Monday, May 4

Digital Relapse Week.



Upon arriving home last Thursday afternoon, I don’t think I was immediately aware of the sheer amount of time I spent daily in an online capacity, or how that would translate to an uncomfortably cumbersome amount of free time around the house. Typically, my first order of business after a long day at the office would be an hour or two spent in my home office, paying bills, answering e-mails or tracking various social networking groups. Due to this being all strictly verboten under the guidelines of Digital Detox Week (for stark, obvious reasons), I was left to indulge in other, more second-rate forms of entertainment and information mining.

Chiefly, this meant doing what most everyone else does on a Thursday evening, which is spend approximately five to six straight hours in front of the television, preferably in the horizontal position on one’s favorite couch. From 5pm to around 11pm, I cleaned out the rotten underbelly of my DVR, dragging myself through a litany of television shows that had no business ever being taped or watched by me. Could someone please tell me again why I recorded three straight hours of Radio Free Roscoe? An hour of Tales From The Darkside? The Night Gallery/Alfred Hitchcock Presents double-shot on the Retro TV Network?

These early indications pointed towards stagnation, laziness and apathy, all the antithesis of what I expected to gain out of celebrating Digital Detox Week.

Of course, I had bigger plans; plans to write more, read a stack of books that required necessary attention, purchase brushed-metal closet knobs at Home Depot, stuff like that. What surprised me most of all were the instant, knee-jerk impulses to check e-mail or Twitter feedback, like an inbred tic that I’ve always had, when in reality, I’ve only lived with for a few months. Nothing on TV? Reach for the iPhone and clean out the Inbox. Nothing to read? Off to Wikipedia! These impulses were quickly stabilized, but their immediate urgency were surprisingly powerful to me.

Bear in mind that I had only gone a handful of hours without online activity by this point. It was becoming disturbingly evident what was really in charge of whom.

I spent all Thursday night in the Living Room, watching television while the Missus played with her hedgehog and assembled her roller skates (this is a typical evening, I can assure you). To pass the time, I compiled a list of TV shows that I needed to set Season Recording DVR Options for, and I ran out of room on the page once I got to 75. At least that gave me something to do during the weekend.

Friday at work was ridiculously mundane. As someone who controls a fair amount of their work schedule, I typically balance my week so that I have as little as possible to do on Fridays. I drink coffee, shuffle around the office and watch YouTube clips of people being electrocuted until the clock strikes 4pm. However, with online activity out of the question, my brain and imagination were left to fend for themselves for the benefit of my well-being. Sure, I had brought a couple of classic books along with me to read (Brave New World and Lolita, respectively), but I got around two pages into each before I realized that I had no current intentions whatsoever to read them. The instincts to seek instant entertainment were still there; the habitual reaching for the iPhone still happening with no decreasing regularity.

For the first time in 11 years, I was…bored.

Bored!

How can you be bored when you have the Internet? How can you possibly not be entertained each waking moment of your life when every wish can be digitally fulfilled in seconds?

When it’s off limits, that’s how.

By Friday afternoon, I was less than 24 hours in, and I knew I had to make a change in my strategy. I needed to find a way to make these online-free days count. Make them productive. Relish the freedom, shun the responsibility and re-ignite synapses of my brain that hadn’t fired in years. Use my imagination. Function independently on a creative level. Otherwise, I’d be ruined. I had no intention of using the Internet over the next week; the temptation was nothing I couldn’t handle. What did concern me was the fact that I was filling the free time with absolutely nothing of lasting merit. I didn’t want Digital Detox Week to prove to me that I’m completely and utterly dependent on the Wired world. I couldn’t let that happen.

That night, I went for a run to clear my mind. I don’t run too much anymore since I messed my shins all up a couple of years ago, but that night I went no less than three miles. The weather was perfect, the neighborhood smelled like charcoal and lighter fluid, and I felt more refreshed and productive that I had in weeks. I also developed a blister on my heel that was so massive, I limped for two days thereafter. I stuck a needle into it later that night, and the water within sprayed across my bathroom mirror. Disgusting, but still better than a night in front of the television.

The TV had failed. The books had failed. The caffeine wasn’t working anymore. Even exercise just left me aching and limping. I was running out of secondary vices to step up and eliminate my need for the Internet, if only for a week.

But then I remembered my old friend. The tried and true standby, alcohol.

My plan for Friday night involved drinks, dinner, drinks, conversation, drinks, Guitar Hero, drinks and sleep. I remember drinking a 34oz. margarita at Pedro’s ‘Mexican Restaurante,’ hitting up the comic book store down the street and singing karaoke in my living room until the wee hours of the morning. By the time I got up on Saturday, my friends (and all the whiskey) were gone.

Saturday was slightly more eventful, as we spent the majority of the evening at the Alliant Energy Center, checking out the Semi-Finals for the Mad Rollin’ Dolls Roller Derby. I remember two beers, a whiskey and coke, fist-bumping a dog mascot from the Humane Society and watching some fantastic girl-on-girl derby action. We left the venue at 9pm, pouring rain soaking all of our garments as we lurched home in the monsoon. We ordered a pizza, watched some television, sobered up and slept late on Sunday morning.

By this point, my vice of alcohol was doing a wonderful job of replacing my vice of Internet, but it was worse for my wallet and detrimental to my liver. However, the urge was made easier by the fact that the thunderstorm had knocked out our connection for the better part of four days. It’s far easier to resist an urge that doesn’t really exist anymore.

Sunday was a typical ‘married couple’ day, and I don’t mean that in a facetious way whatsoever; I absolutely adore Sundays spent alone with the Missus. I ran to Starbucks before she got up and grabbed some coffee and scones for breakfast. We ran to two different hardware stores in a quest for bolt cutters (the Missus needed them to properly mend her new roller skates, as her ulna is fully healed and she’s once again ready to try out for Derby). A veggie burger lunch at Red Robin (awesome burgers, by the by). Ran to Best Buy and finally picked up the Spaced DVD, then finally back home to relax and snuggle. Not too shabby at all, and the time out of the house once again quelled my thirst for pointless information and unnecessary social networking.

I knew that the work week would be the true test. After all, my job consists of eight straight hours spent in front of a computer with tons of downtime. If I was going to stay on the straight and narrow, I would need constant and interesting acts of subterfuge. Books, newspapers, magazines, music; anything to keep me entertained outside of the Wired. Monday lurched along semi-productively, and I took Tuesday and Wednesday off (due to a Doctor’s appointment and incredible Thermals concert, the former which will be discussed at length in the future), allowing myself enough white noise to keep my brain occupied until 4pm on Thursday afternoon.

I had won; the Detox was over.

But what had I learned?

How did I get to this point? I mean, even now, still removed from the web (at the time of my writing this essay), I’m feverishly pecking out this story so I can post it online the first second I’m able to. How did that happen? I participated in Digital Detox Week to recharge my batteries, learn something about myself and reignite a spark of creativity, when all I really did was watch a billion hours of TV, drink myself stupid and write this rambling, borderline-incoherent essay.

Perhaps I’m being too bleak. Now that it’s over, I know that I quite enjoyed it. One thing I learned for certain is that the bulk of my time spent on the Internet is not spent absorbing information, but checking up on information that I’ve already retained. To put it another way, if I check my e-mail 20 times over the course of two hours, and I only get new messages half the time, then essentially half of my time spent refreshing the page was wasted on no new information. This realization that approximately half of the time I spend on the web was an exercise in futility made me optimistic for limiting my usage in the future.

I mean, after a week away from the web, it only took me an hour to clean up the backlog and be 100% caught up. Does this mean that I really only need to be surfing the web for an hour or two a week? Maybe not, but it does remind me that the bulk of my time there is stagnant, and led me to rationalize that my time on the web could be both downsized-yet-maximized in the future. Good news coming from a guy that structures and schedules the hell out of his existence.

I also realized that Social Networking is not for me. I’ve never made any secrets about my reasons for being on Facebook and Twitter; it’s all to boost traffic to the CDP. However, the amount of additional traffic it routes to my blog is disproportionate to the amount of time I typically spend on it. To put it another way, if I took all of the time I currently spend on Twitter and Facebook and instead focused it solely on the CDP, the traffic might dip initially, but the amount of fresh creative output would eventually boost traffic back to the standard levels, and I wouldn’t need to spend so much time yammering with people and taking time away from my chief hobby. Just thinking out loud here, of course.

So, there were a lot of positive outcomes from my participation in Digital Detox Week, yet I predicted none of them. I thought I was going to learn a lesson in taking things for granted, but what I really got was a crash-course in productivity and the reminder of what it’s like to just…relax for a day and sort the recycling in the garage for an hour or two. Felt good.

Next time, I’m detoxing for a month.

Comments:
Of course my ulna is healed--it was never broken :)

In unrelated news, Twitter is the devil. It has a hold of Ryan and it has made him an obnoxious, 20-something...checking his phone every 1.2 seconds and avoiding human contact at all costs. I think if he could marry that stupid iPhone he would.
 
In his defense, I have have an iPod touch and love it dearly. If I were back in my DINK days I would own one without question.
 
I love my iPhone too, but there is a limit...sheesh :)
 
No iPhone for me. I think it's the last thing keeping me from becoming a total internet addict. So far, I've been able to maintain a fairly decent balance between my wired world and honest-to-goodness real life activity. And frankly, I like it that way.

Also, I can vouch for the Thermals show being awesome, and Ryan getting his drink on at said show. Nice to run into you all there! :)
 
I like my iPhone, but I'm not constantly fiddling with it unless I'm in a waiting room or something. I don't shun actual social interaction in favor of it unlike some people (*cough* Ryan *cough*)
 
okay you have a point there. I have college interns working for me and I must say it's extremely annoying to have them on the phone, texting, or fiddling with the phone every time I look at them.
 
Three comments by Hathery, three insults in my direction. What is this, 2005 on the CDP all over again?
 
I don't even own a cell phone. Dark ages.

But, I do see 20 or so students every hour who are texting while I try to talk to them.
 
YEAH SPACED!
I love that show!!!!
 
Hibelink, you should cut their hands off for that. OK, OK, just start with a finger or two.
 
Sorry Ryan :( I shall never speak ill of you again.
 

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