I cancelled my home internet service a few months ago and the result is the biggest boost to my quality of life since upgrading from dial-up to modem.
The brilliant idea to quit wasn’t mine. My partner Dan and I met a guy named Dennis from Denmark on the ferry to Lasqueti Island. Our intention was to see if we might fit in with Lasqueti’s off-grid community, and our new friend was headed to a farm to work in exchange for food and lodging. Dennis asked if he could stay at our house in Victoria the following weekend, with one condition: we had to turn off our wifi. He said he was having a health problem that was aggravated by wifi radiation. We looked at him sideways, but he seemed nice and mostly sane, so we obliged.
It may have been our imaginations, or a reflection of our inner states, but we agreed it seemed quieter and more peaceful in our house with the internet turned off. Dan started to talk about permanently quitting the internet at home – “going dark” as he called it. At first I didn’t take him seriously. But, the idea quickly ballooned as he read articles on the topic and began talking about it all the time. He was serious.
I was resistant. It sounded inconvenient, bordering on impossible with all the functions the internet serves in both my work and social lives, and what about Soundcloud and Youtube! But, I knew my internet habits were unhealthy. My lack of self-control when it comes to endless Facebook scrolling and unnecessary ‘checking’ was getting worse. I would want to read a book, but I’d open my laptop just to check my e-mail and twenty minutes later I’d be hunched over my computer looking at the Facebook profile of someone I’d never met and had little to no connection to. I could not remember at what point I had made the choice to do this, because I hadn’t consciously chosen. It bothered me tremendously. Dan’s habit of staying up late watching and reading news clips and brooding about the state of the world was also plaguing both of us. Yet, for whatever reason, we didn’t have the will to set limits and pull ourselves away.
With some deliberation, and an underlined clause that we could sign back up any time we liked, we set a date to disrupt the status quo. When the day arrived I went to the fancy new Shaw Communications building and returned our modem.
It stung a bit, but as with ripping off a band-aid, the discomfort quickly faded. An internet-free household was almost instantly better then normal, it was wholesome. As expected, the biggest changes have been in the realms of communication and news intake. Instead of emailing someone, I am now more likely to call them– using the phone book and a level of bravery that emails with all their forethought and one-sidedness don’t require. However brief, the resulting human connection is a tangible thing, and I have fewer instances of side-tracking without follow through; I have to really want the thing I’m going for if I make the effort to call someone about it, whereas late-night surfing sometimes led me down a tangential line that I later had to back out of.
When it comes to news intake, I spend way less time skim-reading my Facebook feed in the distracted manner resulting from ads and posts in the margins and screen-time overload. I am more likely to turn on the radio and hear the six o’clock news or pick up a magazine or news-paper. When I do go to a wifi hotspot and get news through Facebook or my favourite online news sources, like The Tyee or DeSmog, I have a dedicated and concentrated time-frame in which to do so. There is more weight to the communications I make and intake when I’ve consciously chosen the time in which I do so. Also, my eyes feel better from less screen-time, as does my body from no longer slumping into the couch on my laptop.
Despite the instant access to information and goods that the internet provides, first world people are more dis-satisfied and dislocated than ever. My generation is hungry, and no matter how good our boolean phrasing, the sustenance we seek cannot be found online. I’ve been finding nourishment in old cookbooks, and by calling my Mom to find out how my grandmother made sourdough bread. Activities like using city maps and bus schedules, and making more trips to the library and Pic-a-Flic – the one surviving movie store in my area – have been surprisingly satiating.
While looking through the documentary section at Pic-a-Flic recently, I found Happy People: a year in the Taiga, co-directed by Werner Herzog and DmitryVasyukov. It follows a small community living in an extremely remote area of Northern Russia. The area is accessible by boat and helicopter in the summer but is essentially cut off from supplies and modern conveniences when it becomes a frozen tundra, which is much of the year. These people rely on and continue to build on the skills and technologies passed down for generations. It may sound bleak to some, but the film pointed to a deep contentment that comes from drawing on what is within and making the most of even the harshest environment in order to thrive.
I may be a romantic, but I believe we could be not only happier, but more intelligent with fewer modern conveniences. Having to remember and practice knowledge rather than rely on the information superhighway may build a stronger, more adaptable, brain. In the book Thinking: the new science of decision-making, problem-solving and prediction edited by John Brockman, there is an essay that theorizes getting all of our information from the internet causes our brains to specialize, forming neurological superhighways. Brockman has also compiled a book of essays called, How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? I’ve only read the reviews but it sounds as though there are nuanced arguments both in favour of this great thought experiment and against the internet’s distracting and narcissism-feeding qualities. If you want a more sophisticated argument read those books. Based on my experience, and without getting all apocalyptic, having to work a little harder to get information forms new and unexpected connections – I now see it as an adventure rather than an inconvenience – and regardless of what the future holds for civilization, this can only be a good thing.
If you think I’m a hypocrite for posting this article, ranting about how great it is to go off the internet, on the internet, I implore you to see this as a compromise. I’m not an analogue girl in a digital world. I experience a myriad of awesome benefits from the internet and I’m a big fan. I’ve just changed my own game. I never got a data plan for my phone because I doubted my strength to resist the constant urge. Turning off the internet at home was a solution to spending too much time on the internet and the result is more space and time in my home life to feed my yearnings for creativity and connection.
I still feel the urge of internet dependency creep up inside me, but more often now I don’t feed that demon. When I think through the effort involved in leaving the house to go to a cafe or the library it doesn’t always seem worth it. If it’s really important there are dozens of places nearby that I can go, but oftentimes I realize it’s neither urgent nor necessary. I keep a list of things to look up and people to communicate with. My online office hours are strictly defined by the time I have, or wish to spend, away from home. The world waits.
I’m not saying everyone should necessarily quit the internet at home, but perhaps you’ve read this far because you can relate to the problems Dan and I were having. If you are searching for some relief from constant suffering, I mean surfing, I highly recommend taking the wire out of wireless internet. There is actually very little to lose. If you don’t like it, your ex-provider will gladly take you back. And, did I mention that we save $50 a month? If I had to though, I’d pay for this internet-free home life. Becoming sufficiently attentive to my life is worth it.