What I Did On My Internet Vacation

Last week I turned off the internet for a whole week, and filled my time instead with books, bike rides, naps, writing, friends, more naps, my cat, and more television than I usually allow myself (I know, I know). All that said, never have I been happier to see the friendly arch of bars on my Airport, signaling a return to the beloved and exciting interweb. The week began with an article of how we use Twitter to shape identity, and I felt smug with relevance in my experiment. However, would it be rich with epiphany the whole week through? Would I be able to make something of it? Here are my top ten most awesome things and not so awesome things about roughing’ in sans internet.

Ten Most Awesome Things About My Internet Vacation

1. I relax. Like, I really relax. Maybe it has more to do with being on my first week of official vacation from work, but from Day One of No Internet, there’s a tangible sense of relief. The only communicative device I have to tend to is my cell phone. I return phone calls and text messages promptly (not my usual behavior when I’m juggling e-mail, Facebook, Gchat, etc.), and otherwise don’t worry about it. A girl could get used to this.

2. Getting lunch with that friend I’ve been meaning to hang out with forever. Especially in New York, I feel like I’ve always got a laundry list of friends and old friends that I’ve been meaning to e-mail, check up on, hang out with, grab lunch with. So this week I finally called some old friends and make plans to see them. It’s fantastic, the same kind of joy I get when I bump into someone I haven’t seen for a long time on the street, except this is like, planned joy. Note to self: call more friends more often.

3. Finishing a draft of a story straight through. During one particular streak in a coffee shop, I’m able to write a story straight through, beginning to end. The girl beside me has her laptop open and in the twenty or so minutes that I glance at her screen, I see that she’s looked at her Gmail, Gchat, Facebook, Twitter, a BBC article, Chelsea Clinton’s wedding photos, some recipe page, and the schedule for Southpaw. I’m happy not to have the distractions.

4. I heart everyday interactions. Maybe it comes from not filtering through 300+ Facebook and Twitter updates on the daily, but I find myself even more appreciative of everyday conversations. When I buy my coffee at a café in the city, I end up talking for fifteen minutes with the guy at the counter about the coffee’s origin and roaster. At the end of the day, this type of interaction hasn’t faded into the stream of constant information, but remains with me as a high point of my day. Is this what life was like back when?

5. My morning routine. I’m not a morning person, but with time off, I think I can at least try, especially if my morning can start at, oh, noon. My usual morning routine includes coffee and e-mail, where I find myself sucked in to the chaos of my to do lists and must-reply-soon stress minutes after waking up. Instead, this week I introduce some routines I’ve always wanted to do, or have gotten away from. Upon waking, I make time to meditate. (I even light a candle!) I write morning pages a la Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I curl up with a book or my journal while I munch on my bagel. Morning never felt so awesome.

6. A new concert experience. Wednesday night a friend of mine takes me to see Robyn, the Swedish pop star who had that hit Show Me Love in the 90s and has since come out with a dance pop comeback album. For the first time in a long time, I’m at a concert just to see the concert. I’m not Twittering, I haven’t told everyone I know on Facebook how excited I am, I’m not snapping away photos on a camera phone to post as soon as I get home (or, as I watch the boy in front of me do as we exit after the encore, post photos immediately to Facebook from his iPhone). There’s a glow of screens and smart phones in the crowd, and I’m glad to have nowhere to look but the stage. True, I would’ve had some choice tweets to share with the world if allowed (“You guys, she’s eating a banana. In the middle of the song.”) But Robyn is the perfect performer to be totally present for: she’s got an infectious energy and such crazy cute dance moves that I can’t take my eyes off of her. If I feel like I’m sixteen again, is it the lack of technology or the uber-cheesy feeling I get during the group sing alongs? Maybe, joyfully, it’s both.

7. Getting shit done. I moved into my current apartment three months ago, and for two of those three months, there’s been a mess of shelves, brackets, bags, screws, knick-knacks and other junk behind my bed. I regularly look at said junk and lament when I’ll ever have the time or resources to install the shelves. Surely they’d be a lot more useful when not taking up space on my floor. So this week, I finally ask a friend with a drill to come over and help me out. I make him waffles, and he puts up my shelves. Ta-da! Now that wasn’t so hard after all.

8. This American Life. I love Ira Glass, and I love the This American Life pod casts, but damn if I ever actually listen to them. Anytime I start to listen to one, I usually drift off into a matrix of distraction through the internet. So this week, it was bliss, to listen to an episode while rearranging my bookshelves by color (desperate times, folks, desperate times), or cooking up a slew of farmer’s market vegetables. This may be one of the choice habits I save from this detox.

9. Make do with what you have. Without direct access to endless reading and video, I’m forced to look around at what I have, which is, luckily, plenty. Finally, I sink my teeth into the stack of literary magazines I bought back at Housing Works in June. I cross-reference Paris Review interviews I read with the author’s short stories and novels, buried in my shelves. I watch that Netflix DVD that’s been sitting on my desk for weeks. Goodness knows I have a lot of unread and unappreciated stuff. It’s nice to finally spend time with it.

10. I feel more present. It’s going to sound hokey, but it’s true. I feel more present in my every day. Maybe my attention span is just happy to not be flitting from one thing to the next, or maybe I’m just desperate for some metaphysical benefit of denying myself the internet for seven days. But seriously—when I’m on my bike, at a dance party, lying in bed, listening to the band that practices one block over that I hear from my living room, talking to a friend, at the grocery store, or putting away laundry—I just feel a little bit more there.

…I’d be lying my face off if I said my internet detox was all roses and good feelings. Here were some of my lower moments:

Ten Not So Awesome Things About My Internet Vacation

1. How Do I Share This With You? On day one, I read a super compelling Modern Love piece in the New York Times. There, curled on my couch, I have a sudden pang of panic—I want to talk about this with friends, but how? This is the exact kind of article I’d race to post, and would love to count every slight comment or ‘Like’ as conversation with others about it. But here in the real world, how does this happen? Do I, like, call a friend, and ask if they’ve read it? (I don’t). More so, I’m dying to Google the identity of the kite-flying poet the column pays homage to—do I know her? Do I like her poetry? I make do with clipping the article and noting to talk it up later, but still.

2. Suddenly television looks really good to me. Most of my television comes in the form of DVDs, but during this week, I decide it’s okay to turn on the boob tube. A lot. Monday has me watching three hours of The Bachelorette, which is more time than I spent with a book that day. Not exactly how I want my internet detox to look.

3. Being out of the loop. I’m sorry, Prop 8 was overturned in California? Salt N Pepa played in Crown Heights Monday night? So-and-so and so-and-so broke up?

4. Cross streets mean little to me. Okay, I know I talked a good game about how I should be able to navigate this city sans Google map, but it was so much harder than expected. When I decided to swing by a friend’s art show on Saturday, the Long Island City cross streets (44th Ave and 45th Road? 26-23 what??) meant nothing, and I had to call a friend to explain to me a) where it was and b) how I would bike there. So much for roughing’ it.

5. I’m bored. I admit it. It is so easy to get bored without the internet. So. Easy. I look longingly at the Web icon on my phone. I wonder if I have any incredibly exciting and pertinent e-mails to look at. I wish I could stream the new Arcade Fire album. I wish this book I was reading were more exciting. I wish somebody would call me. Like, now.

6. Can’t you Google this? Instant information never looked so good. Here’s a partial list of things I wished I could Google this past week: what did Bram Stoker write besides Dracula, Is Dominica the DR now, Jean Rhys, photography classes for teens, flights from Fort Lauderdale to NYC, whale sharks, Breadloaf Bakeless Prize, Kelis’ discography, how far is Bethany Beach from Rehoboth Beach, tattoos of the Brooklyn Bridge, when did Spirited Away come out, what do the colors of jelly sex bracelets mean, how many shapes of silly bands exist, vintage poster frames, what does Winchester cheese go well with.

7. I’m not the machine of productivity I wanted to be. Number of short stories I wanted to draft out during my internet vacation? Five. Number of short stories actually drafted and written? Two. Not bad, I know, but let’s just say I wasn’t the model of discipline I thought I would be. Apparently you can take away the internet, but you still have loads of procrastination.

8. Napping. See: procrastination, above. If you ever wondered if it was possible to take more than two naps a day, it is.

9. Are my library books overdue? There they are, on my desk. When did I renew them? I can’t remember. Where’s that little slip of paper that tells me…drat, I don’t know. Well, I’ll just look online. Ugh. No, I won’t. Well, they’ll send me an e-mail if…ugh. Nevermind. Is that branch on Mulberry open now? I’ll just check…Eff.

(P.S.—They’re totally, totally overdue).

10. Knowing I’m gonna have to sort through heaps of e-mail and maybe make some sort of plan of moderation for the future. As the end of my detox approaches, I’m both elated and dreadful at the prospect of opening my e-mail. Plus, it occurs to me that any lessons learned will only be retained if I make a plan of moderation for the future. How many hours a day do I want to go on the internet? Should I quit Facebook? Should I cap my Facebook time? What’s the purpose of social networking? Why do I have a Twitter account? Maybe I should turn my e-mail off every evening. Maybe I should only reply to e-mails in the morning. Maybe I should only use Gchat when necessary. Maybe I shouldn’t use my phone to check e-mail. …I’ll think about it.

(Side note: Out of the 384 e-mails awaiting me when I returned, only about 65 of them were e-mails that were important or that I wanted to keep. Nothing could so clearly illustrate the clog of newsletters/advertisements/left over mailing lists from that show you went to six years ago like ignoring your e-mail for seven days. This week will be devoted to Project: Unsubscribe).

As for moderation, I’m crafting a plan to keep me in line. As for the internet, sweet mercy, I’ve never been so happy to see you.

xo, c

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7 thoughts on “What I Did On My Internet Vacation

  1. I’ve never tried this experiment by choice, but what I’ve found is that my biggest disappointment is my failure to actually achieve more by not having the internet distracting me. Still, there are pleasant things about not being ‘wired in.’ I completely know what you mean about the joy of listening to a long pod-cast episode all the way through without thinking about a million other things. I’m curious: do you think you’ll make this a regular thing? Was this experiment a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’ for you?

    • I didn’t have so many goals so much as to just, well, go without the internet for seven days. That said, I think it was succesful. I don’t think I’ll make it a regular thing, but it has heightened my awareness as to how much time I spend on the internet, and how much energy I invest in it. Most valuable of all, it’s made me less anxious about checking my e-mail/Facebook/Twitter constantly. If I can go seven days without, I can go several hours without. We’ll see how these lessons hold up!

  2. Hi Courtney: Loved hearing about your internetless adventure. As for us, we just spent the last week on the Vineyard with 12 family members, including four of our six grandchildren. (Yes, it was great fun!!!) Actually, the internet seems quite tame, manageable, and peaceful in comparison. I guess we all need both up-close-and-personal time and the less personal wired time to stay in touch with those we need to connect to. The trick is finding the right balance. Love being connected to you!

  3. welcome back! but i’m so happy to say that i had some LOVELY contact with you while you were “gone” and so happy to see that “we” (you, me, Robyn) made the top ten list. 😉
    i couldn’t agree more. love love love being Present with you.
    milkshakes soon…
    oh and Arcade Fire! i’ll send it now………… xox

  4. Thank you so much for sharing! I’m continuing to rethink my approach to the Internet… but thinking and doing are two different things haha. The concert experience definitely struck me. I’m a huge technology nerd/junkie – not just Facebook and e-mail – and I love concerts. I REFUSE to bring a camera to a concert. I rather live in the moment than worry about capturing it for the future or everyone else I know. People with the cameras in the air, blocking my view = huge pet peeve. If you don’t change anything about your Internet routine, I hope the music swept you away enough for you to continue attending without a camera 🙂

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