On Monday the 7th I woke up and decided to go on hiatus.
An internet hiatus, that is; I’ve been noticing that many of my afternoons and morning have been swallowed up by pointless link-clicking and page refreshes. I have tried to restrict my internet activity on a smaller scale: limiting my Facebook access during times of great emotional upheaval (bad or good), and paring down my list of frequently-visited websites. TV Tropes, the most diabolical time-sink of them all, was first to go. But I still found myself sucked into those sites that I still visited, wasting hours on idle, flicking through archives and re-reading pages I’d already seen before, just to pass time rather than using it.
So Monday I called a hiatus.
Now, the internet is too enmeshed in my life to simply not turn on my computer for a week (although I did manage two days). I teach two classes online, and so obviously I’d need to get on for them — and the majority of my communication, either business or pleasure, is via email. So I laid down some ground rules at breakfast that Monday. I allowed myself to check business email as often as needed, check my personal email once daily (if that), check my bank accounts, and obviously teach my class.
I also constructed a list of offline activities that I could do instead, including walks, workouts, and above all writing. I anticipated that finding myself at loose ends or bored would be the moments of greatest temptation, so having a list of acceptable alternatives laid out in advance, I figured, could help a lot.
On Monday I left my computer off entirely, instead passing the day with a little writing and a great deal of reading, finishing a lengthy and enjoyable book.
On Tuesday, I figured I’d better check my email. Opening it up, I remembered that a lot of what I might term “business” email goes to my more personal account, so my original distinctions really didn’t work. I also discovered that I had a conference call scheduled for just a few hours later, and that someone had emailed me about setting up a job interview two days before. Having gotten to both of these in time, I did a little writing, then got in a run, and then later a walk, since the run had been insufficiently sunny and the weather had improved since. I also checked my bank accounts and then ran down to deposit a check.
Wednesday I hit peak efficiency. I taught my first class, began to do my taxes online (deciding this was covered as “money stuff”), then wrote an immense amount by hand, quite possibly my most significant output in months.
Thursday my resistance wavered. While I held firm and didn’t visit my normal sites, I compromised and watched some TV episodes online. Since this could have been with a DVD or an actual television, this seemed a lesser violation, though a violation it remains.
Friday I taught my American Government class. Since it has a current events focus, I needed to catch up on the news. I fired up one of my mainstay news sites for the first time in a week, and discovered that Mubarak had stepped down as president of Egypt about five minutes before. This quickly dominated the rest of my day (and my class); I kept al-Jazeera’s live feed playing in the background quietly. For contrast I tried the CNN and Fox live streaming, but they never had sound; al-Jazeera, however, had every celebratory roar. I watched President Obama’s brief address in the afternoon, then called it a day and got my workout done.
Saturday I checked my email but nothing more; this was aided by being at work until 1pm and on the bus until 2:30, but also by friends playing boardgames into the evening. Sunday I checked my email again, spending no more than 30 seconds on it.
All in all, my rules required some flexibility, and my resolve was imperfect — especially when it came to the episodes. The overall experience, however, was an excellent one. A few important connections were nearly missed but weren’t, and in one moment of almost divinely fortuitous timing I managed to get the major news of the week practically as it happened, despite having been out of touch for days. Other news, however, never got to me — I realized as I ran errands on Tuesday that I had no idea who had won the Super Bowl, and didn’t find out until I read an actual newspaper on Sunday. (David Sirota’s column on the Super Bowl is worth reading, though. You can probably find it online.) The largest “mass culture” event in American society and it simply passed me by! It was an almost liberating feeling.
Instead of staring at a screen for hours, I read a good book and filled 44 handwritten pages in my notebook. Likely my best production ever.
Getting back online I find I actually regret reestablishing my connection to the modern world, although there are things to be done and online friends I haven’t talked to of late. I’m already looking forward to doing another hiatus next month, and contemplating a large-scale one, maybe for a full month, during the summer. Try it! Although I recommend brainstorming that “alternatives list” first, which helps with sticking to it.
The internet, as Egypt has lately proved, can be a powerful tool indeed. But when you stand away from it, you might get a refreshed perspective.
Since I’ve been away for a while, here’s a Weekly Query for you:
How do we use our time?
Does our use of time reflect our values?
What could you change about your time usage? What would you like to maintain?
Just as a heads-up, a few major pieces that I’ve been working on for a while are nearly ready to go, so stay tuned: big things coming.