A Week Without the Internet

6 minute read

I've spent my last week mostly disconnected. It's been a surprising week in a lot of ways, and a very good, relaxing, and productive one as well.

The Plan

  • For the first weekend, I did not touch any internet-enabled device.
  • Afterwards (weekdays), I used the Internet at school for an online class, to work during one meeting, and to research how to change the date format on an assignment I needed to print. I also glanced at my email twice to confirm nothing really urgent had come up (I read only two emails total further than the subject).
  • I also did not play any electronic games or use my iPod Touch for anything except looking up notes during that meeting and studying. I barely text at all, but if I did I would have refrained from that as well.

For most of the time I kept my Ethernet cable disconnected and in a drawer in another part of the house, which prevented me from connecting for something trivial. On my wireless devices, I used the "forget this network" option. (I still knew the password, but not having it immediately available was all the deterrent I needed.)

I spent most of the weekend and some of the following week picking up, deep-cleaning, and organizing my room. It's better than it's looked in years now (it remains to be seen whether I can keep it that way, but I'm going to try). I can't say that I got a ton of other stuff done since I spent hours on that—I suppose I could try it again sometime and see how I fared.

I noticed that I got my homework (and other tasks I needed to do) done a lot more expediently. With fewer distractions and fewer of my customary things to do, I was much more likely to just sit down and do it.

Most noticeably, though, the way I reacted to my Internet connection being gone surprised me. If you use your computer a lot, you're probably familiar with the feeling you get when you find your internet is down. (If you don't use or like computers or the Internet too much, think of your electricity being out.) Do you sometimes go around expecting to do things, then realizing you can't do them because the Internet / power is out? It's easy to forget everything that the Internet does for us nowadays because we're so used to it being there. I don't feel that I'm completely dependent on or addicted to the Internet (and I should know, since I just spent a week without it!), but I've even been known to open a browser before I remembered that I didn't have a connection.

Yet this week hasn't been full of those "duh" moments. Indeed, I was surprised to find myself hardly missing my Internet connection at all. Sure, there were plenty of times when I realized I couldn't do something (order an item from Amazon, look up the answer to a question, or research something I heard about and was interested in). When I had one of these moments, I added an item to my "List of Things to Do on the Internet," to be handled when I got back. But I didn't put things on the list after I tried to do them and couldn't; I always knew I couldn't do things before I tried them. I think it's because my separation from the Internet was planned and intentional, rather than being a technical problem suddenly thrust upon me. Seeing the difference has been quite educational.

I also found that the need to be in touch with what's going on is considerably less than I thought. (I'm speaking of the level of need perceived by people today and what society expects of us—the actual need is of course still lesser.) I looked at my email twice, as I mentioned earlier. I never found an email that actually required my attention until the last day (which I saw only after my break was done anyway). I left an autoresponse message giving people my phone number if they felt their message was time-sensitive; only two people took me up on it.

I'm happy to get back online (starting today). It's nice to be able to look things up, read about what's going on in the world, and communicate with others. But this week felt really good, too; it was a much-needed break from being in constant contact with our friends and the news of the world. Those abilities are certainly useful, but it's also important to sometimes take a step back and remind ourselves that it isn't the only thing that matters.

I'll certainly look into doing this again, though I'm more inclined to go for a couple of days or a weekend rather than a full week. Nevertheless, the longer time span was definitely educational, and I'm glad I did it.

How to Set Up Your Own Break
I'd recommend that everyone give this a shot. A week is probably a little bit overkill at first, especially if your job depends on using the Internet (sure, you can make an exception for that, but if you're connected during work every day, it's not really the same). Many of these ideas are still useful for short periods of time, but they're especially aimed at (and important for) longer breaks.

  • Decide on conditions. Having a plan for what you will and will not do makes it easier to keep going with it. List the dates you plan to be off and what exceptions you'll make. Write it down and give it to someone else to create accountability.This may seem like a silly exercise—after all, the point of taking a break from using the Internet is not to test your willpower, it's to give you a break. Unfortunately, we're so used to having the Web right there that just saying "All right, now I won't use the Internet" probably won't work.
  • Visit networks and let people know what you're doing. Post a status update, write an automatic vacation reply, whatever is normal for that network or method of communication to let people know you'll be away for a bit. If you like, you can provide a phone number for urgent things. You don't need to do this, but if you don't, people will probably ask you what's going on. Here's my email autoresponse:
To the copyright holder/owner/writer of this email—
I am taking a break this week from my regular Internet connectivity. I will be back on February 9, 2013. If your email is time-sensitive and cannot wait until then, feel free to call me at [my phone number].
Thanks for your understanding.
Soren "scorchgeek" Bjornstad
  • Liberate digital data. If you have an electronic, online calendar, to-do list, or anything else that you expect to need during your break, get the relevant information on paper. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using these normally, but if you have to keep connecting to access them, it's much easier to justify doing other things "while you're there."
  • Make an "internet list." If you write down things you want to do online, you won't have to feel bad about not doing them—you can simply do them later (and by that point, perhaps some of them will have become irrelevant or uninteresting and you won't have to do them anymore—always a nice feeling).

And most important of all, enjoy your break: get something done that you've been putting off, or get some much-needed rest.