On Friday morning, my home internet connection stopped working. A call to our ISP indicated a widespread problem they already knew about and were working on, one they anticipated would be resolved by 10:31 pm.
We spent a bit of time speculating on that specificity — had the service gone out at 10:31 am, and they were predicting 12 hours to fix it? Was there something that happened daily at 10:30 pm that would leave to an automatic reset? — and spent the rest of the weekend wondering when we’d return to the comfort of the Web.
Steve and I started talking a lot about “whittlin’,” by which we meant, “any activity we would have done in the days before we were online constantly that we are using to replace our online activity.” In other words, doing the dishes or even making cookies from scratch didn’t count, but teaching someone how to play ukelele or getting into a family pigpile did.
I often wonder about people who go on online fasts. Sometimes it’s a limited fast, like taking a break from Facebook. Sometimes it’s one day a week, a sort of Sabbath. Sometimes, it’s one of those whole-hog book-contract intentional years.
Our fast was a bit like a blackout, only we had lights and heat and cooking and refrigeration. In addition, some of us had DVDs we could watch on one of two computers, as well as downloaded audio collections. We still had a car, and our health, and friends, and we could still make phone calls (though amusingly, the whole family had recently switched to a hybrid phone service that saved us money by making wi-fi calls when available, cell calls when not).
We had our fingers, and I used mine to work on a quilt that my daughter estimated was on track to be finished by 2020. We had books, and my son asked me for reading recommendations, I believe for the first time ever.
I went to see a high-school play that neither of my kids were performing in while my son went to a pizza place to watch a football game. Both kids celebrated Halloween with overnight parties — and came home jonesing for the Web.
The Web: so sticky, so new. I can still remember trying to figure out what I might be interested in looking up in 1995 (answer: Moomins), and figuring out pretty fast the whole “information superhighway” was more like “porn and other commerce.”
How my life has changed in 10 years. The hardest thing last weekend was wanting to know an answer right away and having no way to Google it, making me wonder how I could possibly retrain my mind to slow down or let go.
Since I spend much of my day engaged at a distance with online business owners, I was acutely aware of how much my livelihood was linked to a live connection. I’m now officially that asshole who Skypes in public coffeeshops. I did make a list of all the offline things I could do on my computer and realized that I have a great deal of emotional energy tied up in this little box of light. I get dopamine triggers from work I do, as well as conversations I get pulled into on social media, and of course, from cute animal videos.
I can easily get pulled into a conversation about What’s Wrong with the World Today, and it often turns out to be the zombified over-reliance on electronic stimuli. My own dear family spends far less time pigpiling than I would like, yet at the same time, I have dear friends who I’ve met online who sustain me. I make my living via online connections, and I don’t feel at all disconnected when I plug in.
But I am glad I made some progress on my quilt, since the nights are getting colder.
Have you experienced an online greyout that made you uncomfortable? Share your story below.