Five weeks ago I recognized my Internet addiction, packed up my Internet computer and stored it in the garage. Laptops went into the safe. Drastic measures but necessary.
What did I learn? How did I do?
That first day I could not unplug those cables fast enough. Cutting off the Internet wasn’t punishment—I felt like I was throwing off shackles, not putting them on. After banishing the Internet computer, I sat down at my work computer (ten-year-old Compaq, please, please don’t ever croak) and several times, glanced over at the space where the Dell usually sat. Automatic reflex.
As was the tendency when I was working to quick look up a fact. This habit had gotten so compulsive, I’d write a sentence like, “The girl picked up a rock and threw it.”
Then I’d wonder what kind of rock she threw. I’d turn to the Dell to search for specific rocks. But I wouldn’t stop at quartz or whatever—I’d be drawn into geology and then the formation of the earth and then a debate about the creation of the universe . . . By the time I finally got back to my story, I had no idea what was going on in the scene.
More than once, I found myself reaching for the second mouse that wasn’t there.
The first Monday I went to the library to check my email, I nearly broke the door down trying to get in first. My mail! My mail! What if something had happened? Like what? I’d win some big award? Somebody wanted to pay me $100,000 to write what I wanted? I had better odds digging up a stegosaurus skeleton in my back yard.
My emails were the same as always, although at the end of five weeks, they were down to a trickle. I wasn’t sending many, mainly answering ones in my in-box.
But the best part of using the library’s computer was that I got up after dealing with emails and the day’s research, logged off, and walked out.
What did I gain? Time. Focus. Money!
I got my mornings back. No rushing to the computer at 6:30. I did my morning chores, then I went outside for a walk/run. I concentrated on the pavement under my feet and whatever writing problem I took outdoors with me. I did solid work in the mornings and afternoons. Lunchtime, I read. After supper, I read more, thought, and relaxed. For the first time in months, my head was clear.
Without access to Amazon and all those other tempting sites, I couldn’t buy anything! I did beg my husband to let me order a couple of books on his laptop halfway through. But for the most part, I saved money.
What did I lose? Stress. My “place” in social media.
After the first week, I didn’t miss the Internet at all. By week 3, I wished I didn’t have to go back to it. I felt calmer. I slept better. But my Facebook status, both personal and professional fan page, dropped to zilch. Cyberspace-wise, I ceased to exist. Normally I wouldn’t give a fig, but writers are supposed to have a viable platform.
What did I miss? My Internet friends.
I missed my blog. Often I would think of a blog post and then realize I couldn’t post it on a public computer. I missed my community of fellow bloggers and friends. I missed being able to process my photos.
What did I learn? That nothing would change.
I realized that my particular problem with the Net isn’t going away. I’ll slip back into my old habits. So five days a week, I will unplug the router box and my husband will take it to work with him. I’ll have the Internet back in the evenings and on weekends. But my days will be mine.
What did I find? Peace. Myself.
I found my place in the world again. The Internet kept me pinned to my desk, to the point where I dreaded going in my office. I felt isolated, not connected. The first morning I laced up my running shoes, I ran harder than ever (well, like a 61-year-old woman with crummy lungs). I flew like a little kid out of school for the summer.
I slipped back into the real world. I connected with people. Last week in Goodwill, I watched a young man at the “better” purse rack. On his phone, he described the purse: “It’s got a bar of some kinda blue, a bar of like white, another bar with green, another blue, but different—and it says Coach in this leather oval. Yeah. You want it?”
Whoever was on the other end must have said “Haul freight!” because the young man raced over to the clerk to unlock the purse. He brought it over to the counter. It was a summer edition Coach bag, multi-striped cloth with leather trim. The young man positively glowed. “This is the purtiest purse I’ve ever seen. All them colors. You don’t see that everyday.” I agreed and said the girl getting the purse was mighty lucky. He shelled out $31 and walked out on a cloud, off to make some girl very happy.
The part of me once engaged with people had come back. More important, the part of me that once cherished tender, simple exchanges had returned, too.
Saturday night I went to bed knowing my web-batical was over. Sunday I’d bring the computer up from the garage, plug in all the cables, turn on the familiar hum, wait for the familiar home page to brighten the monitor, palm the familiar curve of the mouse.
In the middle of the night, I woke to a pair of barred owls calling each other. If you don’t know a barred owl’s call, it goes, “Who cooks for you? Who-who cooks for yooouuu?” These owls must have had a lot of catching up to do. They called and called and called for over an hour.
Then I heard the yipping. The sound coursed along my nerves, too wild to be a dog. I realized it was a fox, warning other animals about the owls. Back and forth the Wild Kingdom chorus toggled, owls hooting and fox barking. I listened, aware I may be the only human witnessing this exchange.
The owls and the fox entered my dreams. I saw the owls flying across a broad open space, bands of light on their barred wings, to land high in a tree. The fox blinked his yellow eyes at me then disappeared into the underbrush.
When I woke up, I felt I’d been given a sign . . . and a gift. Pay attention to your weakness, the dream said. Be wary of the Internet. Talk to people. Listen. Get out in the world. Look.
Yes, you don’t see that every day.
Note: Thanks for your patience during this time. I appreciate my readers who came back. All photos were taken in Shenandoah County, Virginia.