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When friends come to my apartment, they often ask for the WiFi password. Most are baffled by my response: “I’m very sorry, but I don’t have any WiFi.”

One of my earliest memories with my dad — I was probably five or six years old — was him loading up Disney.com on Netscape Navigator to show me stills from my favorite movies. I was electrified with amazement. My dad was a tech-obsessed software engineer, so we were one of the first houses in the neighborhood to have dial-up internet. Years later, we were one of the first to have high-speed broadband. Trips to Disney.com were eventually replaced with MSN conversations, visits to Habbo Hotel, and marathon gaming sessions on Xbox Live.

As an adult, I probably wouldn’t fit the profile of a “tech nerd” (I don’t own many gizmos, and unlike my father, I can’t code), but as a child, I was enthralled with the World Wide Web and its eminent vastness. I remember downloading my first MP3 on Kazaa. I remember the magical feeling of opening my first Hotmail account. I remember creating my first website and binge watching on FunnyJunk.com. I remember the social-life-shaking effects of getting my first webcam. I remember the exhilaration of creating a Facebook account as a high school freshman.

Somewhere along the line though, I became disenchanted with my old pal, Internet. Today, we see each other less than ever.


I was inside a pizza shop in Neukölln, a crusty neighbourhood in East Berlin. The proprietor had a nose like an onion bulb and began eyeing me suspiciously once he knew I couldn’t speak German. I was asking — clumsily, futilely, Canadianly — for the WiFi password. For one of the first times since childhood, I was internet-barren: no phone with 3G access, no internet-connected apartment to go to.

My pepperoni-slicing compadre eventually figured out what I was looking for and handed over the password.

Like an addict in withdrawal (only hours deprived of internet, mind you), I reflexively refreshed all the usual sites: Facebook, Twitter, Hacker News, Reddit, Gmail. I also madly tried to contact my Airbnb host who, it turned out, wasn’t even in the city.

It’s not that I’d never been without internet before. It had just never been that hard to find a connection.

Writers make a living from being stuck alone with their thoughts — but when they’re constantly hooked into the internet’s unyielding razzmatazz, that almost never happens.

I got rid of WiFi five years ago when I moved into my first apartment. Browsing the internet required a trip to a coffee shop, the campus library, or an expensive 3G data session (my phone bills were always obscenely high).

Not having WiFi in your apartment is a pseudo-deterrent and cuts down on the most insidious forms of online dicking around, like video games and Netflix. You feel less connected. More apt to pick up a book. You feel alone and bored and alienated from the world and all its tedious anger. You don’t feel compelled to constantly check your messages and your notifications and your likes and emails and pageviews. But, if you still have a phone, there’s always this lingering temptation to turn on your data and see what the world’s been up to.

As if anything that happened in the last 15 minutes could even remotely matter.


Author Jonathan Franzen once quipped, “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” As a semi-literate writer, I can empathize with Franzen’s curmudgeonly frankness.

Writers make a living from being stuck alone with their thoughts — but when they’re constantly hooked into the internet’s unyielding razzmatazz, that almost never happens.

Even pre-internet, distractions were something that writers had to contend with. David Foster Wallace threw out his TV and had to go to his neighbors’ to watch the news.

Internet addiction is a habit that’s even harder to kick. Franzen plugged his laptop’s ethernet socket with glue to avoid the temptation to go online. Zadie Smith, Nick Hornby, Dave Eggers, and Naomi Klein all use hacks and apps to block distracting websites: SelfControl, Freedom, and BlockSite.

Those who dare to write outside of established text editors like Google docs (and have $500 to spare) can even buy a Freewrite, a WiFi-connected word processor that lets you type distraction-free, without any browsers or apps to play with.


This summer, having gone five years without WiFi in my apartment, I took another radical step: I got rid of my phone. Actually, a friend got rid of it for me.

And by “friend” I mean a “thief,” who bedazzled me with his sleight of hand and took off with my beloved pocket hotspot.

I made a conscious decision not to buy another. So, for the last few months, I’ve been getting around with an old iPod Touch — good enough to access Tinder with pizza shop WiFi, but not much else.

Not having a phone (or WiFi) is pretty isolating. All my communication now depends on a mix of infrequently-checked email, Facebook, and Slack messages. If I’m meeting up with somebody, neither of us can call an audible — there’s no way to bail last minute without standing the other person up.

I feel like a bit of a Luddite. I feel a lot less connected. My friends think I’m either crazy or just very, very odd.

Clearheadedness comes at a price.

There are late nights like tonight when I have no option but to hit up the pizza shop to get my WiFi fix. And there are days when I have to bend over backward to accommodate clients, rushing to cafés to make hushed conference calls. But as annoying as WiFi-less life can be, it is still surprisingly possible.

Of course, you’ll probably be oblivious to the latest Twitter drama. You will definitely fall behind on your memes. You will suffer the gnawing emptiness of not knowing what your friends are up to. You’ll also be inconveniencing yourself in all sorts of ways: No Wikipedia? No Spotify? No Google Maps? No Transit? No Uber?!?

Giving up an internet connection disqualifies you from many of modernity’s perks. But before I lived without WiFi, I rarely questioned what those perks were actually costing me — and not just the monthly internet bill. For all the minutes saved with technology, I was sacrificing hours of attention, guzzled up by apps hell-bent on dazzling me with vacuous content.

I’m not saying that abstinence is the right solution to internet addiction. It’s a pretty drastic measure. But after five years — and thousands of online hours recovered — I think offline life might be the answer for me.

Clearheadedness comes at a price. My apologies if I’m slow to answer your emails.