What I Learned During My Two Internet Sabbaticals (one planned, one unplanned)

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?

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4 Responses to What I Learned During My Two Internet Sabbaticals (one planned, one unplanned)

  1. Rick and I did a Tech Free August as a challenge two years ago (during the Olympics). We went to great lengths to go unplugged except for work. I think it would be harder now with smart phones, but I remember in 1996 or so when I was looking to buy a house I was aghast at my realtors business card because she was available by pager ALL OF THE TIME!!! And now, less than 20 years later, we are all always connected. Read William Sleators’ House of Stairs and it will change how you look at machines, or it did for me.

    Today, I am setting boundaries because I’ve been overdoing it. I was thinking that my typing speed must have improved over the years, but it has remained constant. Imagine that!

  2. Liz says:

    We lived in an apartment for 6 weeks last summer as a temporary housing arrangement before we we were able to move into our new place. We considered trying to arrange a temporary internet service, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the money. John has a smartphone so I did have the ability to check email/facebook at night when he was home from work. But I don’t have a smartphone, so all day long I was offline. I did feel a little lonely at times. Some days, facebook and email are the only social connection I have with anyone beyond my kids and husband. And in a tiny apartment, it was not possible for me to talk on the phone during nap time without waking everyone up. But the upside was I felt a bit relieved to stay away from internet drama. And I read more books than I usually do. (I tend to check social media and read blogs and npr news during nap/quiettime, but during those 6 weeks, books were my only reading option and I enjoyed some old favorites). One of the random things I struggled with was shopping and researching- I don’t enjoy shopping at stores very much, so I buy quite a bit of household goods online. I also tend to research things thoroughly and at that time we were trying to find out info about moving companies, and contractors to remove dead trees and poison ivy at the new house…it was a lot harder to get that stuff done with limited internet.

    • Laura says:

      Hi Liz! I can’t imagine having to survive for six weeks without the internet because yes, for me too, sometimes it’s my only out of the house connection during the day. And yes, it really is hard to accomplish much without the internet these days (at least the internet makes some parts of life much easier). Thanks for sharing!

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