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On Friday night, Josh mentioned an NPR piece he heard about Anonymous shutting down the Internet on March 31st.  The Wolvog immediately started to panic: Why would someone do this?  And how could they do it?  And would they do it?  What would happen to his blog or his favourite sites?  The same questions again and again in a loop, like a panicked drop of water circling the drain.

We alternated between reassuring him — Mashable says it won’t happen — and giving him some perspective — It will be like a blackout.  You’ll just do whatever you do during a blackout.

We actually had a blackout last week for a few hours and he didn’t do very well with the concept of no Internet at that point either.  It didn’t matter that he wouldn’t have been on the computer anyway because we were eating dinner during the bulk of the outage and doing homework during the rest.  Just the idea of not being able to go on the Internet was terrifying.

His first words when he woke up Saturday morning were, “do we still have the Internet?”


A few weeks ago, I walked out of the house without my phone to run errands.  I was walking across the parking lot at the library when I subconsciously touched my hip to check for my cell phone (unsnapping the seat belt sometimes knocks it off in the car), didn’t find it, and then realized that I had left it on my bed.

My first thought was to go back home — a long drive — and retrieve it, which would mean not having time to get to most of my errands.  I justified it with the idea that the twins’ school would be unable to reach me if there was a problem.  But let’s be honest.  If there was truly a problem, they’d call Josh.  They’d call my mother.  And what were the chances that a problem would happen in the next half hour?

I wanted the phone because I wanted access to email.

Because emails coming in make me feel connected to the world.  People need to reach me.  They need to ask me questions, they need to tell me things.  Comments from posts are emailed to me and Facebook messages.  I like the feeling of the phone buzzing to let me know there are emails because each buzz means that I am someone that people want to speak to; to interact with.  If they’re speaking to me, I exist.  If they have something to say to me, I must be of some importance.

I know; once I realized this I slapped myself and went in the library, my figurative tail between my legs.

I got out books, ran to the food store, went to the school for pick-up, and drove home.  I survived, and even took extra minutes before walking upstairs to retrieve my phone to prove a point.  I can quit you anytime, technology.

Who am I kidding?


I’m a random towner.

A long time ago, I was sitting with my boyfriend (now, ex-boyfriend) and a few of his friends and my friends combined.  We had just driven up to New York from D.C.  In the car, we had talked about how one of my favourite things to do when driving somewhere is pull off the road in a random town.  My boyfriend (1) refused to do this on our drive up (admittedly, there are very few exits off the highway between D.C. and NY that I haven’t already explored so I didn’t really need to do it again this trip) and (2) thought it was strange enough to bring up as a discussion point with our collection of friends.

He asked who else did this: who else was a random towner vs. a non-random towner.

I started doing it when I first got my license.  I drove down River Road, and when I got to the end, I made a right.  I found an old general store and some farms, and then the road wound around to a small shopping district that I never knew about.  Later on, I took River Road to the end and made a left, and followed it for almost an hour.  I just liked to see where roads went; but moreover, I liked getting out of the car and walking around knowing that (1) no one knew me and (2) no one could reach me.  It was almost like disappearing.

I still do this all the time, usually dragging along the twins.  Except now it doesn’t feel quite like disappearing.  If I can’t find my way back home, I can always use the map function on the phone.  And people can call me or email me.  I am always still connected to the rest of the world.  When I did it back in graduate school, before I had a cell phone, I felt like I was completely erased in those moments when I was off the road I was supposed to be on and in this random town.  Even a few years ago, when I had a phone that made calls but didn’t receive email, I could still feel like someone made out of ether, not really noticed or retained by the people around me because I’m a random stranger just passing through.  No one of consequence.  But now, I have the cell phone on my hip, buzzing buzzing buzzing to let me know that people are trying to communicate with me.  It is comforting — it is actually more comforting than not.  But it’s also a tether.  Tethers have a way of limiting our mobility even while making us feel part of something.


A long time ago, all my validation came from face-to-face interactions and the telephone.  I got email in college, but it was something I checked once a day like the post box.  There was usually a message or two in my inbox.  Ten years ago, I got most of my validation from face-to-face interactions and the telephone and a bit of my validation from email.  Five years ago, I got some of my validation from face-to-face interactions and some of my validation from email, and that is where it has remained in a precarious balance.

People interact with me in the face-to-face world and it lets me know that they see me as important, worth attention, someone of consequence.  They make plans with me for playdates for our kids or to join me at yoga or to ask my opinion on something.  We grab coffee and talk, or we stand outside, chatting on someone’s driveway.  Josh shows me in twenty thousand ways every day (wait!  It’s the $20,000!) that he loves me, he chose me.  Out of all the girls in the world, he picked me to be his wife and that action proves my importance; I matter to someone.  My friends picked me to be friends with and that action proves my importance; I matter to them.

I exist.  I’m important.  If I disappeared tomorrow people would notice.  They need me to reshelve books at the library or they’ll sit on the reshelving cart!  The twins need me to buy them yogurt at the store!  My friend needs me to watch her kids after school!  The girl scout troop would be leaderless without me!  I believe all humans need to feel this validation one way or the other — we need to know that we couldn’t slip off the earth unnoticed.  If we never returned to the main road we’re supposed to be on, people would miss us.  The random town is a vacation from the tethers of reality, a chance to disappear for an hour only to reappear again.  A magic trick under my own control.

I think the problem the Wolvog revealed to me is how much we are dependent on the Internet to bring us our validation.  That we’ve stopped noticing that we get a lot of it in the face-to-face world, or we devalue that validation, or maybe we plum don’t have it. (I know too many people who have great connections online but are underappreciated in their face-to-face world.)

But the Internet is a delivery system that is subject to outages.  That isn’t accessible at all times.  The Wolvog heard the Internet was going away for a day and he heard it as his validation was going away; his messages from friends on the kid’s social networking site he frequents, his games he plays online that display his high score for others to see.  The Internet makes him feel important, needed, noticed.

I worry because the twins will never remember a time when they didn’t have the Internet that they can return to during times when it’s not accessible.  The power goes out and unless I have a deadline at work, I shrug and read a book.  There are plenty of non-electricity-based activities I enjoy doing just as much as I enjoy using the computer to connect with people.  I think it is much harder for this upcoming generation to do that — to feel okay being unconnected to people through technology, even if it’s only for a day.  My son experiences what I felt in the parking lot but doesn’t have the history to create perspective and walk into the library to finish his errands.  He mentally stands in the parking lot thinking over and over again: I’m untethered, I’m untethered, I’m untethered.

And I also think, as I saw with my ex-boyfriend, that there are people who never enjoy being untethered, whereas there are those of us who like the disappearing magic trick as long as it is within our control.  It’s just two valid yet different ways of seeing the world.


I don’t want you to think this topic ends here.  There are a few additional roads off of this one, random towns.  And I want to pull off the main road to explore them too.  It’s just taking me a moment to get my thoughts unjumbled.  Sometimes they feel like puzzle pieces and there is a hand in my head bringing the picture together.

I just wanted to pause here to let you know how grateful I am to you when you let me know that I’m here, that I’m heard, that you’ve considered my words, that I’m important enough to communicate with, that I exist and people have noticed that.


1 Mina { 04.02.12 at 8:10 am }

I am lucky to have people who matter to me give me the validation I need. Being social animals, we need that, and sometimes we often aim to please people who do not matter, just because the validation factor increases. It’s quite easy to lose sight of our own worth when we don’t have validation, even though the worth is only sometimes confirmed, but not always accurately, by validation. And I think I could dish out some more sentences with validation in it, but perhaps I shouldn’t after all. 🙂 Apparently I AM on a high horse today… Hmm.

You matter alright, Mel. But thank you, it is refreshing to know that even people we look up to need validation like the rest of us.

2 Gail { 04.02.12 at 9:34 am }

I also love validation and getting messages and emails and phone calls. But, I still love snail mail, too. In fact, I rarely get it anymore and I now save most of the “just because” cards that I get and put them in my scrapbook because they are that special.

Also, on a related note, I recently left my phone at home to do errands and had the same panicked reaction that “no one can reach me! What will I do?” feeling. I went about the rest of my errands and was back home within an hour only to find that no one called, texted, emailed or posted on Facebook. How depressing!

3 marwil { 04.02.12 at 9:43 am }

My husband gave me a smartphone on my birthday last year. I’m seriously having a relationship with it, some evenings I’m looking at it more than I look at my husband!
Validation is important. Is this where I shall tell you I recently read your book Life From Scratch and really enjoyed it! 🙂

4 loribeth { 04.02.12 at 9:49 am }

Sometimes I am very, very glad that I grew up when I did, in the pre-cellphone, pre-Internet era, when Pong and Pac-Man were considered exotic.

I didn’t get a cellphone until I was well into my 30s. My current phone is about 4 years old. I have never had a smartphone and I have never text messaged. I rarely use it & even more rarely keep it turned on (although I like the security of having a phone with me). I know it drives some people (BIL for one) batty that we are not constantly available. I guess it’s just a different mindset. I sometimes wonder if being childless reinforces it. Most parents I know have smartphones and text, if only to keep in contact with their kids. (I have been working on a post along these lines.)

I must admit, though, the few times in the last few years when we haven’t been able to access the Internet at home, I did go into a bit of a panic. ; )

5 Sunny { 04.02.12 at 9:50 am }

I think it’s gotten worse for me the longer I am a SAHM, too. When I was working, I had that automatic validation that I was being noticed and listened to. (I was a counselor, I had clients to communicate with.) But at home, it’s mainly me and the three boys. And only one of them can even talk! I have to work harder to keep myself “in the loop” of the world, so to speak. I check my email compulsively!

6 HereWeGoAJen { 04.02.12 at 10:35 am }

You matter very much in my life.

I drive like that sometimes too. Mostly when I have time to kill. I used to do it a lot when Elizabeth would fall asleep in the car. I usually explored my own town, going up and down all the roads and looking at all the neighborhoods.

7 Tiara { 04.02.12 at 10:45 am }

I am totally a random towner!! I love doing that!

“I just wanted to pause here to let you know how grateful I am to you when you let me know that I’m here…that I’m important enough to communicate with, that I exist…”…don’t forget how much you do this for so many people too…it’s a 2 way street.

8 Liana { 04.02.12 at 10:48 am }

Once in a while, I forget to throw my phone into the bag before heading out. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does and I realize it, I have the strangest sense of freedom. I guess it’s that same untethered feeling, but it resonates differently with me.

9 Heather { 04.02.12 at 10:54 am }

It’s funny. It’s weird. It’s unique.

This Internet of ours.

But, without it…I would not have you. I would not have the friends I have made.

And that would make my life so much more…awful.

10 Denver Laura { 04.02.12 at 11:02 am }

When I travel, I usually have someplace to go. Taking side trips, although an adventure in and of itself, takes away time from my main agenda. I hate being late and I hate that feeling of being rushed.

When my mom was growing up, once a month they would turn off the lights and play gin by hurricane lantern. It was a way to withdraw from the external world and grow family bonds. Plus, it saved on electricity. When my daughter gets older we’re going to try the same once a month.

I still have PTSD from my pager I wore in the 90’s. Years later, I woke up in a panic one night thinking I had to call in (I always set it to vibrate) and once I was fully awake I realized it was just my stomach growling.

11 Esperanza { 04.02.12 at 2:26 pm }

I just wanted to say that I have an irrationally negative reaction when I leave my phone at home. I feel completely cut off and even more isolated than I tend to feel regularly. The only thing that bothers me more is when I forget my commitment ring. I feel naked without it.

12 Heather { 04.02.12 at 2:51 pm }

“I believe all humans need to feel this validation one way or the other — we need to know that we couldn’t slip off the earth unnoticed. If we never returned to the main road we’re supposed to be on, people would miss us. ”

This really resonated with me. I believe this is why I started to search the internet for people that understand and don’t judge. I am lacking understanding in real life but have been able to find it on the internet.

I don’t comment on here very much, but thank you. You say a lot of things that I need to hear.

13 Deathstar { 04.02.12 at 2:51 pm }

Omigosh, thanks to your post I just understood something very essential. Hubby took a pic of me and the kid last night. I looked at it and I noticed my ever present laptop was on my lap. For years now, I’ve had it as my constant companion – not just for work. Infertility isolated me, set me apart and when I find others like me online, I jumped into the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. I was tethered once again. I am completely out of sorts whenever I cannot get a signal for even a brief moment. You know, I actually feel more intimate and connected with my laptop than I do my spouse cause I can tell it secrets and read all sorts of things and get all sorts of validation and affirmation.

14 a { 04.02.12 at 4:58 pm }

My mother is in desperate need of that validation. Unfortunately, she raised 4 daughters who are very independent and don’t call too often. She doesn’t think it’s particularly funny when I tell her that if she dies in her condo, it won’t be more than a week before someone comes to check on her (most of us live 300+ miles away, though). I occasionally find it amusing to figure out how long it would take before someone noticed I went missing. It used to be weeks, but with my daughter around, it’s no more than a few hours.

I went to pick up lunch and go to the store yesterday, and I realized I forgot my phone while we were in the driveway. I shrugged and carried on, and my daughter said, “I bet Daddy is trying to text you right now!”

15 jjiraffe { 04.02.12 at 5:04 pm }

I really love this post. It encapsulates the brave new world we live in so well. And how validation is so important to all of us, in many forms.

16 Lora { 04.02.12 at 8:49 pm }

This is such a great post – I love how you pulled all of this together, I was following along and nodding my head in agreement!

We love to visit small random towns and find neat little antique stores or little mom-n-pop restaurants. And I never really thought about it the way you related it… our chance to disappear for just a little while. To be away from the cares of every day life where the concerns of the real world consume us, in exchange for a slower, simpler way of life. I think that’s what we all need sometimes to recharge our batteries and give us a little strength and clarity to keep going.

And I agree, I think we all need validation in our lives – as much as we blog for ourselves to process our thoughts and emotions – we blog for validation and connections. My comments are e-mailed directly to my phone and when I read them they’re like little text messages from dear friends cheering me on through another day. It’s amazing how many times I’ve gotten them at just the moment I needed some encouragement – some validation.

17 Magpie { 04.02.12 at 8:52 pm }

I love how you make me think.

18 Emily @ablanket2keep { 04.02.12 at 9:11 pm }

I love getting myself “lost”

19 Steadfast Warrior { 04.03.12 at 7:55 am }

I’m like Sunny, where being at home all the time isolated me in a way I had never experienced before except for a short time when I moved out of my parents’ house and to a different city to live with my boyfriend (now my husband). Then, I frantically sought out interaction to prove I wasn’t all by my lonesome. After all, I could keep in touch with my friends and family back home if I had access to internet. Then I started working and established a social network again.

But when I went on maternity leave, things changed. I had a network of moms who all gave birth around when I did, but all of them went back to work at some point. I didn’t. Add to that my PPD and new anxiety in social situations and the internet was my saving grace. The connections I’ve made online have been my validation, the sign to me that I matter outside of my role as a mother, that I myself have importance for what I can contribute.

20 {sue} { 04.03.12 at 9:00 pm }

I often think that this would be a very disconnected time of my life – home with children, driving carpools, my friends are all doing the same – but because of the internet, I feel quite connected. But I also wonder sometimes if I didn’t have social media to connect to, would I be lonely, or would I make more of an effort to make in-person connections? Would I get out of my car and chat with another parent in the parking lot if I wasn’t reading email on my phone? Would I take the time I spend catching up on blogs to invite a friend over for coffee? Would I have as much in common with those people as I do with my online connections?

21 Justine { 04.03.12 at 9:21 pm }

I think I’ve become even more tethered to this piece of technology since I’ve been away from the “professional” world. And you’ve just helped me put my finger on why. I need validation desperately, and I used to get it at work. No work, no validation (because as much as a one year old is fun, and gives GREAT hugs, it’s not the same kind of validation as adult interaction). So I check, obsessively. Remind myself that I’m still connected to a billion different things. I will untether occasionally, but never completely. I should, more often. But then I feel guilty about not reading and commenting on blog posts. 😉

22 Leah { 04.04.12 at 12:28 am }

Not having my phone with me gives me the same feeling that I get during an oh-shit-I’m-naked-in-public dream. It is not good, not good at all.

Regarding the need for validation, I did a lot of head nodding as well while reading this. It is nice to know that megastars like you (you’re a freaking enigma in many circles, you know) crave validation as well. Meanwhile, if you ever are feeling the need for pure, unfiltered adoration, just let me know and I’ll ramble on for a page or two listing off your amazing qualities. I’m not joking, I’ll do it. 🙂

23 liljan98 { 04.04.12 at 6:17 am }

Finally someone was able to put the finger on why leaving my phone at home or being suddenly offline for technical reasons hits me so hard every time. Thanks for this post, Mel! I can relate to so many things you said. I had a similar “OMG I left my phone at home” moment on Friday when I was out running a few errands. I did not go back to get it and when I got home 45 minutes later I didn’t miss anything. But it still felt weird to be out and about without my phone. I admit it.

I’m not the most outgoing person in real life and don’t make friends easily in real life, but it’s been so different in the online community. I probably interact with more people on a more personal level via internet (mail, twitter, blogs etc) than I interact with people in my everyday work/errands etc life. Don’t know if that’s pathetic or just the way the world runs in this century 😉

Until your post I also never *really* thought about how the seemingly ubiquitous internet changes the way the next generation will navigate in the (digital) world. The fact that they will never remember a time when the internet just didn’t exist baffles me. And makes me feel old. So so old :-)!

24 persnickety { 04.04.12 at 11:51 pm }

It is strange how it changes- when I lived in Japan (mid 2000’s) I didn’t own a computer, and my town had a free internet area, so I did check my email, but later I moved and it dwindled to a weekly check. I can’t imagine that now. The idea of NOT checking email for a few days, or a week!
The idea of validation is important though- so many of the things we take for granted in our lives came about because someone, at some point in time wanted validation. It is why people create and make. I think the problem is balancing whether the validaiton helps, or whether it is driving non-useful behaviour. Is the internet creating more Paris Hiltons than Shakespeares?

25 amy { 04.05.12 at 2:31 am }

I just lost my phone over the weekend and was incredibly depresswd by the realization of my incredible attachment to it and the digital world. I appreciate the framing and different perspective your post offered.

And I am a total random towner too. I love to find out where a road leads that i’ve never traveled.

26 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.05.12 at 7:22 pm }

I read a book recently that talked about how others give us our self of self, via our “reflected self.”

It’s a balancing act to be connected but not held captive. Like a gentle tether, an elastic one (bungee blogging?). Lately I’ve been feeling captive, chafing at the yoke. So what to do?

Random towner, too. When I lived in Japan, I used to love to pick a direction and ride my bike that way for hours, just exploring. Completely free.

27 Bea { 04.08.12 at 10:48 am }

Two words: road trip.

Yes, I am a random towner. And I do like to disconnect. It’s unsettling but liberating. Like camping or backpacking. I recently said we need to do a lot of these two with our kids for the exact reasons you mention.

In The Brain That Changes Itself, the author brings up the concept of humans as “natural-born cyborgs” -our brains can and do wire themselves as if pieces of tech – be they smart phones or simpler tools – are an extension of the body. Not just in some vague sense but it a real neurological sense, these tools forming part of our neural map and their loss being perceived as a kind of amputation. Never having known a time without Internet is a stunning thought seen in that context.

28 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 04.18.12 at 10:17 pm }

When I leave my phone behind, as long as there’s a way for the twins’ school to get in touch with DH, I feel liberated. Like I’m a teenager on a joyride (not that I ever did any sort of joyride, but I imagine it feels liberating based on Harry Potter and Ron stealing the flying car).

Never mind the fact that I usually have my phone on mute so I miss the majority of calls that do come in, or the fact that I get maybe one call a week that isn’t from my husband.


And when I’m “on an adventure” (my term for random towning), it’s also liberating. On an adventure + no phone? Like slaloming down a hill, whoosh whoosh whoosh, the wind in my hair.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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