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On the Way to BlogHer: Thoughts About Unplugging

Kicking off my pre-travel day to BlogHer with a post about unplugging. Which is sort of strange because I am not only shlepping a laptop, camera, and Flip video with me so I can document my experience at the conference, but I am bringing a USB modem so I can have Internet every second of the day.

Sometimes when I travel, I bring my own coffee and that seems to be a tip-off that there is an addiction.  The inability to trust that coffee will be obtainable at the travel location, the need for the caffeine level that comes from my beans.  And bringing a USB modem reveals that Internet addiction.  There will be WiFi at the hotel.  And yet I still bring my own Internet access with me.  Addiction.

Which is why I was drawn to Gwen Bell’s July experiment.  She partially unplugged for the month; only partially because her work is online and this wasn’t a desire to leave work behind, but instead, to find that balance between the online world and the offline world.  So she shut off Twitter, she set limits to checking email, she stopped writing blog posts.

The link will take you to her first dispatch after the end of her digital sabbatical.  It’s a fascinating read.  She starts out writing Tweets on paper so she can still feel that documentation high, and she ends with seeing the beauty of life slowed down and the pressure of immediacy removed.  Which I assume is a lot like a self-hosted blog vs. a free Blogger blog.  They may not look all that different to the outsider or reader, but for the blog owner, it is a completely different process and emotion.

It is a very interesting read.

I would think the largest benefit that can come from filtering out all the noise of the Internet is creating a space where you can find your own comfort zone. I say this as someone who has only unplugged for about a week at a time.  Which isn’t really long enough to learn the lessons Gwen did during her digital sabbatical, but I’m also probably not online as often as Gwen.

There is so much we do because we think we should: emails we send, Tweets we make, sites we join, conferences we attend (hey!)…and sort of most important–stuff we write that we post without knowing how comfortable we are with sending it out there.  I don’t have a lot of regrets, but I do have some.  There have been times that people have trespassed into my comfort zone simply because either I didn’t state the boundaries clearly or I didn’t even know them myself.

I have always been fairly circumspect online and try not to post things I think will bite me in the ass later.  I try not to hurt people’s feelings online; sometimes I’m successful with that and sometimes I’m not, and sometimes, I frankly can’t own the hurt feelings because I will never be able to please everyone else while remaining true to myself and my own thoughts.  There are things that are true now, which I may reconsider in the future and don’t want this Google-able opinion documented for years to come.

But even knowing these things–feeling grounded in these beliefs–it is too easy to ignore what you know you should do for what you think you should do.  Because one part of that addiction is that the pressure is so great.  It’s not even a true pressure of dealers offering you a free taste so you’ll buy the whole bag; it’s a self-created pressure that we believe with our whole heart even if we know that it’s not based in rational facts.  After all, as much as we may be jealous about Twitter relationships we perceive between people or how much traffic we think another blog has, we rarely know the full picture.  Our pressure is based in assumptions.

Raise your hand if you signed up with Twitter or Facebook because you were interested in Twitter or Facebook.

Now raise your hand if you signed up for Twitter or Facebook because you saw that a lot of other people were on there who you admired and you didn’t want to get left behind.  Or you signed up because you heard it was a great way to promote your blog posts and you’re frustrated by the lack of traffic it has brought.  Or you signed up and hate it because you can see that thousands of people are following so-and-so, and 10 are following you and YOU ARE 20 TIMES MORE AMUSING THAN SO-AND-SO, but you also can’t leave Twitter because 10 followers are better than the “no followers” you would have if you closed your account.

Do you see what I mean about Internet addiction?  I liked Gwen’s first update and look forward to reading the rest because as she says, doing the experiment sort of only matters if you take lessons learned and keep using them.  I’m dragging her thoughts as well as my own into the conference, and trying to spend a lot of time thinking and listening as I meet up with old friends and new.

Where would you rate your Internet addiction and how much does it inform your choices on how you spend your time on the Web (as well as what feelings–jealousy, anger, sadness, love, gratitude–remain with you after you’ve logged off)?


1 N { 08.04.10 at 4:24 pm }

I was actually on twitter long before most people I know (though it was part of a group thing) and love using FB. But then, my aim isn’t to promote myself, and I find no joy in that.

I do, however, missed the essentially mandatory unplugging that came with my summer vacation in the middle of nowhere. I find myself craving it lately, but not so good with the job hunting. Heh.

2 N { 08.04.10 at 4:24 pm }

Ps. Augh iPhone autocorrect.

3 Sharon { 08.04.10 at 4:38 pm }

I think my internet addiction is pretty severe. I have a BlackBerry, which only makes the dependence worse because I have access to all of it any time I want.

On the other hand, though, particularly in regard to infertility, I’ve learned so much and connected with so many people I value that it makes it extra hard to unplug.

4 a { 08.04.10 at 4:39 pm }

I am currently addicted to the internet like I was addicted to smoking. I can quit, but it would be kind of painful and I would need to fill my time with something else. Actually, all the reading and game playing I do online takes the place of other leisure time activities that I’m mildly burned out on. In my 20s I spent the time going out to bars. In my 30s I spent the time reading and gardening and doing home improvement projects. I know it’s just a phase and something else will eventually take its place.

I joined FB because a friend who is a constant world traveller (today I think he said he was in Ghana or something, waiting for a flight to Paris) sent me an invitation, and it’s the only way we stay in touch most of the time…

5 liljan98 { 08.04.10 at 6:08 pm }

I joined twitter a looong time ago, because I wanted to check out this new “thing”. I got on facebook much later and I only use it for work purpose actually.
I’d say I’m quite addicted to the internet. At a brunch on Sunday we talked about various degrees of internet addiction (or internet usage or internet presence) and I realized that most of the folks I talked to are using it much less than I do. That they consider being online all the time (or being able to be online all the time) a bad thing. I’m not quite sure if I agree with that. It all depends on how you use the internet and what you’re doing on it.
It’s my main source of information (news, weather forecasts etc) and communication (mail, twitter, chat) and even entertainment (online radio). If I’d unplug it, it would be like unplugging my phone, my radio and my TV.

But on the other hand I’ve also noticed that I’ve cut back on blogging and tweeting myself. Probably because I’m thinking too much about how my posts or tweets will / could be received. I didn’t spend so much time worrying about that in my early blogging / tweeting days. But I’m not sure if these were the better days either 😉

6 Betty M { 08.04.10 at 6:49 pm }

I don’t FB much if at all, I tweet intermittently, blog rarely and occasionally stray on to a forum. I do however spend way too much time reading and commenting on blogs and reading news. I blame my phone for making it all too easy to just check what is happening online.

7 loribeth { 08.04.10 at 6:58 pm }

My mother will you tell you I’m addicted, & I will admit that I probably am. But when I look around me, I think I’m probably somewhere in the middle of the scale. ; ) I spend a lot of time on blogs, on a few message boards & on news sites. I do genealogy research online, on & off and recently started inputting data into a Family Tree Maker program. I don’t Twitter. I only joined Facebook in December, & I refuse to play Farmville or similar games. The only games I do play on my computer are an occasional evening of spider solitaire or freecell. ; )

I was going to write that I don’t have a smart phone. I actually can surf the web on my phone, but I have no idea how to do that (& I’m not sure I want to find out… one more way to feed the addiction…!). I don’t even know how to text message.

8 HereWeGoAJen { 08.04.10 at 8:27 pm }

I thought I was more addicted to the internet, but then we had no internet for like two weeks, and while it was sad and terrible, I didn’t really miss it, except academically. No withdrawal, which surprised me.

9 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 08.05.10 at 6:32 am }

I wrote about this very topic for Thoughtful Thursday a couple of months ago.

I don’t do Facebook or Twitter, on purpose. I could give up most other individual aspects that I don’t need for work except blogging. That’s too important to me.

10 Bea { 08.05.10 at 7:25 am }

Wow. A USB modem to a hotel with wifi. I wonder how the 12-step program goes for that? 😉

I think my level of addiction is much lower than it used to be. Online life has pros and cons and you do have to find a balance (and I think that balance is different for different people, much as it is right for different people to spend different amounts of effort on food, depending on their lifestyle, background medical conditions, general interest in tasting things… am I a little fixated on food? this is the second time I have made a food analogy on your blog in about as many days. Or is it ok for me to be putting more effort into food analogies compared to most people due to factors named above?)

Anyway. I think it is good to take steps back to reassess your internet use at various intervals and make sure it is still right. For me, if I’m having a lot of lingering feelings of rage and jealousy after logging off then it’s just too much. I feel a bit cynical about the worth of online debates these days – I’ll partake, but I won’t split my sanity on them any more – and jealousy is just ugly in any form.


11 Turia { 08.05.10 at 9:33 am }

At the start of the last academic year I decided to shut down my computer every weekend. From 5pm Friday (or thereabouts) until Monday morning I went Internet-free. It was a conscious attempt to reclaim some control over my life and to fight against the sense in today’s society that we need to be available every.single.second.

I did have to boot up the computer occasionally for school assignments, and I did have to every now and then check an email to confirm weekend plans, as it took friends and family a while to figure out that I wouldn’t see the emails until it was too late. But on the whole it’s worked really well, and I intend to keep to this pattern.

While away on vacation for the last month, the only internet access I used was email checking- and that was only a couple of times a week. I didn’t blog or read blogs, use facebook, visit forums, etc.

I find it very easy to fritter away time on the internet- reading articles, discovering new blogs, etc. So I set pretty strict limits for myself. I was under a lot of school pressure this last year, so I would ration my online time- usually no more than 30 minutes a day. If I needed all that time to deal with email, that meant I didn’t check blogs, etc.

I joined facebook because I was moving back to my home country and I was interested to see how many of my old friends were now living in my new city. I’m not on twitter. I have a mobile that can’t do anything except send text messages and make phone calls, and I struggle to remember to have that charged, full of credit, and in my bag.

So I guess on a level of internet addiction, I like the internet. I am aware that I could spend far too much time on the internet. I know that when I get a laptop this fall I’ll have to watch how much time I spend on it (as my current desktop is so painfully slow it actively discourages me from turning it on to check email more than once a day). I need it for work. But I can (and do) unplug without any pain.

Interesting topic!

12 Kir { 08.05.10 at 9:41 am }

well, when I am here at work, I like being on. However, I don’t tweet, I’m NOT that interesting. I also have been known to let Facebook go by the wayside instead turning myself toward blogs etc, working, read a blog, more work, read another etc.
Also, on the weekend, I AM NEVER ON THE INTERNET…ever. I don’t post, I don’t comment (Unless I am truly interested in something or someone that weekend..A BFP/BFN looming, a transfer etc..)
I like the internet and when I am here at work, I am constantly on, but at night, the weekend, my days off, I keep up with my email on my phone, but I just don’t feel the need to be “on”.

I would say my Internet Addiction is only a 5..on work weekdays, on the weekend, 0. Unless I have to look for movie times LOL

13 Gwen Bell { 08.05.10 at 12:45 pm }

Mel, thank you for taking the time to write this post. Thank you for reflecting back to me what I hoped I’d get across in writing the post. You mention finding your comfort zone. For me, developing awareness around my addictions is about leaving my comfort zone. The place of addiction IS the comfort zone for me. Unplugging is/has been a process of finding my discomfort zone. Getting right up against the edge of a pattern and asking, “what would my life look like if I dropped this thought? If I dropped this pattern?” Unplugging (for me) did and does require being uncomfortable.

It’s interesting you mention coffee, actually. Last October I quit drinking coffee altogether. I had my first cavity and the dentist thinks it’s because I was sipping coffee during the day. The coffee slowly wore down the enamel and, blam. I am more an abstainer than a moderater, so I put down the coffee. And with that, understood the addiction in myself – and began observing other addictions. Sugar has been a huge one. I looked for other hits. Sometimes even seeing a gregarious friend at a cafe was enough to derail me from my work for an hour or two – I enjoy their company so much, I’m so addicted to their personality – I forgo the good work I’m doing for the easier work of engagement.

This is a whole ‘nother blog post, but I wanted to take a few minutes with you to thank you and your readers for the question-asking and space-creating. Asking questions (what am I craving when I reach for whatever I’m addicted to? What need am I trying to meet? Is this the best strategy? What’s slowly wearing my “enamel” down?) and creating space (an extended period of time of mostly offline/home-based activities: drinking tea, eating wholesome meals, sitting, practicing slower activities) is the first step.

14 LJ { 08.09.10 at 10:41 am }

We all know I’m a net addict. But, it’s done me more good than harm, so I’m chalking it up to an addiction like running. In moderation, it’s just fine for me.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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