It is so hard for me to go offline for any period of time, and yet I’m so aware of how much I need to do this more regularly.
I’ve written before about my ambivalence about not having a Smartphone, which would give me easy access to email when I’m away from home. Sometimes I’m tempted to upgrade, and other times I’m so appreciate of the value of being compelled to just leave my email behind now and then – whether it’s for short periods of time when I go out to do errands or go for a walk, or longer periods of time like the day last month when I spent eight hours on a daytrip to southern Maine and had no access to email from about nine in the morning to five in the afternoon.
If anything, lately I feel like I’ve become more compelled to be on line. Receiving a hand-me-down netbook from my mother meant my online world was more portable then ever around the house, if still not actually portable outside the house. It became so easy to have the netbook with me in the kitchen when I was preparing meals, or on the porch when I was reading the paper, or on my nighttable when I was getting ready for bed at night.
But I was also becoming increasingly aware lately that I go to the Internet, particularly email, for the wrong reasons. I was constantly searching, waiting, anticipating that all-important email…and yet I can no longer explain what that email might be.
At some point it occurred to me I was looking at my computer screen the same way my husband sometimes looks into the fridge: certain that there must be something in there to satisfy his longings, and yet unable to name what that longing might be for, when I ask him pointblank what it is that he wants to eat.
And so this past weekend it was with a sense of relief that I closed up my computer at 10:00 Saturday morning and left for an overnight trip. “There’s nothing I need. There’s nothing that will come by email this weekend that will make my life any better than it already is,” I told myself several times. And I didn’t give it another thought while we were away.
The funny thing was that when we arrived home midafternoon on Sunday, I found I still didn’t want to get on line. I didn’t care how many emails had built up; just like my husband with the fridge, none of them was going to fulfill the nameless thing I wanted from it.
So I went for a walk in the woods instead. I walked for an hour and a quarter, and then when I got home I turned on my computer at last. I had 30 new emails, certainly not a staggering number for a day and a half off line. I scanned the subject lines quickly. A few from friends who I was happy to hear from, but none of them contained anything terribly important. A lot of ads, of course. A few items related to community events or issues. Nothing work-related since it was a holiday weekend. I went through them all briefly, responded to some, and then disconnected. It felt good.
Changing my ways this one time doesn’t mean I’ve ended my compulsion once and for all. It just means I’m trying really hard to rethink it, to remind myself that a sense of spiritual or emotional enrichment almost never comes via email. I don’t know if I really have the capacity to improve in this area. But reminding myself of how much more that walk in the woods did for me than scanning my emails ever will seems like a good start.