Monday, December 1, 2014

Disconnecting in the age of information overload - a 4 day experiment with no internet

And no I wasn't on a camping trip, this is 4 days of no internet over Thanksgiving weekend and all that free time at home.


It all started with a stupid tweet on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, where I foolishly said I would try 4 days with no internet after reading Dean Anthony Gratton's (@grattonboy) article "My Life without Wi-Fi" and I thought why not try no internet at all. I binged on Wednesday, went crazy. I downloaded movies from VUDU so I could watch them offline. I downloaded music from Google Play so I could listen offline. I was starting to panic...

Day 1 

I couldn't trust myself to turn on my computer and work offline, I had already disabled Wi-Fi and cellular data on my iPhone, so I woke up and picked up a book. I decided to finish reading a book I had started years ago call "On Mexican Time" by Tony Cohan. Sat down on the couch and started reading and realized after putting it aside for so long I needed to start over. I got 4 pages into it and came across a word which in context I understood, but wanted to look up. Instinctively I reached for my phone and realized it would be of no use without the internet. So I got up off the couch and rediscovered the old standby - The Dictionary
Day 1 - Discovered dictionaries can still be useful

I ended up on a tangent after looking up insouciance:
1. Blithe lack of concern; nonchalance.
I continued on with blithe:
1. Filled with gaiety; cheerful. 2. Casual; carefree.

This was interesting to rediscover, the dictionary can take you down the if you give a mouse a cookie path.  Blithe was never a word I associated with cheerful. 

After this brief diversion I decided maybe I should blog about this experience without the internet and share my boring internet free 4 day weekend with the rest of you. I should I have just gone out of town into the wilderness or something, but I also woke up Thursday with a nasty cold and no internet. Could Thanksgiving get any worse?

The real genesis of this idea started when I was on the hunt for a new mobile phone plan and a new smartphone. Of course once you start searching for anything these days you are then followed all over the internet with banner ads galore. I was tired of the constant barrage (3. An overwhelming concentrated outpouring, as of words or blows.) of marketing messages going on about switching to this plan or that plan, with this much data or that much data and so on... I was beginning to wonder if I could wind the clock back a few years and live without the internet in my pocket. Trying to find the best deal in wireless these days is like opening the floodgates of a dam when you're living downstream. Thanks to @grattongirl's tweet 
Sarah-Jayne Gratton@grattongirl
"My Life without Wi-Fi" by Dean Anthony Gratton (@grattonboy)… via@ADVAOpticalNews cc @WiFiAlliance@garethspence
04:33 PM - 25 Nov 14
that led me to the inspiring article, I was thus fueled to proceed with my internet free experiment, but one thing I had forgotten was that without cellular data your phone won't text. I turned the cellular data back on to test it then back off and sure enough you can't send a text without it (or without Wi-Fi).  I immediately got out my most trusted word processor that required no internet connection and began to write about my experiences of the first day with no internet. My iPhone was now not much more than a camera and an iPod, which 10 years ago would have been an awesome idea and even with no internet still a useful device. 


My most immediate discovery on day one was the dictionary, then the typewriter, then the camera on my iPhone. One thing in reflecting back on the experience now I realize that the world actually becomes a lot more tactile when you take it all offline. Looking up a word in the dictionary with the pages and indented tabs to take you to sections more quickly, these were innovations at some point possibly heralded as the doom of reading or who knows what. My typewriter from the garage, humming and clacking (driving my wife nuts) and actually running out of ink mid-blogpost. Finding a new ribbon in the garage and getting my fingers all inky... do you see what I mean about the world becoming more tactile?

Day 2

Cut off from all internet access, including data on my iPhone. While day 1 wasn't too difficult with the Thanksgiving holiday, I basically woke up did some reading and writing and then had to head to the in-laws for an early dinner. I was fairly certain I could make it through day 1, and since I had nothing really going on in my pocket to distract me and no notion of going home to binge watch some show on Netflix we ended up spending the night at the in-laws, something I'm usually very reluctant to do. I found my disconnected self enjoying the company of real live people and taking in all the little things we tend to ignore in our daily lives. At this point I had left my phone at home realizing the temptation to pull it out and Instagram some moment, or text some friends would be too overwhelming. So I apologize I have no photos for this post so I'll try to keep it short.

My in-laws are in an experiment of their own in raising to young children now 5 and 8 years old in a house that started out virtually free of any technology for the first 5 years of their parenting lives. The idea comes from the Waldorf education that discourages the use of electronic media for children kindergarteners and earlier. They stuck with it for the first child strictly through the first 5 years even going so far as to hide the television and computers and never using their iPhones around the kids. It was impressive and the oldest kid developed a great sense of imagination, language, and verbal skills. The younger kid who has been exposed slightly earlier to Disneyland, Disney movies, the iPad, Legos, and other commercial products seems to have a slightly different developmental experience. Of course personality differences could be just as much a factor as anything else.

The point in bringing all that up is the following anecdote. Friday morning we had eaten breakfast and were all planning to take a walk to the local farmer's market. Everyone is excited about the idea, but one of us has a slightly different idea for how to get to the farmer's market. The youngest kid is having a fit as the house alarm is being set and we are walking out the door. I get the story from the oldest kid who says the younger one wants to ride in a stroller and play the "Mickey game" with an iPad on the walk to the farmer's market. To keep it short this is how it all panned out, mom and oldest child begins the walk with me and my wife, while dad stays home with the youngest determined not to cave to the request for the iPad. We've gone about two blocks before we see them dad pushing stroller and youngest child with a stuffed animal clutched to her chest. A compromise had been reached and electronics had been left behind. 

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, we ate lunch, played around the house, and then we left to go home. One piece of internet I was missing at this point was just a simple check on the Los Angeles traffic via Google Maps before I hit the road. Fortunately my car has GPS with traffic provided via XM radio. On returning home the missing internet became more apparent as now my only media options were to dig through 1,000 old DVD's or watch one of three movies I had downloaded. Ironic how the one thing you are in the mood to watch is the one thing you didn't download...

Day 3

Perhaps some more background is necessary so you don't think I'm someone who would normally just knock around offline for the weekend anyway. Every vacation I've taken since 2005 has included a plan for how I would stay connected with work and the connected world in general. I'm a bit obsessive about tracking my financials regularly as well, every day I look at everything in my financial world to make sure I haven't been a victim of fraud or identity theft. You could say I'm a bit paranoid, but after all the breaches these days I'm wondering if I'm paranoid enough. I've rented pocket Wi-Fi devices in England, Scottland, Japan, Costa Rica (which didn't work most of the time), Italy, and Spain. I used my LG VX8700 flip phone as a tethering device for my laptop before most people were even aware of the term tethering. I stay connected no matter what. 

I've missed Black Friday entirely, at least the digital version, I haven't checked my email since going to bed on Wednesday, no Netflix, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter, no Live365... what am I missing?? I tell myself I'm not missing anything but it is getting harder to believe. 

My wife has not joined me on this experiment but she's not even online and I resist asking her to look and see what deals are going on out there. As a result we've spent Saturday out and about looking for an open house that my grandma sent me a newspaper clipping of via the United States Postal Service. My grandma is offline and the biggest oversharer of them all somehow and all done with stamps and scissors and envelopes. I love my grandma, she's old school hipster all the way. 

On the way to the open house we see a sign for the USS Iowa battleship museum and remember we've been wanting to check it out so we go. I of course don't have my phone so no photos this outing exist, but I have the memories (and now the internet again which has tons of photos of it). 

We find a different open house and enjoy an amazing view from a beautifully remodeled home. We head back down to the hill and check out the craft market Crafted at the port where we find all kinds of gift ideas for the holidays and come across a taste of Choriman's now famous green chorizo and it's delicious. Back home as the rain begins to fall and we light a fire and sit around reading books and drinking hot apple cider. I almost feel like I'm on vacation. 

Day 4

By now I'm relaxed, I wake up Sunday morning and enjoy a leisurely morning with no email from work to remind me that Monday is coming. I'm starting to understand the German philosophy of a strict work life balance that fosters productivity. Without the constant distraction of notifications on my phone I'm more relaxed, more focused, more... productive? I check the newspaper for local movie times and I can't find them, maybe that was in Friday's paper? I realize I can't even remember the last time I used the paper as a reference for my daily life. Now I get it more out of nostalgia and because of my deeply rooted desire to be a journalist some day (thought I'd be there by now but got distracted by 19 years in advertising). It's early so I decide to head to the theater to see if I can catch a matinee of Interstellar and have a lunch of popcorn and Milk Duds. I'm in a luck, there's an 11:50 showing and it's only 11:40 now so I buy the ticket and take the ride. 

It's not worth it, Interstellar is no Gravity and as odd as it is for me to say this McConaughey and Hathaway are no Bullock and Clooney it just didn't work for me. Love is apparently all you need to solve the question of time travel, well that and a black hole. It was an hour too long and too corny of an ending. Think of the movie Contact with Jodie Foster and you'll know what I'm talking about, or you'll have no idea either way. 

At least the movie has killed over three hours of my day without the internet and now I'm ready for lunch and a good book. 

It's now Monday morning and I'm reflecting back on the whole experience as I write this post. I feel more relaxed than I have even after a week or two of "connected" vacations. I've forgotten a lot of things without my phone around to remind me, but I don't feel I've missed anything important being offline. I feel I've gained a new sense of awareness of how distracted life can be when you're connected and I feel like I will moderate my use of technology moving forward. I will definitely still be binge watching on Netflix in the future, but when I'm with family and friends I'm going to leave my phone offline. 

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