A conversation my husband and I had a day into my experiment:
ME: I’m keeping a notebook to write down notes of what I’m learning this week.
HIM: That would make a great blog post!
ME: That’s so funny you mention that, that’s exactly what I was thinking!
HIM: [Gives me a look that makes me immediately realize that it was a JOKE, along the lines of “wouldn’t it be ironic/unbelievably nerdy if you were thinking about blog material as you make handwritten notes about being completely unplugged?”]
So I just spent an entire week without my computer. I did it because 1) I felt overwhelmed with all I have on my plate right now (kids, schooling choices for kids, blogging, book writing, trying to keep the house in basic order, etc.) and felt like I needed to really clear my head in order to figure out how/if I could balance it all, and 2) I was starting to have a hard time detaching from the internet, regularly getting sucked into online stuff when I was supposed to be doing other things.
The week ended up being more fruitful than I could have imagined, and below are 20 things that I learned. Most are related to computer stuff, the internet in particular, though some are general life lessons that became more clear during my week of “silence”:
- Your priorities are the things you plan for. This was actually what sparked it all. My husband made this comment week before last, noting that you can tell what people’s actual priorities are by looking at what they plan for. I looked at my life to see that I had intricate plans for when I was going to spend time on my computer, but was always winging it when it came to the more boring/humble tasks related to my primary vocation.
- Planning is a critical element of having a peaceful life. I realized that it’s almost impossible for me to make optimal choices once the chaos of the day has begun; if I don’t have a plan, I drift into survival mode where I just do the bare minimum to get by. Preparing for each day in the evening before by getting things ready and visualizing my goals makes a huge difference in my life.
- You are much more checked out from the people around you when you’re consuming interactive information (talking on the phone, email, Twitter, commenting on blogs, etc.) than when you’re consuming static, one-way information (reading books, writing with pen and paper, etc.)
- You are much more checked out from the people around you when you’re looking at a glowing screen. During my free time this week I watched TV more than usual. While it left me more present to the people around me than when I was on my computer, I was still much more checked out than when I read books or wrote with pen and paper.
- It’s easier to interact with people online than in real life. This week I was forced to actually pick up the phone and call people for social interaction. It’s much less efficient to interact offline because you’re forced to engage with people rather than getting directly to the information you need (such as the typical “how are you doing?” pleasantries when you haven’t spoken to someone in a while), but I found it to be a good thing to have to really engage with my friends and family members rather than just dashing off quick emails or direct messages.
- I was much more tempted by junk food without the internet. This was the most surprising turn of events this week. The first Monday without the internet I chowed down on junk food like I haven’t since the beginning of the Saint Diet nine months ago. I realized that I use the internet as an escape mechanism when I’m feeling stressed, and without it I was tempted to turn to something else.
- The internet tempts me to over-value my own opinions (especially micro-communication tools like Twitter and email). This week I caught myself hanging on to every single opinion I had about anything, a habit I’d formed from constantly emailing and tweeting friends with every little thought I had. When I wrote the ideas down on paper to express later by phone or in person, I realized that most of them were pretty inane, things that I would have forgotten about altogether in the days before I had an internet connection.
- The internet brings out my snarky/judgmental side. Similar to the above, I realized this week that I wasn’t in “judging and making snarky comments” mode nearly as much as usual. Something about the interactive nature of the internet makes me feel like I must comment on every single thing I see, and I’m always thinking of witty remarks to email friends with throughout my days. When I thought of picking up the phone and calling people to tell them all the thoughts I’d normally email, it made me feel like a blowhard.
- The internet brings out my gossipy side. I realized that part of what draws me into the internet, blog reading in particular, is a desire for drama — who’s disagreeing with whom, who wrote something controversial, etc. Life felt a little more boring — in a good way — without the internet.
- Music can completely change the mood of a house. Being offline made me rediscover the joy of adding music to our daily routine, and I was amazed by what a difference it made.
- I use the internet to escape challenging convictions. I found it interesting that the only moments that I was overwhelmed with temptation to go get online were when I was thinking/praying about my life and came to a conclusion that I didn’t like. I realized that I’ve unconsciously developed a habit of drifting over to my computer and getting online as a way to distract myself from hard truths.
- Email is my biggest source of computer-related stress because it requires constant decision-making, which is difficult for me.
- Getting on my computer makes it very easy to forget what my goals for the day are. Especially because I have tendencies toward ADD, I go into “monkey with shiny object” mode with all the great, interconnected information available on the internet; I all too easily get sucked in and completely forget what I was trying to accomplish in the day.
- Computer work always leaves me feeling like I wasn’t finished. Similar to the above, there is always one more thing I wanted to do/see/read on my computer, especially if I’m online. Whether or not I accomplished what I sat down to do, I’m left with this chronic, dissatisfied feeling that I didn’t do everything I wanted to do.
- A big step towards giving my home a “domestic monastery” feel is limiting internet use. Ever since I read this fantastic article a couple years ago, I’ve yearned to make my house feel like a true “domestic monastery.” Never have I come so close as I did this week. In the silence of an internet-free house, I felt like I was on some kind of spiritual retreat, even when I wasn’t praying.
- I have lost the concept of waiting for information. Years of daily internet use has left me with this feeling that I have some kind of right to know whatever I want to know, whenever I want to know it. For example, on Wednesday I was trying to think of the name of an actress who was in a certain movie, and I realized that, without the internet, I either had to connect with another human being to get the information or patiently accept that I couldn’t know it right now. It was surprisingly irritating.
- The same force that drives people to slot machines is what drives me to my computer. I realized that when I mindlessly get online, every time I click it’s like pulling the lever on a slot machine and hoping to hit the jackpot. I’m hoping to hit a virtual jackpot — a blog post that changes my life, an email that blows me away, a hilarious video on YouTube, etc. And the truth is that there’s enough stuff online that if I clicked on enough links or spent enough time on email I would get that payoff I’m looking for. But, just like with slot machines, I need to be careful about spending endless amounts of time just sitting around pulling the lever.
- The next day starts at sundown. Having a productive day starts with waking up feeling well rested…which starts with making good choices about what time to go to bed. This week I found it really helpful to embrace the ancient Judeo-Christian understanding that sundown prayer ushers in the next day.
- If my computer is in front of me, I will get sucked in to wasting time on it. It’s prideful for me to think that I’d have the self-restraint to not get lured into wasting time online if my laptop is right in front of me all the time. I need to remove the temptation by removing it physically when I don’t need it.
- I love blogging. This week offline made me realize how much I love having a blog. I missed crafting posts and, especially, I missed hearing from you guys. I need to be careful about not letting myself get attached to traffic numbers, but that other than that my blog and my wonderful commenters are really great parts of my life.
This fast was a great thing for me. It really helped me clarify both the benefits and the pitfalls to being online, as well as just giving me some silence to think about life in general. In a Part II to this post I’ll list some of the practical changes I’m making to my life based on what I learned from the fast.
Anyway, it’s good to be back. I missed you guys!