What I Learned From 72 Hours Disconnected

For my entire professional life, I’ve had an Internet-connected computer in my pocket. For my entire adult life, I’ve had daily access to the Internet. This very well may be a generational thing. I sincerely doubt that my parents would have trouble being disconnected from the Internet for three days. But I imagine that the younger one is, the more they would feel the missing connection. Probably teenagers today would find it even more of a problem than I did. In any case, though, let’s get into how my experiment went.

How it Went

I’ll admit that I had it easy, if this was a test of my willpower. I made the arbitrary decision to make my disconnection run for 72 hours, and the majority of that time was a pre-planned vacation with my fiancee. I have had almost no opportunity for holidays in my entire life, and so it was a welcome thing, both for its own sake and for the time we spent together without children — we’ve each had children since before we got together. I disconnected my devices a couple of hours before we left, with the plan to reconnect a couple hours after arriving at family’s to pick up our kids again.

At First, It Was Hard
So at first, before we left, and on the road (she was driving) I’ll admit that it was a little frustrating. I check things like Slack (professional and fun chats), Feedly (news), and Twitter far more often than I guess I thought I did. I kept finding myself starting to do so, before realizing I could not.

Then Came the Periodic Spikes
Farther into our trip came the more periodic events, in which I would all of a sudden have a rush of anxiety. What if I was missing a work emergency? Would I be in trouble? I’d told them I might not have cell service, but I was choosing to not use the WiFi where we were at, and the anxiety gnawed at me.

On the other side of that coin, I also do some freelance work. My larger clients were aware of my absence, but what if I missed an opportunity? Something new, that I wasn’t able to plan for before the journey?

Last but not least, relatively soon in our trip, I had enough signal to be notified that I had voice mail, but of course couldn’t download it to my phone. So now worry set in. I don’t really even use my phone for talking all that much anymore. What if it was something important that I’d missed? Or an emergency. Family? Work?

The Last Arbitrary Hour
Putting all of that to the side and enjoying my trip proved to be relatively easy, but what really got me was the last hour or so. We had arrived at a family member’s home to pick up the kids, as planned, and were eating lunch, and visiting for awhile before tackling the hours-long drive home. All settled, I realized that I had both cell service and WiFi available, and that the only thing stopping me was an arbitrary decision I’d made days ago.

But you know what? It was a matter of principle by that point. So I did not turn anything back on until after the 72 hour marker. And what had I missed, when I turned it back on?
 
Dozens of emails, none of which were urgently requiring my action. Incalculable tweets, that held nothing necessary for me. Too many Slack messages to catch up on, but none that were crucial. A few texts, but none that really mattered. A voice mail from one of our children’s school’s auto-message system with the routine weekly updates.

I sat back in my chair and put the phone down and thought about it for a little while, and considered what I’d learned from the experience.

Lessons Learned

  1. The constant flood of information sometimes serves no purpose but to stimulate our need for interaction. Do I really need live feeds of news about events happening all around the globe, in all areas of life? Maybe. Probably not though. Is it just contributing to an information overload? I already have pretty bad attention issues — is this just making it that many times worse?
  2. The ability to be constantly connected is a little bit of a crutch. Yes, having a phone when stranded or in a car accident or when you need help or to ask someone a quick question is a very useful thing. But being constantly available means that we’re constantly worried if we are not. Do we really need to be reachable 24/7/365 in case of a child being injured, or a work emergency? Again, maybe, but maybe not. Maybe we create additional stress and worry about the very issue of whether or not we are incessantly available.
  3. The ability to focus, especially if you already have trouble with it, is severely hampered by the Internet and the constant influx of data we are subjecting ourselves too. This should be obvious, and when I give other people my thoughts and opinions, or write about productivity, I stress this very thing. The Internet (surprise, surprise) is distracting. Yet putting into practice a disciplined control over when and where we allow these things to interfere with our lives is harder than it sounds.

In the end, I’m not sure whether I’ll take anything to heart, or change anything that I’m doing. We’ll see. But what I do know is that surviving three days without the Internet was not only easily accomplishable, but was quite enjoyable, too. The freedom from thought and obligation was quite liberating, and I think I’ll be happy to do it again, next time.

Until then, I’ll return to my over-busy web professional lifestyle, and I’ll see you all online.