When we moved to our new house, we knew that we wouldn’t have the internet for a few weeks. I was secretly looking forward to it. I saw it is as an opportunity to have a break from the ever-present digital world. Life would be slower, better — just like on a holiday.
But I was so, so wrong. Living without the internet was frustrating and inconvenient, and in today’s world, it just didn’t work.
It seems every celebrity is touting the benefits of a digital detox lately. Jennifer Hawkins recently told Beauticate that she does a “technology detox” from six or seven o’clock every night, “just so I can have dinner and be present with [husband] Jake, or whoever else is around — even to be with your pets. It’s really good for your body.” Similarly, Elle Macpherson goes internet-free on weekends.
Avoiding technology seems fashionable now, and I wanted to be part of the in crowd.
Admittedly I was feeling a bit panicky about it; I work in digital publishing, after all. My husband and I are always on the internet, whether we’re streaming TV shows, podcasting or writing freelance articles. But I reminded myself that I had grown up in a time before the internet’s ubiquity, and that I would be okay. I wasn’t a digital native. I grew up using rotary phones and encyclopaedias. It wasn’t going to be a big deal.
Only, it was. The things I needed to get done suddenly became harder to accomplish. I realised how much I used the internet to complete basic daily errands and tasks and without it, I felt stranded.
WATCH: Could play dough be the key to a successful tech detox? We gave it a try. (Post continues after video.)
‘Wait a second,’ you might ask, ‘don’t you have a smartphone? Can’t you use the internet on that through a data network?’
We did do that at first, as we quickly realised the internet was a necessity. This meant that we spent way too much extra money on our phone bill that month, as we hit our data allowance and then continued to exceed it. The internet on our phones was also a lot slower, meaning we spent more time getting less done.
I soon realised my typical day starts on the internet and I’m reliant on it throughout the day. As soon as I wake up each morning I check the weather forecast using an app on my smartphone so I can dress my toddler daughter appropriately. It’s just one little click, but one that indicated my desire to always know things and to be in control.
Throughout the day I found myself looking up information on my phone, as it was just more convenient that way. There's a misconception that the younger generation are using digital technology for vapid pursuits like reading about celebrities and Snapchatting each other. But for me, I'm just trying to get stuff done. Things like figuring out how to fix our ancient air conditioner because I didn't have a manual. What else is a Gen Y girl to do? I Googled it and used up more of my data allowance as I downloaded the PDF.
There were things I felt I had to do online, so I rationed out my data use for that. Things like online grocery shopping (I mean, would you like to drag a screaming toddler around the supermarket if you had a choice?) and research for work. But there were many other things I needed to do that I just put off because I didn't want to spend more on my phone bill.
For example, I'm having another baby in May, and need to buy a pram that can accommodate my toddler and the new baby. I live outside of Sydney, so casually visiting a baby warehouse for a browse isn't possible. I want to research the different brands and designs available, and I'd usually use the internet for that. If I called a store and asked them to post me a catalogue, there's a chance that a) they wouldn't do it, or b) they would do it but it would take a week to reach me. Now, I'm wondering if it's getting a bit late to find the right pram, as I know that stores have to order the prams in and wait for delivery. I missed the efficiency of the internet.
I missed the entertainment, too. I couldn't download any new books to my Kindle or stream TV shows or movies, and I also couldn't buy any music on iTunes. So I joined the local library to borrow DVDs and books. I love libraries, but they don't offer the same convenience or choice.
Living an internet-free life is fine for holidays, but for real life — particularly when you work on the internet — it isn't practical. Just like a meditation retreat or a day at the spa, stepping away from being online is both luxurious and inconvenient.
What I noticed is that most of the infrastructures and services around me were reliant on the internet too, so I had to play along in order to get things done.
Finally, the day loomed for when our internet would get installed. The night before, my husband started plugging in our modem to get everything ready. He watched the modem lights slowly switch on, and then looked at his smartphone.
"It's picking up the wifi," he said. "Does this mean we've had the internet the whole time?"
"What? We've been living like digital monks for no reason?!" I replied, aghast.
What if we'd plugged in the modem as soon as we'd moved, 20 days ago? Would the internet have worked then? Probably not, but the idea that it was possible was bugging us. We reasoned that the internet company had probably connected everything a day early, that's all.
That night I was able to look up my train timetable and do some research for work, and then I started reading my favourite sites. That soft, familiar lull settled over me, a feeling that I was back in control and able to do anything and know everything. It felt good, and relaxing — which is how you're supposed to feel after a detox, strangely.
Could you go 20 days without the internet?