Tuesday, March 19, 2013


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?


  1. You're way braver than me, going offline like that. I am probably addicted to being online since I turn on my computer and coffee pot the minute I get up. I won't try going off line, though I may try limiting it. Glad it worked for you.

    1. Thanks! It's definitely not for everyone, but worth a try. ;)

  2. I'm required to be online (at least the company network, if not the internet) for my day job, so after spending nine hours on it every weekday, it's pretty easy for me to stay offline at home. The hard part is when I want to write or revise, and that computer is connected.

    I should build a desktop that has no connectivity at all.

    1. Yes! I would think the last think you'd want is a computer screen after being online all day. And if you make that computer, I'll take one.

  3. I remember chatting with you about this in January. Looks like you're going strong. Have you ever read THE SHALLOWS: WHAT THE INTERNET IS DOING TO OUR BRAINS? I read it last summer over a semi-Internet break (vacation + a month off of FB and my blog). It was liberating. And the read was fascinating.

    While I'm not as brave as you, I envy that freedom you're feeling. I'm sure part of the angst I feel about writing is due in some way to the wealth of chatter I have access to. Carry on, friend!

    1. Thanks for the book rec! And, so you know, I'm still enjoying LMM but haven't been able to join in the actual discussion. Such is the cost of my newfound freedom. :/ But I'm with you in spirit!

  4. I have found that when I write I absolutely must put myself on COLD TURKEY, a program which blocks certain internet sites.

    I am tempted by your choice. A mere three years ago I didn't blog, have Facebook, or Twitter. I did a lot more novel reading, that's for sure!

    1. If it makes you feel any better, I'm probably the LAST person under 30 to either-

      A. Have a Facebook/Twitter Account

      B. A smartphone

      C. Know who Lady Gaga is (Not a fan nor a hater, I'll just leave it at that...)

    2. Michael - Yes! It's strange to think that it hasn't been all that long that we've been internet-connected.

      Taurean - good for you! ;) Out here in Seattle we revel in going against the flow, so I'll cheer you on.

  5. I unplug when I am caught up in a project and the noise is too much. I am an obsessive type, especially as a writer, so there are periods when people might think I've fallen off the map. However, it just means I've committed to unplugging (similar to your mode) to work on that project. I keep email (via phone) readily handy for agent, family, friends, but blog commenting. tweeting, and such is minimum during the unplugged periods.

    1. Yes! Definitely so important for creative work. I imagine I'll eventually settle in to what you're describing - more of a flow of connectivity...but after the detox.

  6. So glad to know there is an alternative! And that someone is brave enough to unplug and live a less frenzied life. We need examples like yours to remind us that we don't have to get so caught up in it all. Thanks for sharing :-)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Kenda! Glad you're joining the Mayhem. :)

  7. I have never had a cell phone, so I am certainly unplugged if I leave the house. But I definitely rely on the Internet at home. I think what you've done is amazing, but I'm glad you didn't do it sooner, since I met you online, which led to real, in-person connection for our whole families and a church home.

    It was very fun, right after I had The Call with an agent and then sent off my excited emails to CP's telling them how it had gone, to know I shouldn't email you, but that you'd call and we'd a have a real person-to-person debrief.

    1. This is so true, Joy! There are many gifts that come from the online community, and new friends is one of them! I'm so glad we "met" online - in fact, AW is how I "met" HIlary as well and got connected to Mayhem friends as well.

      I definitely feel conflicted about cutting out the opportunity for that kind of community...

      And, yes! My retro landline has been getting good use these past months. I'm remembering how nice it is to just call somebody up and get caught up that way.

  8. You are a brave to take unplugging to your extent, and while I'm not obsessed with technology in every sphere (Despite what the stereotypes of over 30 adults, especially parents), wish to believe.

    Marissa did what was right for her life and I applaud that. But I think for some of us, though, the LESS "Free" you feel in real life, the more you use the internet as a crutch.

    Online, it doesn't matter if you can't drive or afford a car, that you live WAY too far from anything relevant in your life to walk to, to shop, work, and connect with people on some level. You can obtain a lot that's either quick to download, get in an e-mail, or have your shopping mailed to you when you aren't able to leave the house.

    We all know real life has it's dangers and drawbacks, but it's upsides as well, why should online be any different?

    As much as we try to emphasize in-person interaction, it's not always possible, and for many people, myself included, without the internet we'd feel entirely alone.

    Some of us didn't get the privilege of walking to places, hanging out, or doing ANYTHING that didn't require adults willing to taxi us around, things I feel lots of folks over 30 really don't get.

    I hope I don't offend any parents here, but the next time you have fight with your kids, ask yourself these important questions-

    What's in walking distance for your children?

    Would you feel safe letting them roam beyond your home?

    Are their places they can go that don't require your direct involvement from start to finish?

    How far are places your children cherish visiting? (Libraries, friend's homes, parks, shopping destinations)

    How is their "Freedom" different from yours growing up?

    I'm not trying to be judgmental here. Just suggesting you see things from their perspective, too, not just yours.

    Your kids don't have to be wild and out of control to feel trapped in their own home or hometown.

    To be continued...

    1. I talk about this issue in an article I wrote for my blog some time ago here.

      I normally don't plug my blog in this way, but I urge parents and caregivers of kids and teens to read it, I'm no psychologist, but I know lack of freedom offline is just as damaging to kids and teens as too much of it at once.

      Every family is different, but even if the limits you set are for good reason in your home, you at the very least need to hear the silent ways they vent or rebel, and especially in the "Rare" instance they come out and tell you directly.

      Even if you can't quickly address or change the situation, acknowledging the pain this causes is still better than brushing it aside, I assure you. If a non-parent like me can see that, so can you.

      As I said, I'm not a parent, and don't make light of the hardships you face, but just as key here, I know what it feels like to have little freedom of exploration and discovering offline, as a child and even now as an adult, and while online interaction can't nor should it replace the joy of offline adventure and mobility, for some us, it's our ONLY choice seven times out of ten, and those I know who strictly unplug as Marissa has are in a more advantageous environment than I am.

      Unlike most writers I know, I'm NOT a parent, teacher, or work in IT (Not saying anything bad about those who are all/any of the of the above), but for me unplugging to that degree (While I agree with the feelings behind it) is not a feasible option.

      Could I stand cut back? Yes.

      While Marissa's observations and concerns are sound and something we all need to think hard about, and to take action on, it's not always simple to achieve those goals-

      Enjoy the quiet.
      (I don't always enjoy quiet. Even though I HATE living in a home where there's a shouting match every day, and living with relatives who aren't warm and fuzzy [but not abusive either] don't help invite silence home often...)

      Sit outside more.
      (I don't enjoy the view outside my house, and the nearest park is not exactly even SEMI-ideal)

      Multitask less. (Tell that to the WORLD. Not just me)

      Eat without a screen in front of you. (There's no family meal where I live, and much as I hate to admit it, for better or worse a screen is more available than family)

      Respond to the need in front of you rather than the perceived virtual need. (When the need in front of you can't be met, tending to virtual needs requires less or no outside help)

      Go for a walk without an electronic device. Breathe. (I breathe just fine, but music is VITAL to tune out the pain that surrounds me)

      For unplugging to work, you need a rich and engaging offline life, if you don't have it, it's harder, but not impossible.

    2. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Taurean! I think you're absolutely right that there are so many facets to consider here and implications to be discerned and settled on as to what suits you best personally. I sense that you are thoughtful person who feels things deeply. I resonate with what you've written here: "But I think for some of us, though, the LESS "Free" you feel in real life, the more you use the internet as a crutch."

      I think always being constantly plugged in can help us cope with challenges in real life - whether they are the ones you've described or others in the same way that diving into a good book can help us escape our painful realities. I suppose the question is how we want to balance that. When does our escapism help us in our real lives and when does it begin to replace our real lives? Much food for thought here. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!