It’s hard to even conceive of such a world, isn’t it? I’ve been online for nine or ten years now: I can’t think of how I coped before. Did people not use to kill each other from boredom and frustration But recently we had a provider problem that led to (I’m a little embarrassed to state this, it’s so trivial) around twenty-four hours of no internet access.
Oh my god, how could anyone survive that long?
Seriously. That is pretty much how it felt, especially as time went on. The worst thing was the OCD aspect: the continual retrying for connection, the continual disappointment and frustration. Eventually I had to power down and go lie on the bed, an ‘antique’ (in the functional sense) notebook and pen in hand for creative flow. (And by notebook I mean spiral bound and with paper leaves.) I wrote articles out in longhand, slowly. In the end my hands hurt a bit! But, after I’d psychologically adjusted, it actually wasn’t too bad. The sunshine pouring through the window on a lovely May day probably helped, but really I quite enjoyed it. (Firmly telling myself to focus on the positive and what was enjoyable about the situation helped, too.)
After a few hours I did come around to the idea that there’s an upside as well as a downside to being temporarily offline. Hence this article
Most of you will know all about the downside. The frustration, the sense of being cut off from all worthwhile connection. The anxiety as potentially productive time ticks away. Or, indeed, time that could have been spent twittering away or tinkering with your MySpace page. What are all your peeps getting up to out there without you to keep an eye on them? Your favourite blogger might have been abducted by aliens. And you wouldn’t even know!
The upside takes a little more thinking (or living) through. For a start, without the continuous lure of your computer screen, you might actually get up and take a walk around outside. I’ve been out there. It’s not so bad. I didn’t get mugged by delinquent robins or fall in a stream or anything.
And when you’re cut off from Web 2.0 type socialising, you might find that that’s not the end of the world either. You can go out and do some real socialising instead. Phone your friends instead of Iming, go see a band, really interact in a way that allows you to give your fullest attention to each other – not the sliver left over after every other tab and pop-up on your screen is attended to.
If learning and research is a big part of what you use the net for – and it’s a wonderful resource for all manner of people whose work lies primarily in the virtual realm – then there’s somewhere else you can go. It’s called a library. Yes, these mystical places of legend do tend to have their own internet cafes these days, so you can even get your fix (for an hour or so till your booking’s over, anyway). But more than that, you can find new ways to research: books, newspapers, scholarly journals, elderly periodicals stuffed away on microfiche. (Okay, I’m not sure they actually have microfiche any longer. But it would be fun to find out). The librarians will help you out. Anyone not exclusively wanting to use the place as a net cafe and DVD rental shop will be a novelty to them at this point. They’ll probably know a bit of stuff themselves: treat them as another resource – just one wearing a cardigan.
But there’s no net, NO NET, what shall we do? That’s not enough! Well, you could read a book. (And that’s not meant to be snotty. Reading books rocks. It’s hard to do when your monitor is always seducing you away from the printed word.) You could hammer through the box sets you bought and only watched once, if that. (You are really going to have to start again from scratch with Lost to stand a chance for next season. Seriously. If not, then you have a million gigabytes of RAM in your wetdrive and I salute you.) You could bring paperwork home from the office, or do your accounts for the past three months. (Hey, it’s a valid option!)
You could just take some time off and kick back. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with doing nothing. Study cats for an example of the masters at work. You can call it meditation, or philosophy, or somesuch, if you’re embarrassed to admit to it. Or you can actually meditate or philosophise, while you’re at it. (Maybe that’s what cats are doing. Apart from swatting flies. Disproving Descartes.) For a workaholic the internet is a dreadful creation. There’s no reason to ever stop working. Until now! Now you can just exist for a while. Maybe think, instead of continually avoiding thinking.
You can travel around your local area and see places, instead of looking at pictures of them online. Maybe with all the travelling and thinking, you’ll begin to see too – to see options you might have missed in the virtual world. Maybe a bricks and mortar business, instead of an online storefront?
You could put your virtual learning into practice. Been reading jewellery making and silversmithing blogs? Maybe now you could pick the phone up, sign up for a class. Hey, who knows when you’ll get the net back up?
You can learn to appreciate and feel connected to previous generations, even in your own family. Hey, they lived like this all the time. Respect is due. How did they not run amok, anyhow?
But you know what you can do, most of all? What being without the net really teaches you? It teaches you to really blimmin’ appreciate the internet, because it is wondrous and limited only by your imagination. Really! When your connection is up and running, you really, really, really appreciate it!
Copyright Ollie Hicks, 2009.