Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Now I get it

I recently discovered why it is that I'm so disinclined to disconnect.

It's my grandma's fault.

A few days ago, she got a new cell phone. Was her old one broken? Was there some problem with her service provider? Did she wager it at a bingo match and later regret her impulsiveness?

No, no and no. (By the way, never, ever challenger her to a game of bingo -- she owns that game.)

Instead, she wanted instant internet access, and using the computer room on the ground floor of her apartment building wasn't cutting it anymore.

My grandmother, it turns out, is hooked on email, online chess, blogs and news.

I went over and inputted her email's username and password, and as her unread messages started rolling out onto the tiny screen her face erupted into a marveled smile.

I know, Grandma. The internet makes me happy, too!

(Knowing I can blame it on my genes makes me even happier.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Notes from a day offline

Thursday, October 30, 2009

[These start without a timestamp -- I started keeping track of that later]

I left home this morning without my cell phone – possibly an effect of the stress this is causing, since I never forget that. Keys, maybe. Wallet – yesterday. Cell phone, never.

I didn’t realize forgetting the cell was a good move until I went back and picked it up, and suddenly the internet is everywhere I am.

I’m realizing it’s a reflex. My finger wants to click on the blue e, and it’s without thinking.  [I have internet explorer on windows mobile, hence the blue e]

I’m doing a lot of thinking. I walk, and I can't read CNN. So I think. A lot of that thinking is about all of the things I’ll be doing online tomorrow:

At 10:37 I caved and went online for about 5 minutes – truly not more than that. I had to download a few things and reply to professional email. It’s not about compromising my career at this point. One day offline wouldn’t make a difference to me. But it would hurt other people’s days.

Sister, on the phone: I really don’t think you should do this.
Me: Why?
Sister: It’s ridiculous!

So at 1137 I’m going stir crazy.

11:44 I just want to check check check.

11:46 this suck sucks sucks

11:47 fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck

12:23 I just got off the phone with AY, which I’d been looking forward to for a few days. Now I’m feeling the fizz, the pffft, of deflation. That is over. That was quick. Too quick! I barely got a chance to catch up with her. But it was also great to hear her voice, after how many months? Now what. What else do I have to look forward to today?

12:25  I've been awake for 5 and a half hours and already the day seems very long to me. Yet I realize I have another 12 hours to go.

12:26 I wonder if I should tweet these tomorrow in 24-delayed real time, or just lump them together into a blog post.

12:43 I just bumped into JoR, who asked me if I’m actually doing this. I said yes, but confessed I went online for five minutes to send a work-related email. She nodded supportively. She said she saw my tweets yesterday and was curious if I’d make it. That kicked off a nice chat about a twitter widget she recently discovered, which I might like. Not only might I like it, I’m sure I would. That was a very satisfying talk. As satisfying as it is for someone on a carrot juice purge to talk about the new Magnolia bakery opening outside her apartment or someone in AA to hear about about the sale on jose cuervo at Happy-Go-Liquor. No, that’s not an actual liquor store, but shouldn’t it be?

12:54 I want to check

12:55 Am I really about to play minesweeper?

1:04 that was oddly thrilling.

1:17 I replied to an email. I just feel that if someone emails me and I don’t reply, that’s like not waving back or not smiling back when someone greets you. It’s just rude.

1:18 I think I need to revise that stance. I’ve been online 3 times today, for a total of 7 minutes. It’s way less than 9 hours, and I’m cutting out a lot of the time wasting activities that normally make up my day, opting for the far more efficient alternative called minesweeper. But I still caved not once, but three times. If I’m going to really quit the internet for a long, long time, I’ll need to be prepared to appear rude or callous.

1:20: next time around I will set up an auto reply: "I am away from my email this year. Please call or text if it’s urgent. Otherwise, I’ll receive your message next year."

1:24 I think I need a diversion. Something to help me forget.

1:51 there’s no way I could quit cold turkey. Every single atom in my body is counting down to midnight. If actually quit for the long haul, I don’t think I’d make it for more than 18 hours. I think I should start by staying offline one day per week, then adding weekends to that.

[From that point onward, the entries stop. Because --  wait for it, wait for it, waaaaait for it -- I calm down, I start working, and I eventually get drunk. See the previous entry for the conclusion.]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What I discovered after spending 24 hours offline

I thought I would rush back here to report what my 24 hours offline were like.
I thought being offline 24 hours would steer me away from this plan.

But I did not. And it did not

Instead, sharpened or dulled by a few days of perspective, here's what I have concluded after my test run of life offline.

1. Before anything, I guess I should start with a disclosure: I was forced to check professional email three times. If not, it would have messed up other people's days. I got a call in the morning from an editor asking if I'd gotten her email. She doesn't know about my plan-- nor do any of my work related contacts. (Not yet, at least.) And I didn't want to ruin her work flow or burn that bridge. So for a total of 10 minutes, spread across the day, I read and replied to her emails.

2. That's the only contact I had with the online world.

3. This experience was harder than I thought. I figured I could just pull the plug and succeed. Arrogant fool!

4. I've decided, based on my reactions throughout the day, that I can't quit cold turkey. I need to ease out of it. Delight at the thought of being able to log back in soon is what stopped me from giving up immediately. So I need to accustom myself to not being so delighted. And that will be a gradual process.

5. By about 6 p.m. I couldn't believe how much more time I had left to be offline and how slowly the day had gone by.

6. To make it go faster, I enlisted the help of a friend and the excellent margaritas of Ponce's. By the end of the night I forgot what time it was, what we talked about at the beginning of the night -- but not that I was supposed to be offline.

7. After that great evening I resolved that if I overcome internet addiction I should at least become an alcoholic.

8. Earlier, I called 411 twice, once to get the number of an editor I work with and then for Travelocity. I hadn't called 411 in at least three years, and I'm very happy that service still exists.

9. The hardest point in the day came when I wanted to book a plane ticket. I had decided to attend a journalism conference in New Haven and stick around the East Coast for a few days. I called Travelocity just to get an idea about the prices, and the guy told me there was a good fare with one seat left at $300. I almost almost caved and looked online to make sure that was the best deal. Instead, I ended up RESISTING and CONTROLLING THE URGE and I bought the ticket blind.

Later, when I looked up fares online, I saw the cheapest tix would have been $50 less.

I also had to pay the damn $25 telephone booking fee.

So if that's not dedication, I don't know what is.

10. Oh wait, that would be stupidity.

11. Because quitting the internet when it helps you save time and money is stupid.

12. But if what you gain offsets those losses, quitting the internet is not that stupid.

13. My day offline was oddly relaxing, come to think of it. I could see myself really relishing in the freedom, over time. After the jitters and the withdrawal, I suspect I would coast. Let my mind wander and start achieving something pretty decent things.

14. The high point was at about 4 p.m., when I stopped obsessing over being offline and I started writing, really writing, without interruptions or distractions, for a few good hours. I rarely get that sort of momentum, and it's my own fault.

15. In fact, I observed the most interesting effect the day after. All the automatic behaviors -- checking email frequently, going on NYT.com every few hours -- seemed ridiculous, superfluous. And I realized that the internet is just like the trail of ants that was running around in my kitchen all summer: mesmerizing, infuriating, persistent until the day it's gone, and then you don't have to think about it unless you want to.

Next post: my journal from that day. Complete with time stamps. And expletives.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What have I done?

Now that I have decreed I'm going offline tomorrow, I am petrified.

What have I done??

In the last five minutes I've issued five pathetic tweets:
Now my heart is beating faster, because it's sinking in. I won't be able to do this tomorrow. Or this or this or this or this or this or this or this or this or this or this or thisorthisorthisorthisorthisorthisorthis!!

Ok. Here's the plan. I will make a list of things I can look forward to tomorrow. And I will print it out and read it every time I'm getting antsy.

1. phone call with AY, friend from college and grad school who lives in London now, which we've planned for a few days
2. work
3. work
4. work
5. progress
6. no distractions
7. work work work
8. progress progress progress
9. i will sit in a beautiful cafe and stare at my surroundings, not the screen before me
10. i will call 3 people I haven't spoken to in more than a month
11. i will write one letter, run one errand or do one chore to make the rest of the week easier
12. i will treat myself to a movie, theme park or anything else that panders an escapist fantasy
13. i will keep notes about what it's like to be offline for no good reason, and publish them here, friday

And that's that.

First moment of reckoning

A few weeks ago I installed TimeTracker to find out how many hours I spend online. Now is the moment of reckoning. Since October 6, I have used the internet:
102 hours on my netbook
57 hours on my desktop
About 15 hours on AR's laptop. A guesstimate, since I didn't install the tracking program there.

174 hours in 22 days = 7.9 hours per day.

Now let's add in the cell phone data usage. I use about 160mb per month, according to my last three bills.  Per AT&T, these are the data loads for my online activities:

Typical Web page look-up: 150KB
Check the weather forecast on weather.com: 25-75KB (I'll go with 25, since it's just a rare glance -- I live in Southern California, remember?)
Check AOL email and read three messages: 60KB (I don't have AOL, but close enough)
Update Facebook status: 25-50KB (I'll go with 25, since I rarely do this on the phone)
Visit CNN.com and access the headlines in the "Health" section: 20-40 KB (I'll average that out to 30, since I'm on news sites a lot, but I tend to read articles the whole way rather than reloading constantly)

Trouble is, I'm not sure how much time that translates into. Does anyone know multivariable calculus? Let's just say I'm on my smart phone -- using data, that is -- a total of one hour per day. That's for quick email checks when I'm stuck in traffic, reading the news during rush hour, looking up statistics about accidents in rush hour caused by cell phone usage, and, occasionally, doing everything else I do online when I'm not stuck in traffic.

I secretly fear one hour is a conservative estimate, but no internet-quitting project would be complete without a dash of self-delusion, would it?

So, total time online as of October 28, 2009:
8.9 hours per day.
Is that bad?

Does that smell like an addict to you?

Does it make you want to wrap me up in a straitjacket and write "HOPELESS' on my forehead? Because if it does, I would like to meet you. We have a similar sense of humor and I think we'd hit it off.

But really, crude jokes aside, I think it's a perfectly reasonable amount of time. Don't you?

You know what else I think? It's time to go offline, for one day.

Just to see what happens.

Tomorrow. No internet, no cell phone data. From midnight to midnight.

If you don't hear from me Friday, send a medical examiner.