Do you remember the last time you timed how long you used the internet? How about when you said to yourself, “I’ll only go online to do one or two very specific things, and then I’m done for a while”, and actually kept to that?
I know I’ve struggled with this for as long as I can remember. I still do.
But why is that? What is it about the internet that is so enticing that we loose track of time browsing away, checking social media feeds, waiting for emails to show up that won’t arrive for another seven hours?
An article by Courtney Carver of Be More With Less brings these questions to the front of my mind. And it’s because of this that I bought one of those black and white school composition notebooks and have written on the front “Deliberate Internet Usage Log”.
I haven’t been perfect, but I’ve gotten better about writing my exact plans in there each time I need to do something online, and once everything is finished, I get off and go explore the real world, walk with my dog, read a book, hand write a short story, or do some cooking.
This is like taking aspirin for a headache, though. It helps, but it doesn’t take care of the underlying problem.
The underlying problem being that a screen with unlimited potential is more thrilling at first glance, at least to most people, than being out and looking around, making your own excitement. And I believe there is some connection to our constant need for distraction and interactivity.
If you go out and sit under a tree without your phone, tablet, or laptop, and you just sit there, you see that (most likely) things aren’t going to change very fast. A squirrel may run around. You may see some leaves falling (especially at this time of the year in New England). You might be so blessed as to watch a bird or two fly overhead a few times. It’s not the most thrilling activity. You may even become bored. Instant gratification doesn’t occur.
At least, not in the way that most of us are used to.
Since I started reading Be More With Less (as well as Zen Habits, Becoming Minimalist, The Art of Manliness, and The Minimalists), I’ve come to find time outside–sans distractions–to be sacred. Whether it is spent simply being, or it’s spent actively improving myself, adventuring, and leaving my comfort zone, I’m growing to prefer time outside over time inside.
After staring at a screen for a few hours straight, walking around and feeling a breeze and touching a tree just feels surreal to me. And I love it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love writing, I love learning, and I love music. All three are easy to do in a cluster when using my laptop. One tab for a Youtube playlist, one for Google search, and one for either WordPress or Google Docs.
And the majority of my friends live at least a few hours away, so internet communication is my primary method for chatting with them.
But time outside, experiencing more senses than just sight and hearing, it’s fantastic. Doing it without distraction is even better.
Digression relieved for a moment, I would like to point out something from Carver’s post that really struck me like a brick to the face.
I’m not sure if this is her quote or someone else’s, but there is a picture quote that goes,
Remember when we used to say “brb” all the time when we were online? We don’t say it anymore. We no longer leave. We live here now.
And this made me stop for a moment and think.
Most people really do. In an always-on society, I find it a bit strange when I type “brb” now. And the reason I find it strange is because I don’t know of anyone else that says “brb” anymore. There must be others, but they’re not in my friend-circle. It didn’t strike me until I read the quote, though.
I guess this is a case of, “now that you see it, you can never unsee it.”
So, you’re welcome for bringing that up.
And when the power goes out, or our WiFi drops and won’t return, what do we do? We panic.
What am I supposed to do now? I have so much x-y-z to do. What if it never comes back? How will I get in touch with Joey and Anna? And what if something crazy happens in the news?
And then, eventually, you arrive at: Well, I guess I could … you fill in the blanks.
But why wait for when you’re forced to get offline to do those things? Why wait to go for a walk in the woods nearby, or go watch the ocean from your local beach, or go to a cafe and strike up a conversation with a stranger, potentially meeting a new business partner, friend, or lover?
Imagine everything you could do if you didn’t have access to the internet 24/7.
Would you learn a new instrument? Would you take a class at your local college or university? Would you rekindle your love of woodworking, cooking, writing, or gardening? How about volunteering at an animal shelter? Or would be it as simple as going on a picnic with your significant other, sibling, or best friend?
What part of real life are you missing out when you have access?
And more importantly, why wait until the internet goes out?