My 10 days without internet

You could say I’m quite connected. I have profiles in the major social networks and check them often: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIN…the usual suspects. Plus I do keep up with friends through WhatsApp and iMessage. And then I use cloud services for getting things done: Dropbox of course, Paper, email…Hey, even my entertainment is through Spotify and Youtube and…you get the idea.

But this summer, on the brink of the start of my holidays, I had enough. I felt I needed a break away from all this. It was saturating. The number of times I was unlocking my iPhone, the beeps, chirps, pings coming through, the need to check email and whatsapp every 10 min. I was feeling exhausted and, in a way, disconnected. Disconnected from me, myself. From my own thoughts, ideas and feelings. I was sick of looking outside for things that could tell me how to feel inside. Quite a distressful period, really. And so I decided to quit. For some time. I made the decision to stop using internet for 10 days during my upcoming vacation. And as a side wish, to get away from smart screens as much as possible. Here is how it felt (disclaimer, I wrote these notes and observations in a piece of paper, to which I’m looking at right now next to me).

The preparation

Knowing that I’d have plenty of time (partly because holidays but partly because I know how much time consuming internet is), I bought a few things to help me entertain myself. I ordered paper books (hey, they’re a pain to pack). I got myself a little notebook to keep track of my evolution, paper too, of course. I even had a headset with FM radio built-in delivered to home. With that, I figured, I could go running without taking the phone with me and therefore not having to upload my miserable statistics to RunKeeper.

Now the difficult bit: how to stay away from internet while still being reachable for emergencies (family events that is). For some time I thought of getting a GSM phone. Yes, one of those pre-iphone handsets where the battery lasted for entire days and size was an issue. But no. Too much hassle really. Plus I can’t force others to stop using iMessage just because I’m on a detox program. And with that came the first revelation: it’s not entirely up to us alone to disconnect from the world. We have friends and family that want/need to keep in touch. And just because you decide to lock yourself out of this world doesn’t mean they at least don’t have the right to tell you you’re nuts. To reach out. Today we are so entangled that it’s difficult to separate your self-initiated bonds to those which have come to you. So finally I decided to switch off mobile data and wifi from my iPhone, turn off notifications for everything but calls and sms and arrange a new screen to stop me from impulsively checking apps. This is what I kept. Basic comms, taking pictures and a bit of sport, to help with the healthy trend. Oh and a dictionary to help me reading.

The First Two Days

It’s pretty amazing how much longer you get on battery time without data (and the usage associated). My iPhone 6Plus lasted 4 days without a recharge. Also, I almost betrayed my promise by going to check WhatsApp the very first day. This is what I missed the most, being able to know what was happening to my closest set of friends. Also, quite curiously, I had a real urge to unlock my iPhone. Even if I knew nothing would come up on the screen. But the fact that I wasn’t looking at the screen itself produced some anxiety. Maybe it’s not only FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but also FONO (Fear Of Not Opening) that I suffer from. I promised to keep an eye on this weird feeling during the come back.

The Middle Days

After the initial stress of not being connected started to fade away, I discovered what it is to be with yourself for certain periods of time a day. Quiet moments when I didn’t feel like doing anything, not read, not listen to music, nothing. Just enjoy the silence and the sounds around. Even my own breathing. I remember one day sitting in the shadow after lunch and completely blanking out my mind from everything. What a moment of real peace. Maybe this is what mindfulness is all about. Maybe I need to try meditation when I come back. It’s good to connect to yourself. I felt like my head was an empty jar that needed to get full of own thoughts before sharing anything with anyone. Like filling up before you start pouring out conversations.

The Final Day

And then when the final 10th day came, I really wasn’t feeling for going back online. I could easily have done with the rest of my vacation days being as I was. The thought of all the missing chats, pings, emails, etc just made me shiver. I was expecting thousands of those interactions appearing in bursts. But guess what? It wasn’t that big.

In total I had 254 whatsapps, 134 emails on my personal account and, surprise, 1009 emails in my work account, even though I had set the OOF message with clear dates for return. From these, some thoughts followed:

- we create as much noise as we complain to hear from others. If we tune down ours, eventually we’ll see less from the outside

- nothing in social media is critical and the important things can wait until we have proper time for those

- work email is still a big evil. The biggest one.

So, am I feeling better now? Yes. Would I do it again, absolutely yes. In fact I plan to do it during this Xmas break. I learnt two things that I keep very close to everything I do now:

-real persons are more important that virtual ones: the ones you are with at any moment deserve your full attention. Family in particular.

-tuning out is needed to be back in with a useful approach to things. Mindfulness, meditation, whatever you call it, book time for yourself anytime you can. But for yourself alone.


Originally published at chemaballarin.com.

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