Saying you need to spend more time offline–much less declaring that you’re GOING to spend more time offline– is like saying you’re going to lose weight: you don’t really want to make that statement publicly unless you have every intention of backing it up with action.
You know I really mean to be speaking in the first person here, right?
I know I need to spend more time offline. I want to spend more time offline. But every day I am seduced by the possibility that today might be the day that the email that is going to change my life (You know, the one from a publisher offering me a seven-figure contract) lands in my inbox, and it must, of course, be answered immediately. Plus, I have deadlines to fulfill and pitches and queries to send out, not to mention a “presence” or “brand” that supposedly must be maintained. All these things conspire to keep me more connected than I’d like.
It was with some anxiety, then, that the plans for a Cuba trip finally came together last week. I’d be offline for a full work week, not so much by choice, but by necessity. With no Internet in my in-laws’ home and overly expensive Internet available in a hotel I’d have to walk about a mile to reach, it was unlikely I’d be checking in, much less keeping up.
In actuality, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I’d just finished a big contract assignment and didn’t have any immediate deadlines to meet. If ever there was a good time to be offline, this was it. I packed some books that have been sitting in my “to read” pile for a couple months, my journal, and a few pens, and accepted the inevitability of a week offline.
I did end up logging on from Havana, but it was four days into the trip. I actually wasn’t missing the Internet (at all, to my surprise), and it was only because I needed to communicate with Francisco that I bought a 30 minute block of Internet time at the Hotel Parque Central. I logged into my gmail account and twiddled my thumbs while the messages loaded. Three minutes later: 363 messages in my inbox. Check, check, check, check, check…trash. Of 363 messages received between Monday and Friday, approximately three were important. None was urgent.
I sent Francisco an email and logged off without even checking any other accounts or sites. The idea of 360 mostly meaningless messages was revolting, and actually thinking that I waste hours of my life on monitoring an email inbox was depressing. I ordered a coffee at the bar downstairs since I hadn’t been drinking any at my mother-in-law’s (“The cafe we have now is more chicha than anything,” my sister-in-law had told me; I don’t think you’ll like the taste.” She was right.) and then ran back to her apartment to sit in a rocking chair and share family chisme and contemplate what this week offline would mean once I got back to New York.
I don’t intend to go on an Internet fast.
Too many people in my life who are important to me but who aren’t geographically close to me are held close by threads that are only as strong as the cables that connect our respective computers, and I’m actually grateful to Facebook and all the other sites and services we use for making it possible to keep up with their lives. How else would I be aware of their accomplishments and joys; their frustrations, losses, sadnesses; what they’re reading, watching, and thinking about; and, yes, even the most mundane aspects of their days? “I just saved $3.25 by clipping coupons!” and “My cat has a fever of 97 degrees!”
I actually love all of it.
My iPhone was on and scanning for a wireless network as soon as the wheels of our plane hit the ground in Miami, but my usual sense of urgency about reading messages and responding to them just wasn’t there. I called Francisco to say “We’re almost home” and to say that there were things that had happened to me in Cuba that I wasn’t sure yet how to explain.