In 2008, there was a documentary I saw on (I think) PBS called Disconnected. Shot around 2006, the short film details the lives of three college students who have decided to disconnect from their computers and the Internet, and try to get by in a college without it. As a person who attended college in the aughts I know that this is an almost impossible thing to do, what with professors emailing you at all hours, and registration starting at midnight, making it so that by the time you arrive on campus to register in person at 6am, all the good classes are taken. Yet, these three brave souls tried it. Two succeeded, and one failed. The two that made it through found that it was not only harder to get certain things done, but they felt completely isolated from the outside world. The benefits, though, were that they engaged with others more, and that having nothing to do forced them to attend more social events and actually leave their dorms and go outside.
Since this was filmed in the age of the dumb phone, the students were allowed to keep their cellular phones. It makes me wonder how this documentary would play out today with the rise of smartphones and social media. Our addiction to likes, and our fear of missing out (FOMO) keeps us attached to these devices. While there are some good things about social media, like active shooter alerts, weather warnings and really important breaking news, there isn’t much we really need to know about right at the moment it happens. It would be interesting to see a follow up documentary where the students have to go through this. Watching this film recently has made me think of a few things.
Way back in the day, before my family had the Internet, I remember being more engaged with not just society, but with culture in general. There was really no such thing as multitasking, because there was only one task to be done at one time. We did have a computer back then. We just didn’t have much to do on it. I played a lot of computer games, and looked up facts on Encarta. There were also word documents and pixel art, along with learning programs, which were tedious at best.
I got most of my teenage fun via the television. It was my ultimate time waster. I watched and re-watched movies I either purchased or recorded off cable. I studied these tapes for their cinematic quality. It was like my own little film school. I read magazines and absorbed every word. All of my knowledge came the hard way, written by people who fact checked and had their stuff go through a million editors. Nowadays, and I know I sound like an old man here, we live in an era of being fast and being first. “News” is doled out on Twitter, and the masses clamor over posts they read on Facebook. It’s no surprise that Russia used this avenue to allegedly tamper with our elections in 2016. Nevertheless, I now ultimately prefer to get my news from traditional outlets. That’s not saying that they’re infallible, or that new media completely lacks integrity; I just know that as I get older I tend to stick with what I know.
Today we devour media at a super fast rate, so fast that we forget what we read, and before you know it it’s on to the next. Take WWE, for example. In the mid 1990s, there was a limited amount of WWF/E programming throughout the day. There was Monday Night Raw, there was WWF Superstars on the weekend, along with Wrestling Challenge, and a recap show on Saturday morning. Altogether you were looking at five hours of WWF, and it all took place in a span of three days. This gave you an entire week to absorb everything and anticipate what would happen next. Now, everything happens at such a fast pace that you simply can’t keep up with all the shows, all the videos on YouTube, and all the stuff that happens on Twitter and Instagram that they manage to weave into the storylines. This is not including all of the insider blogs and podcasts. If this had been the case when I was growing up, I wouldn’t have been able to remember anything. I can recite, word for word, an interview with Bret Hart and Owen Hart that happened on WWF Mania, where they put their differences aside and challenged the Quebecers for their tag team titles at the Royal Rumble.
What I’m getting at is that because of the Internet, I’ve become a new age zombie. I take in huge chunks of information all at once and I’m able to retain less than 2% of it, because while I was playing a video game I was also listening to a podcast. “Binge-watching” has also become very harmful to my retention. I binged on so many shows these last few years, all while doing something else at the same time. When in conversation about these shows, and someone brought something up that happened, I could not remember what had happened. Case in point: in the latest episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a man approaches Agent Coulson, who has been sent on an important mission. This was a man from Coulson’s past but I could not remember who he was. Eventually it dawned on me that the man was Deathlok, who was a character in the early seasons. This really bothered me.
It was then that I decided it was time to finally unplug and disconnect. My first sign that I needed to change was when I woke up one day, put on my earbuds, went into the kitchen and began cooking breakfast. The kicker came when I realized that while the buds were plugged in, I wasn’t listening to anything. They were just in. A few days later I made a startling realization that while watching TV with my family, I was sitting on the couch checking the same three apps, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, over and over and over again. All this while listening to a podcast in my ear buds and ignoring my family and the television.
“I rely on this thing too much.” I said to myself about my phone. It was then that I enacted my first phase on disconnecting. I removed all the useless apps on my phone. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all gone. Even at work, where I’d carry my phone all the time, I started taking it out of my pocket in the morning and putting it in a drawer. I purchased a watch to keep the time. If anyone needed me for emergencies, there were other ways to reach me. I didn’t need to be connected at the hip to this thing.
Then I would come home and do the same things I’d been doing, only with my laptop and desktop. I’d sit with my family to watch TV, and I’d bring out my laptop and watch videos on YouTube or peruse Reddit. I was doing the same thing in my bedroom. I would watch a movie and check Twitter on my computer the entire time. Taking my phone away was not enough. I had to do more. While I wasn’t going to go the way of the kids in the movie and completely abstain from my computer, I was going to limit my usage immensely. It was at this point that I sat down and wrote out some rules for the Internet.
Internet usage would be limited to one hour a day at home. This was only for home and did not include work, where I have to use the Internet to do my job. I purchased an HD radio so I could listen to the channels I used to listen to on the TuneIn app. The reason I went with an HD radio is because where I live I don’t get good traditional radio reception. With the HD radio I get a decent signal, and the HD channels come in crystal clear. I have an actual alarm clock, and don’t need to sleep with my phone next to me to hear the alarm in the morning. As far as my podcasts go, I listen to them on my leisure time with my computer, with no other distractions. I check social media once a day just to see if I have any messages. The rest of my rules go as followed:
1. Banking and bills. It’s too hard to go the traditional route of writing out a money order for my bills and mailing them in. Also, while I could get away with calling the 800 number for my bank, doing it online has become a necessity, at least for the time being. This rule may change once I figure out a way to integrate these older methods back into my life.
2. Email. Not that I get a lot of actual email, but sometimes I need to check this just in case something happens, or someone can’t reach me any other way.
3. Online ordering. Let’s face it: You can find what you’re looking for so much faster online. Books are becoming harder and harder to find, especially if there is a certain one you’re looking for. This rule is in place just so I don’t drive myself up the wall.
4. Google Drive. I keep a lot of my files online. I may need them for something.
5. Blogging. How else will you read my little nuggets of wisdom, dear friend?
6. Researching. I’m a writer, and sometimes I need to know things, like what’s the best kind of cream cheese to put on a bagel, or what team placed third in the American League in 1976.
7. News. I subscribe to the New York Times online because if I were to purchase a physical subscription it would cost me about $90 a month to have it delivered to me daily.
My goal is to get back to being the person I was twenty some odd years ago, before the Internet completely took over my life. I’ve been watching a lot of TV shows from the 90s (on physical DVD), and I realized that none of these people needed the Internet to live their lives. Of course, they didn’t have it in its current form back then, but still… they managed just fine. Truly, not much has changed since before the Internet. The Internet just made it easier to do the things we used to do, but it has also made it so that we feel we need to be attached to it 24/7. While I still have my phone and love it, I do need it to contact people and do necessary things with it like call Lyft, and keep in contact with my overseas friends via Google Hangouts. I just don’t use it nearly as much, and now keep it in the other room when I’m at home. I don’t want to be that person anymore. I have cable TV. I have magazine subscriptions. I read my local paper (when I remember to buy it), and I have tons and tons of books and Blu-rays to keep me company during my leisure time.