20 things I learned in a week without my computer

February 2, 2011 | 27 comments

This post was originally published on October 12, 2009. I thought it might be a good one to re-run with Lent coming up!

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 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”:

20 Things I learned in my week without my computer
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Email is my biggest source of computer-related stress because it requires constant decision-making, which is difficult for me.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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!


  1. Joy

    Hmmm… this seems like a really good idea. I’ve thought about it… just never been able to go for more than a day. Which is probably why it’s such a good idea. I’ve noticed so many of these same things even when I haven’t “fasted” from the computer. I don’t really watch t.v., but I can get in an “internet daze” and just stare at the screen while clicking through different pages of moderate interest. I’ll actually say to myself, I’m really not doing anything here… so I should get up. It’s not like I need something to do, more like my form of vegging.

    Ridiculous, isn’t it??

  2. Leila

    I love this. I needed this. Thank you!!

  3. Andie

    Well Jennifer you certainly make some very good points and perhaps it is a good practice from time to time, but…I think that I speak for many when I say that we’re really glad that it was only a one week exercise.

  4. ~Ana Paula~A Católica

    Jen, a Big HELLO from………. BRASIL!!

    I enjoyed A LOT reading this Post of yours!!
    I am a recent Blogger, then you can guess: my day in front of the computer does not finish with the sundown!

    I find terrible difficulties of finding the right point to say goodbye to my writing and put a stop or even a pause in my ideas!

    I saw myself in this quote: “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 read and thought A LOT in each line of this Post of you.
    Simply delightful to this woman here (me) who is the same age of you: 34!

    Stay in the Peace of God, Jen!!
    You, Your Beautiful Family and Each One of Your Fans and Readers!!


  5. Judy @ Learning To Let Go

    I read this post the first time around, Jen, but I didn’t follow the link to Fr. Rollheiser’s article, and I’m glad, because TODAY was the perfect day for me to see this:

    Response to duty can monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic bell, and working without status and power can constitute a withdrawal into a monastery where God can meet us. The domestic can be the monastic.

    I’ve just had a horrible day in which I violated this time after time. Seeing this brought tears of remorse. I am ready to learn and try again. Thank you so much.

  6. priest's wife

    Thank you so much for the link to that article- we are a domestic church whether we like it or not- time to start acting like one! 🙂

    A true technology and media sabbath is what is needed….

  7. Cynthia

    I loved this Jennifer, thank you! I was left nodding at every single one of your points. The internet/computer really does have a way of sucking one in and distracting them from the task at hand. I’ve been thinking about how to find a true balance lately. Thanks for challenging me to do so (even though you might not have even intended to do so). It’s always good to get an honest reminder!

  8. Laurie

    What fun! I read this in the original post – I wouldn’t have proposed myself to go back that far as a reader here. I really appreciated this the first time around… and now I appreciate it equally so, yet for different reasons as (I think) I’ve grown a bit from those original habits and settled in to some new ones. Thanks for bringing this back!

  9. Julia at LotsaLaundry

    Some day when you’re off the ‘puter and feeling like reading a very interesting book, pick up a copy of Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, by Sherry Turkle. She’s an anthropologist who works at MIT, observing how people interact with computers, and how technology is changing the way we interact with others. It is not a comforting book. But it contains much food for thought (and I know you like to think!)

  10. Annie

    I so needed to read this. Going on an internet fast is something I’ve long felt drawn toward but never have been able to really put into practice. The internet and all it’s trappings is a wonderful tool, but like so many luxuries, it is so easily abused. And you hit on all the points that I’ve pondered in my heart before this.

  11. Anita

    What do you do when you have lots of computers in use all over your house? How do you fast from the computer then?

    I have come to realize that I have no self-discipline. At least in this area. The continual failure to regulate myself with the computer has left me with little hope in my own flesh.

    None of what I read is bad-I’m very careful about that, it is all beneficial, helpful, but not necessary. Do I really have to know this or that? At what point is there info overload?

    I sit down just to look one thing up, or to read one blog, and before I know it too much time has passed. The longer I sit, the harder it is to get up. I feel more tired the longer I sit. I end up parenting from the chair and another day slips away between my online times.

    I’m looking forward to hearing your practical ideas. Thanks for being honest with your struggles.


  12. Jen G

    How interesting that you post this today. On this morning’s news I saw a mother being interviewed who had taken her family “off the grid” for six months. She said that their relationships improved, and they discovered talents that they had let go due to their busy lives. Rather than make our lives easier, technology has convinced us that we can and should do more and more to fill our time. I’ve also seen how destructive the internet can be by taking a look at forums such as the one at Online Gamers Anonymous. It can literally consume your life if you have addictive tendencies.

    Thanks for the timely reminder!

  13. Meredith

    Here’s an interesting article from slate magazine about our “seeking” nature and how that relates to the internet: http://www.slate.com/id/2224932/

    Another problem with the internet for writers: we use our computer to write but also to get on the internet. So basically we have a constant source of distraction and procrastination literally in the same place we write.

  14. Kate

    For Lent last year, I gave up facebook (but not the whole internet).. And what you mentioned in #7 is one of the things I noticed about myself right away! I used to plan status messages, or long for a phone plan that would allow to update even when I wasn’t around my computer – pathetic! Like anyone does/should care that minutely about my thought process! How arrogant of me! 🙂

    And I think you’ve inspired me with #2. My husband and I work opposite shifts so that one of us is always home with our two toddlers. I had this elaborate plan for learning activities 5 days a week so that we wouldn’t get bored and irritated with each other (as in, the kids and I), but somehow that fell through. I think I’ll pull up that doc I started in December and implement it now! Thanks!

  15. Gina

    Glad you’re back! That was a nicely balanced post. I get so tired of people saying, “The Internet has been sucking up too much of my time and THEREFORE THE INTERNET IS TOTALLY EVIL!!!” It sucks up too much of my time, too, and I need to work on limits, but it’s wise to remember that there are good things about it as well as bad. You did a really good job of that.

  16. Denise

    THANK YOU for rerunning this. I needed to see written down what I already knew/suspected. I’ve been slowly trimming and trying to better manage the time I spend online, but I think it might be time to try some fasting even before Lent comes in.

  17. Craig

    That we are “checked out” while social media-ing – but moreso while t.v. watching is true. And the idea of a home “monastery” – wow.

    And if we aren’t letting time slip away – if we are taking the time to be present – and now – living and moving and having our being in Our Lord – time never slips by – online or off. Thank you for learning – then sharing.

    This was a perfect thing to read today.

    God Bless and Keep

  18. DorkusAmongus

    I agree that forums or blogs can turn into a platform for all of us to spew whatever opinion in a not-so-charitable tone. I had to leave some forums b/c it was stealing my peace.

    I find I am much happier and focused, like you, with music on (usually toddler tunes, heh) and it calms the kiddies, too.

    You’re right – there is always one more link to click, one more thought to research, one more point to make on so-and-so’s blog comments…
    It can devour our time. And meditating on computer thoughts while off the computer can make us short w/ people who share real face time.

    And now having said all this, I better get to gettin’ on my day!

  19. Melanie

    Ouch! It hurt to read a few as I felt the truth in them. And I was just discussing with a friend *tonight* about the need to practice better planning in my day. I agree about the positive difference it makes.

  20. Michelle @ The Parent Vortex

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I definitely have days when I am aware of the addictive nature of my laptop, but I also use it to do freelance writing, build a blog, etc. Keeping a handle on the ineffective, compulsive surfing while staying connected to my work is a constant challenge.

  21. Erin

    Thank you, Jen. This is a confirmation of something that God has been trying to tell me. I can relate to at least 15 of these things. I’ve felt like He is asking me to take my vocation of wife and motherhood MORE seriously and that means not “checking out” on the computer several times a day. It can be so addictive. That should have been the first “red flag” for me.

    Thanks and God Bless you!!

  22. Chantal

    I agree with everything you just said. I think for lent I will give up the computer and go to the library for my one hour when need be. It is difficult as the computer is soooo useful, for recipes, activities, crafts, ect.

  23. Chantal

    I will probably take away the internet cable to my computer as I still need the computer to play music.

  24. physical therapy richmond virginia

    Great read. I would like to thank you for all of the good information. It is not easy to find good information these days.

  25. Dina

    I realize this is old but somehow I clicked on it today and it proved timely and fresh! love the idea of domestic monastery!

  26. A.M.

    Excellent post! If only all Catholics had to read it!

    The internet and other electronics are chronic time-wasters, as much as we tend to love (or worse, get addicted) to them. They do bring out the worst in us, in a lot of ways, and make it harder to face normal, everyday life, which isn’t about instant gratification, or the “joys” of passing judgment on everything as if our word was the last word.

    Indeed, being without electronic destractions like these, is hard because we have to face that real life around us, which is slower, harder, and more demanding in many ways, and wherein patience is a virtue we are expected to develop… rather than giving in and going right for instant gratification 24/7.

  27. Vicky Weiss

    Thank you so much for the link to that article- we are a domestic church whether we like it or not- time to start acting like one! I would like to thank you for all of the good information.

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