It’s overwhelming. We’re connected all the time. Facebook. Twitter. The constant stream of e-mail. Things to post. Things to like. Things to read. Things to click. I was drowning in status updates. I was thinking in 140-character sound bites. I was reloading web pages I hadn’t even closed yet. I needed a break.
I needed to unplug. Get off the grid. Use the toilet.
Did you miss me?
Because after a soul-cleansing hour away, I’m back — refreshed, ready to watch three dozen videos of smiling fish (35,500 search results on YouTube), and excited to tell you how I pulled it off.
(But before I do, I should probably read this piece about a giant pumpkin contest in Alaska. Okay, all done. Back to work.)
The first thing I needed to do was let the people closest to me know that I would be unavailable between 11 a.m. and noon on my chosen day of freedom. I spent four days combing through my contacts in order to put together the list. To my 11,549 closest friends and most critical professional colleagues, I crafted a carefully-worded e-mail:
I AM LEAVING THE INTERNET FOR AN HOUR. IF I AM URGENTLY NEEDED, PLEASE SEND A SMOKE SIGNAL. I WILL LET YOU KNOW WHEN I AM BACK.
(All-caps, so people would know it was important.)
I set the message to send as soon as my break started, and then to automatically send again every five minutes during the hour, in order to remind everyone that I was not available. I knew it was critical not to let anyone forget I was away, so they would not try to contact me.
Of course, e-mail isn’t the only way we connect these days. I wrote a status update and posted it to my Facebook wall:
LEAVING THE INTERNET. BACK IN AN HOUR. LIKE THIS POST IF YOU WISH ME LUCK.
My final tweet:
internet break. be back soon. #soon #unplugged #break #CheerMeOn #I-Love-Hashtags! ######################!
A post on LinkedIn:
I am taking an Internet break. I will be unavailable for job inquiries, recommendation requests, getting back in touch, or approving you as a trusted contact in my professional network between the hours of 11 and 12. Don’t worry, you are still a trusted contact.
And another for each of the sixty-four other social networks on which I am an active member. (Just use my template below, if you decide to replicate my life-changing experiment.)
HELLO FRIENDS. I WILL NOT BE READING MY STREAM ON THIS SOCIAL NETWORK FOR THE NEXT SIXTY MINUTES. FEEL FREE TO POST THIS NOTE ON OTHER SOCIAL NETWORKS I MAY HAVE FORGOTTEN. IF YOU START A NEW SOCIAL NETWORK IN THE NEXT HOUR AND WISH ME TO BE A PART OF IT, COME FIND ME IN PERSON AND I WILL PROBABLY DO IT.
Truth is, at this point I was getting nervous. I’d announced my departure to virtually everyone I knew — or at least to everyone I knew virtually. Would I have the courage to make that final leap, turn off my wireless router, lock my iPhone in a safe, give the key to my neighbor, and hire a gunman to hold my neighbor hostage in his apartment for sixty minutes, making it impossible for him to give me the key and allow me access to my device?
I wasn’t sure.
I needed some liquid courage. So I went to Yelp to find the highest-rated liquor store within four blocks of my apartment, and used Google Maps to figure out the fastest way to get there. Oh no — how was I going to survive without the Internet when I needed it for even the simplest tasks? I typed “How to Survive Without the Internet” into the search bar, hoping for the magic answer, but all I found were links to articles I’d already read.
I made a list of things I wanted to do during my hour of freedom. Climb a mountain. Have a family. Cross a street without walking into the side of a parked car because I was texting instead of watching where I was going. And although I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish all of them, I hoped that I could at least make some real progress. And not keep hitting my knees against cars. It hurts.
I went out and got that drink. In fact, I drank a whole bottle of what three websites told me was the best discount wine available in my neighborhood. And then I did it. I yanked the cable from the modem and, in an act of cyber-revolution, threw my phone out the window.
I spent my hour of freedom on line at the Apple Store, waiting for someone to repair the cracked case. And, yes, if I’m being honest, I admit that I did check my e-mail on one of the store’s computers. Okay, I checked it twelve times. And watched two videos of a bear eating pizza. (32,800 search results on YouTube.) But I sort of did it. And I survived. Sort of.
Re-entry into the connected world was rough. Yes, I lost a few followers. No, I’ll never be able to dig through those fourteen missed tweets, or the three status updates in my Facebook timeline that I didn’t see. I missed a few business opportunities, lost touch with some old friends, and slowly reacclimated myself to a pace of life that I’d forgotten in my time away. But I think, on balance, it was worth it.
It’ll be weeks before I catch up on my missed e-mails, and I know there will forever be gaps in my knowledge of the world. When someone asks where I was when I read that there was a minor earthquake on an island somewhere off the coast of Japan that caused no damage and led to no injuries, I will have to admit that I spent that hour unplugged, away, missing in action. In a state of suspended animation in between the online and offline worlds.
For an hour, I lived without a digital connection. I urge you to do the same, right after you recommend this piece, read of a review of a television show you didn’t watch, and sign up as a beta user for a brand new social network the world desperately needs.