Last summer, we spent two weeks in rural western Montana for my family reunion. Before we left, I decided that I would completely unplug myself from the internet while we were there. Although my dad did have internet at the house, I figured that it would be good for me to have that unconnected break. I was inspired to do this by an essay in Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, in which she relates how much better a Mexican vacation was because their cell phones just didn’t have any reception. Before we left, I set up an auto-reply in my email saying that I would be away from email for two weeks and to call me if there was anything urgent.
When we got to my dad’s place in Montana, we discovered that we didn’t have any cell phone reception either. We had to drive about a half hour away in order to get any. And so, unintentionally, I really cut myself off. Although I felt a bit twitchy at times (particularly when watching my siblings checking their email and Facebook accounts), on the whole, it really wasn’t all that hard to be disconnected from the internet for those two weeks. I did write some blog posts in advance (like this one, this one, and this one) and scheduled them to post while I was gone, so my two week absence wouldn’t be all that noticeable (blog-wise) while I was gone. Because I was with all my immediate family (25 of us!), I didn’t feel lonely or disconnected at all!
Fast forward a few months. Last Monday, our internet connection broke. We weren’t able to get a technician here to fix it until Friday afternoon and so for five days, I had another [this time unplanned] internet sabbatical. The internet miraculously worked for about five minutes on Tuesday evening so I was able to read my emails, enough to see that I needed to call a couple people. And then Thursday evening, the internet again worked for a few minutes, long enough to let me read through my emails but not long enough to do anything else (such as reply to anyone, look at my Feedly feed, or check Facebook.) So it wasn’t five days of absolutely no Internet but pretty close to it.
So, what did I learn from these two internet sabbaticals?
1a. The internet sucks way more of my time out of my day than I like to admit that it does. I don’t even have the temptation of a smart phone (i.e. instant everywhere internet access) and I still was WAY more productive than I usually am. For example, the kitchen was beautifully clean all week!
1b. On the other hand, I wasn’t able to accomplish some tasks that I really needed to do – particularly related to some of my church responsibilities. It’s difficult to function when all business is conducted on the web and you’re not there.
1c. I realized that part of the “I’m more productive without the internet” story is not just the time that I waste surfing the web but also that I wasn’t quite so distracted because I didn’t have the temptation to “just check to see if I’ve gotten any email”. So I remained better focused on my task at hand.
1d. The moral of this story: I do need internet access but I also need stronger boundaries on my time as to when and how I access the resources and/or time eaters of the internet.
2. Storage on the cloud is great until you can’t access the cloud. Thankfully, we don’t use the cloud exclusively (i.e. we also save our documents and pictures to our home PC) and so I’ve been able to get to my recipes and other documents I’ve needed. I prepared for this when we went to Montana by printing out recipes I’d need and that sort of thing. But this second unplanned sabbatical would have been pretty difficult if everything was in the cloud. And last week, I did wish that I had some information that I have stored only in my email – nothing major but still annoying.
3. Facebook is a double-edged sword. I love Facebook for being able to keep up with my friends and ]in particular] my family who are flung far and wide. However, it’s really easy to read my family’s status updates and then feel like I know what’s going on and so not reach out to make a personal connection to them. This wasn’t a problem in Montana (since we were all together) but last week, I definitely felt pretty isolated and out of it. In either situation, I didn’t don’t do a good job of reaching out via phone to fix the disconnection problem. On the other hand, I especially have missed having Skype. My sister and I talk a lot on Skype and it’s fun for our kids to be able to see each other that way.
4. I’m pretty good at all or nothing boundaries but not so good at loosey-goosey ones. It’s much easier for me to say, “don’t turn on the computer until after lunch” rather than say, “I’ll turn on in the computer in the morning but I’ll only use it for a few minutes and only when the kids aren’t in the room and only if I’ve gotten everything else done that I need to do”. So primarily, I’m going to try to stick to a “no computer until quiet time” policy from now on with exceptions as needed.
Anyone else out there taken an internet sabbatical recently (intentionally or unintentionally)? How was it for you? Any lessons learned you want to share?