytime I’m pushed to stay offline that I enjoy life more than if I stayed stuck to all the virtual meaningless but yet strongly addictive things flowing from internet (information, news, videos, social..).
Thank you for sharing your thoughts Akshata.

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Akshata

Thank you. I’m glad you could relate to it :)

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Shrapee

Internet has also changed our lifes in many ways. It’s good for the health to disconnect 1-2 days a week, but internet has its way too :)

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Siddharth

I am trying the experiment this weekend starting half an hour from now.

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Paras

Good Read ! ! !

I do not remember from where i landed up to this page, but it was worth reading.

To gain a portion of my life back from digital to real, i am not on Facebook, Google+, etc. I have a twitter account that is not used more than twice a week. I do not say that Social networking is bad, but i do not want to get indulged in it as i am not sure about myself, i might waste some useful time reading some posts or looking at my friends pics….

Also. i have not even synced my office email on my phone (not so smart phone :-))

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Akshata

Thank you so much, Paras :) I’m glad you found something useful from my post. You seem to have your online life under control.

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Chris

A few years ago, my GPS told me to go right when I knew I should turn left. What did I do? Turned right, of course. I can’t remember the last time I actually dialed a phone because that would mean I remembered the phone number. And don’t get me started on spell check …

These and other instances led me to believe (erroneously) that the internet was making me stupid. Like other tools, the internet is only what we make of it and can add to or take away from our lives. I began to ‘unplug’ several years ago when I gave away my television. Like you, I discovered the world did not end. In fact, I seemed to enjoy the world more (ocean kayaking, biking, running, etc.). I have to admit to never being drawn to social media mainly because while I did not watch TV, my internet use went up significantly. I found myself spending hours at a time surfing, reading “news” and doing “research” …essentially becoming mindless instead of mindful.

I own a laptop for work, a Kindle, an iPad I use for school, an iPhone5 and I have a relatively new desktop at home …a Luddite, I am not. I do make it a conscious choice to use the internet, or browse for a restaurant when traveling.

I’d rather read a book I can hold in my hands, and I’d much rather pay attention to the lovely woman across the dinner table. I take more enjoyment writing down something in my notebook versus typing in a note on my iPad/iPhone …and I remember it better when I do. It has taken a while, but I no longer feel the urge to jump on the computer to fill up every free minute. Bad news can usually wait, and good news is good no matter the timing (there are exceptions of course). I sleep better, I’m more productive at work and I’m thoroughly enjoying being back in school (a mostly online Master’s program).

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Akshata

Hi Chris,

I’m making changes similar to the ones you have made, and I can totally relate to everything you have said. I especially like the Bad news can usually wait, and good news is good no matter the timing bit.

Thanks for sharing!

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jac

I am old and also have mental health problems so I use my computer mainly as a radio althought I do experience its addictive qualities – News for me became so addictive I gave it up and my children grew up without T.V.

Strange to see your blog as last night I closed my yahoo account because they have been making so many changes to the format to appeal to younger people I can no longer cope with the small dense size of the font. As a visual artist I think that there are ways of mind control – putting us in our boxes which are subtle and endemic. Technological baubles have us all well hooked. I shiver when I am in a cafe having a really quiet time with myself and people come in with noisy mobiles and start shouting into them. I dont think I have a society any more because of the individualism – My laptop – My phone My ‘phoney ‘ friends- (No more – My society)
So I would be really pleased if we all got a life again and noticed others.

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Akshata

Hi Jac,
As I am fond of quiet surroundings, noisy people with noisy mobiles are a pet peeve for me too :)

It’s unfortunate that you had to quit Yahoo because the format became unusable for you. I hope that at least in future, accessibility is given the priority it deserves.

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M Mahtab S

Really nice ! Sometimes when I have no access to internet, I don’t know that what to do with my laptop. I use hardly 30 minutes and then put that on side and Enjoy the moments.

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Akshata

Thanks, Mahtab!