Thursday, September 1, 2011

about my week offline


Family photos at Bodega Bay in the fog, August 2011

I absolutely loved taking a week offline. We were in Colorado for a family reunion, so there were lots of other computers around and people to look up useful information like the location of public pools in Boulder, where it was in the 90s (which we loved after camping in the 60-degree Bodega Bay fog earlier in the month). I wasn't trying to get away from the practical aspect of the Internet, which certainly is useful. I was trying to get away from the "always-on" nature of the Internet, the need to constantly monitor, respond, update, and communicate, the lure of online entertainment, and how quickly I can go from looking up useful information to mindless website-hopping that cuts into my already limited sleep.

I did not turn my computer on for an entire week, definitely a record for me in the last 5 years. I took the week off from my grantwriting work, and I did really feel OFF in a different kind of way than if I had stayed online. The feeling of freedom was amazing. I would put Emry down for his morning nap, and I would instinctually think that now it was time to go online, check my email, look at the news, plan out my work for the day, do online errands, try not to get distracted. And then I would realize: nope, not this week, and in that little chunk of time, I would pull out my book.

Things I did in my week offline:
Talked to my family.
Read an entire novel, and it was a really really good one.
Painted my toenails red.
Took 500 photos.
Went to yoga class, was sore in that satisfying way the next day.
Hung out on the porch of our Boulder rental house.

My nephew Judah, porch time, August 2011

Emry having porch time, August 2011
As I re-enter the digital world, I read this New York Times magazine article about decision fatigue, which I immediately recognized not only as the exhaustion that overcomes me after a trip to Target, but also the exhaustion I experience when I lose myself purposelessly trolling website after website:

"Today we feel overwhelmed because there are so many choices.... A typical computer user looks at more than three dozen Web sites a day and gets fatigued by the continual decision making — whether to keep working on a project, check out TMZ, follow a link to YouTube or buy something on Amazon. You can do enough damage in a 10-minute online shopping spree to wreck your budget for the rest of the year. The cumulative effect of these temptations and decisions isn’t intuitively obvious. Virtually no one has a gut-level sense of just how tiring it is to decide. Big decisions, small decisions, they all add up."
This article helps explain how mentally tired I've been getting when I spend days tethered to my computer and frequently caught up in the sticky strands of the Web. I haven't decided yet how I want to implement it in my life, but my week offline definitely showed me that I need to set more effective limits for myself on how, and when, I use the Internet. Now that wireless Internet is available nearly everywhere, I remind myself that I deliberately chose not to have wireless for quite a long time, in order to limit the distractions that I knew would tempt me away from the most meaningful work I do on my computer -- writing.

And since I haven't yet seen an alarm you can set that automatically turns off your Internet access at a certain hour (DOES such at thing exist? It should!), I would welcome any ideas or systems that you've found that help you have a healthy relationship with the Web. And in the meantime, I'm going to mull over some ideas for myself -- one day offline a week, one weekend a month? How much is enough time to disentangle myself from the sticky strands of the Web and remember how much I like reading a book?

And if you're considering taking some time offline, even if it's just a day or two, by all means, do it!


  1. Sounds fantastic! I've been spending WAY too much time on line. I'll have to take a page out of your book. And I'll go get the Anne Patchett book, but definitely won't buy it online. Support you local independent bookstore!

  2. Loved this but my comment is about how much Emry looks like your grandfather in the above photo...WOW!!! His eyes are beautiful---he is just gorgeous!!

  3. >>>an alarm you can set that automatically turns off your Internet access at a certain hour (DOES such at thing exist? It should!)
    Yes, you can get a router that has a scheduler on it and it can shut off access between certain hours, it even lets you decide what devices can have access and which ones cannot. The features are usually referred to as parental controls - Ex -

  4. Great to read about your experience. I've been taking a couple of days off from the computer each week and it always feels so refreshing.