Off the Grid

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I just spent four full days without Internet access. The whole time I had this niggling feeling that I was missing out on something, that the world was passing me by and that everyone was wondering where I was.

Turns out I’m not as important to the Internet universe as I thought I was. It only took me about 15 minutes to catch up on my email. I still had the same amount of visitors to my blogs and a couple of comments. And no one even noticed that I was gone on Facebook.  (I’m not the type to broadcast my status five times a day.)

It’s hard to remember what my life was like pre-computer and Internet. I got more done around the house, but I rarely knew what was going on in the world. I regularly missed bill payments and overdrew my checking account. I had to go to the library whenever I wanted to research something (which meant that I hardly ever researched anything). My books were always overdue at the library. I rarely had any contact with old friends or made any new ones. Shopping was always stressful. Making international phone calls was prohibitively expensive.

Now I can do all these things by logging onto the Internet (including Facebook and Skype). So when I sit down at my computer I’m under the illusion that I’m being productive, merely because it’s so easy to do so much more than I ever could have done before. But in reality, it takes me hours to get these things done, because the Internet is so seductive.

I found when I was off-line last week that I didn’t know what to do with myself without the Internet to structure my activities. I didn’t find it liberating. I felt lost and listless. I compensated by reading, but even I can do only so much reading in a day. One of the things that surprised me was that I found it so difficult to fill up my time with other activities. It’s as if I live through the Internet.

It might be interesting to go off the grid for a much longer period so that I can see what it’s like to be in charge again. I have to admit that I worry about myself sometimes, when it seems like the only thing I can think of to do is to sit at my computer. (I’m not always surfing the Net; I also use my computer for writing.) I’ve lost interest in almost everything else. I used to garden and sew and take pride in how I kept the house. Now I have to tear myself away from the computer to go to the gym or to spend time with my kids or friends.

They say that you can tell when you’re addicted to something not only by how hard it is to stop doing it, but also by how much it affects the quality of your life. The thing is, it takes a lot of willpower to fight an addiction. You have to really want to lick it.

And the truth is, I don’t want to. I’m back on the grid and I feel like I can function again. What I can’t figure out is: is that a good thing or a bad thing?

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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