A while back a friend of mine participated in something that sounded less like an experiment and more like a dare suggested by a sadistic college student; he was to go a week without using the internet. No internet for seven days and seven nights. Not even for Google. No Skype, no Netflix, and definitely no Facebook.
That was last summer. A few weeks ago, shortly before the end of our winter break, I too committed myself to abstaining from the internet for… three whole days. It was as long as I thought I could get away from it before having to be physically restrained from grabbing my laptop or Iphone in sheer frustration. Here’s what I learned:
- It never really leaves. My first internet free day was plagued by a gentle tugging sensation at the base of every thought. It was my need to check a hundred things, ninety-eight of which I was sure I was just making up. The Internet loomed on the horizon of my mind, and like a moon exerting its gravitational pull on a planets oceans, it tugged and heaved, never letting up
- The compromises begin almost immediately. Remember that voice you always hear when you’re about to finish an episode you’ve sworn will be your last? The one that only ever seems to speak up when you start feeling guilty about not doing more important things? That voice spent the first day coming up with a whole booklet of excuses and compromises, urging me to check exam results I’d already seen, news on that one TV show I really liked and everything in between. There was never a moment where he wasnt urging me to take a quick peek, just a glance. It would’ve been so easy too, a single tap on the Google app…
- I rediscovered reading. I came to realize I read books like a read forum posts; quickly scanning entire paragraphs to get the gist of what was being said so I could move on to the next. Reading whole sentences felt like I was physically underlining every sentence on every page with a blunt pencil and no ruler. It was exhausting and even a little saddening, but by the second day I’d relearned how to read without trying to scan entire pages worth of content.
- You become increasingly aware of the hundreds of roads leading back to the Internet. Everything from sports channels on cable TV to a popular brand of spaghetti sauce has a social network handle these days. It seemed the longer I stayed away from the Internet the more I noticed just how much everything else is linked to the internet.
- You eventually stop caring. The most surprising thing I learnt came on the fourth day, on a calm Monday afternoon. I was 300 or so pages into the book I’d started on the morning I’d sworn to stay way from the Internet when I realized my little self-imposed exile was over. I didn’t have to do this any more. I breathed a sigh of relief, licked my thumb and turned the page, wondering what happened next. It would be another day before I came back to the Internet, and another hour before I was swearing never to leave again.
So that’s it; the days In spent away from the Internet and in my own head were some of the weirdest days I’ve ever lived through, filled with longing, craving and then, finally, acceptance. My friend made it through a week; I’d like to think I could’ve beaten his record, but I also like to think I can take Usain Bolt on for at least ten seconds.