Sometimes I forget the Internet exists.
Not very often. But occasionally it does occur.
I forget to moderate blog comments. I forget to leave comments on other blogs. (Because I’ve forgotten to read other blogs.) I forget to share revolutionary sentiments on Tumblr. I forget to pin stupid cat memes on Pinterest. I forget to tweet to remind you all that I still exist. I forget to peruse Facebook to find out what people I’m related to are having for dinner. I forgot to open my laptop at all.
Some people call this a digital sabbatical. I call it a life.
I’ve never successfully planned a break from the Internet. I’ve never decided to unplug for X amount of days and actually followed through. When I purposefully deny myself the Internet, its absence becomes all I can think about. The forbidden fruit effect. If I can’t have it, I have to have it. Now. I will be grumpy until I get it. So I don’t bother.
Because I’ve found that eventually something better always comes along. I don’t have to unplug. I can leave my laptop charging on my desk. I can leave my phone in my pocket. And I can go hours without looking at them or even feeling the impulse to look at them. I’m just too busy doing something better.
The past week has been one of these times. I’ve just had better things to do than be online. I listened to the audio book of John Greene’s The Fault in Our Stars last Friday on my way to Corpus Christi. I had delicious pizza from Grimaldi’s with my not-in-laws. We met our friend Kate in Austin for Torchy’s Tacos and then we met her perfect Aussie puppy Scout. I brought Alex and Zam home. We cleaned the house. (Her much, much more than me.) We picked out paint colors and bought my office paint first because Alex doesn’t like my intense writing energy clogging up the rest of the house. We bought groceries. We bought a shelf for the bathroom and I put it together. We burnt two batches of cookies. We watched The Ides of March. We were one of only two couples at the 9:55 Thursday night showing of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and we regret not knowing how to strike up a conversation with that other couple because they seemed like the sort of people we could be friends with. I finished reading The Night Circus. I went to classes. We tried new restaurants. We watched the robins and bunnies that play in our backyard, oblivious to the fact that it is still very much winter. And tomorrow, we’ll go to my parents’ house to get Alice and the three cats.
As you can see, I’ve just been too busy being alive to be overly concerned with what’s happening in the Web.
Forgive me if I sound pretentious, but I tend to think this is the only sort of “digital sabbatical” that really counts. If you’re plugged in tighter than a modem in 1995 and have to schedule time to not be online, then it might be a little too late. You might have already let too much life pass you by. Where are the friends asking you out for tacos? Where is the dog who wants to play catch? Where is the lover who wants you to come to bed now? Where are the books you haven’t read? The movies you haven’t been to? The parks you haven’t explored? The country roads you haven’t gotten lost on? The stars you haven’t noticed?
Forgetting the Internet exists isn’t as hard as we make it out to be. It’s actually very easy. It’s just a matter of getting up and doing something interesting. You don’t have to set aside a whole week for it. You can do it right now. Start reading The Night Circus. Start reading The Fault in Our Stars. Go see Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close with someone you love. Trust me, you’ll forget the Internet exists in no time. Adopt a puppy like our friend Kate. She’s barely been on Pinterest at all since she got that dog!
Wait. I have to be honest. I didn’t really forget the Internet existed. That was just a hook to get you to read this Scroll. I checked my Twitter in the last week. I even checked my Facebook. But I never found anything as interesting as what was happening right in front of me. So I put my phone back in my pocket and went back to living my life.
See, the thing is you don’t have to forget the Internet exists. At this point in time, living in a first-world country, forgetting the Internet exists would be like forgetting the Sun shines. It’s everywhere. Even when I went to the theater, I was still technically using the Internet because the film was probably being digitally streamed from somewhere in L.A. I used the Internet to find a restaurant that served fresh, U.S.-raised catfish for Alex’s dinner last night. I used the Internet to e-mail an assignment to a professor.
The Internet is part of my life now. I dip my toes in it a dozen times a day in a dozen different ways. Sometimes I’m using the Internet and I don’t even realize it. I breathe oxygen, trees breathe carbon dioxide, and machines breathe the Internet. It’s just what we do. There’s no real escape. So it’s a bit silly, really, when we announce our plans to unplug for a week because we’re plugged in everywhere we go whether we like it or not. And it’s only going to get worse/better (depending on your opinion).
Do I seem to be contradicting myself here? I hope so. That’s often the best way to make a point.
I never forgot that the Internet exists. I just forgot to think the Internet is so special that I need to devote special time to it. I forgot to think that my career would be over if I didn’t tweet X amount of times this week. I forgot to worry that my readers would all disappear if I didn’t post this week. I forgot to worry that my online friends would think I hate them because I didn’t have time to read their blogs this week.
No, I never forgot that the Internet exists. I just remembered that it doesn’t actually need me.
So I did better things with peoples (and pets) who actually do.
If you find yourself thinking you need to unplug for a week or two, you might want to look deeper for the cause of your discontent. If you have nothing interesting enough in your life to pull you away from the Internet on a regular basis, is that really the Internet’s fault? Or are you just not paying attention to the possibilities life presents you with every day?
But don’t despair! I don’t mean to insult your life. Quite the opposite! I mean to point out that there are probably a hundred more interesting things to do right outside your window right now than you will ever find in The Cloud. You don’t have to set aside a week to unplug and enjoy them. You can close your laptop, go for a walk, discover a new cafe, try a new dish, meet a new friend, and write a nice little blog post about all of it before bed.
It doesn’t have to be either/or. You don’t have to spend fifty weeks a year with your head in the Cloud and only come out two weeks every year to breathe. That’s just stupid. Seriously. That’s stupid. And that’s kind of what a “digital sabbatical” implies: That it’s fine to spend the majority of your life staring at the screen as long as you take two weeks off per year. How is that any different from the idea that it’s fine to spend fifty weeks a year pushing paper for someone else as long as they give you two weeks paid vacation per year? It’s all the same bullshit in the end whether you work for yourself or The Man. You’re still forgetting to live on a daily basis and pretending it’s okay as long as you devote two whole weeks a year to just being alive.
Call me crazy, but I’ve come to prefer being alive every day. And in my time and in my country, the Internet is part of being alive. One tiny part of being alive. A part that is very easy to lose among all the other millions of parts of being alive. I let it get lost this past week because I had better things to do. But I know where to find it when I need it. Like right now when I wanted to share these thoughts with you. I think being able to do this is a great part of being alive. So I’m doing it.
But now I’m craving a midnight snack. And that suddenly seems like a much better thing to do than this. So I’m not going to do it anymore.
See how easy that is?
Let’s stop acting like it’s so fucking hard, okay? It just makes everyone look silly.