The Internet is touted as being absolutely integral to our lives and that may be partially true. However humans are not designed to be exposed to so much information day after day with no release; Being forced to go offline for a period helped offer a much needed reality-check on how to use your time online mindfully.
Last week a letter dropped through my front door - a notice from the local council. My areas power would be switched off for a few hours while some essential repairs were carried out. The notice stated that this work would take several hours, spanning the entirety of the working day.
The day of the shutoff arrived and right on cue all my screens, lights, devices etc. all went black. The power was off. Perhaps most pressingly, the internet was down too. Not a huge deal personally but given the current context of working from home, an inability to access the internet effectively renders me dead to the world for a few hours; Cut off from emails, chats, and updates.
This sudden disconnect was ok however, after all I could still work offline for a period: Reviewing documents, writing a few blog posts, generally tidying up any remaining work that needed done. I sat down at my desk, flipped open my laptop lid and pressed the power button. Nothing happened. I pressed again. Nothing.
I’d forgotten to charge it the night prior.
It dawned on me that not only was I offline, I was entirely disconnected from almost all technology in the house.
With effectively everything either offline or lacking power, I decided to find someway to use the time more mindfully.
Surrounded by a collection of temporary paper-weights, I picked up my e-reader and flicked through what I had on hand. Skimming through my downloaded library, I started working through the dozen or so books that I’d bought but never gotten around to reading. No doubt they’d been forgotten about because there was something deemed ‘more important’ online.
My shattered attention-span of the past few weeks from endless scrolling and swiping started to fall away as I settled into reading from one page to the next. Ideas for topics to look into and potentially write about started emerging. Projects and hobbies to experiment with in this new free time invited themselves in. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel liberating.
As the hours ticked by without power I started to actively enjoy being not just offline, but almost entirely disconnected from technology. This break from typical daily routines offered a much needed opportunity to look away from the screen and find areas where my focus could be better applied. By being forced into going offline I received a much needed reality-check.
Late afternoon arrived and the house flickered back to life, the power was back. I didn’t notice however, I was moving on to reading the next book I had on hand.
The following day I inevitably had to return to online life, dealing with emails and notifications I’d missed the day prior. Once these were out of the way however I was free to do whatever I wanted - To return to my previous pattern of searching, scrolling, tapping, swiping until the end of the day.
It was as I stared at the search bars blinking cursor that I realised - I think I actually preferred being offline.
Completely escaping the Internet may be impossible; there will almost always be some email needing replied to or chat bubble needing answered. This doesn’t mean however that we need to treat the Internet as a fire-hose, idly being bombarded with endless streams of comments, discussions, and alerts. Instead we can take a step back, make a mental note of what tasks do we need to be online for and if we don’t…why not disconnect? Why not let the mind wander away from the screen and see where your focus goes?
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