Well, it’s official. I’ve unplugged. I’m offline. Checked out. Whatever you want to call it. I’ve dropped wifi at home, gone cell-free, and recently installed a corded phone, much to the delight and wonder of my boys. I now live back in 1991. And guess what? I. Love. It.
Why on earth might I be posting about this on Project Mayhem? Because it’s done wonders for my writing and reading life, among other things. I read nine books last month, y’all. Eight in January. I don’t think I’ve read that regularly since middle-grade days when I was working toward the library’s summer-reading prizes. I’m hitting writing goals on my new project with ease, and I’m much less constrained by all the external (though well-loved) voices of readers, reviewers, other writers, blogs, articles, op-ed pieces, forum posts…you get the idea. Creative work is less stressful and rushed, and when I sit down to write, I no longer battle the siren’s call of Twitter and that latest Goodreads scandal.
I don’t have to tell you that there are so many voices daily competing for our attention– on both sides of the laptop screen. I realized that I needed to do something different after I was glued to my computer in the weeks leading up to my debut release. My rising stress level corresponded with my newfound ability to obsess online about my book: how it was doing, how readers were responding, and could I do more? Fill in the blank with other components of my life that were becoming inextricably dependent on being online (parenting blogs, driving directions, recipe ideas, the inevitable Web-MD), and the internet was becoming very much the invasive all-present stream of chatter so well-described in M.T. Anderson’s YA novel, FEED. Around that time I also read an interesting article suggesting that we have little idea of the mental health implications of constant connectivity. I realized that I’d only had internet in my home for about seven years (as opposed to the quarter-of-a-century that came before), but, even so, I couldn’t imagine life without it.
I don’t want to go all extreme on you. Many elements of being online are great. The instant access to a wealth of information. The constant connectivity that makes the life of a writer (and stay-at-home-parent!) seem much less lonely. Meeting so many fascinating people who share my interests. You fill in the blank. There are so many good things. I love the internet. That was my problem. One of my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions was to unplug, and I first started with axing wifi at home. But having cell-only internet access just ended with my spending more time grumbling at the poor Facebook mobile options and rubbing my neck, which was now permanently cramped from being hunched over my cell. For me, it was all or nothing, and I now am living in Luddite paradise.
Think you might want to join me back in the early ‘90s? Some things I’ve learned along the way for being unplugged and yet still realistically engaging the world as we know it:
Figure out the absolute essentials you need to do online and schedule time for them. For me, that means Monday-Friday, I set aside about half-an-hour to read e-mail and respond to time-sensitive requests. I also use this time to scan my twitter lists and facebook updates, which I’ve sorted into a manageable circle of close friends. I winnowed my blog reading down to two or three (of course, Project Mayhem is one!) that I read weekly. I block off a couple of hours on Saturdays to catch up on anything else that I can’t fit into my internet-speed sessions (like scheduling this blog post). I am lucky enough to have free wifi less than a mile away (yes, that’s me, checking e-mail in my car in the grocery store parking lot), and a public library very close to my house.
Consider other ways to remain connected. I subscribe to the daily paper (I love the ritual of shuffling out in PJs to get it every morning), schedule weekly phone calls with good friends (which has been wonderful for some relationships that were stagnating with quick e-mail updates), write letters (gasp!) and actually use the yellow pages (ha!). I have been astonished at the space I now have in my evenings, which is great for my family and friends, and I’m now actually doing a lot of the projects I was before only pinning.
Let other people know you might be online less. I make it a goal to respond to important business-related e-mails within 24 hours, but I told other friends that if they needed me urgently, they should call. Not being constantly available has been magical. So has the freedom that comes with the realization that there’s a lot I don’t actually need to keep up with that before I felt compelled to read, respond to, or follow.
Enjoy the quiet. Sit outside more. Multitask less. Eat without a screen in front of you. Respond to the need in front of you rather than the perceived virtual need. Go for a walk without an electronic device. Breathe.
Unplugging may not be for everyone, but it’s important to consider it as a viable option. Challenge yourself with a day or a week offline. See what you think. And in one of your quick speed-internet sessions at the library, come back here and tell me how it went. I’ll respond in a week or two. ;)
What say you, Mayhemers? Have you ever unplugged? Do you feel constrained or liberated by constant online access? How does being online affect your creativity? Your life as a reader?