62 Holyoke St
Quincy, MA 02171
June 1, 2010
I can’t do this anymore. It’s over between us. It isn’t you, it’s me. I think it’s time we started considering other options. I’ve found someone else!!
It happens, on occasion, when I introduce myself and my No Internet project, that my new friend finds an inconsistency in what is and isn’t allowed. He or she appears to greatly enjoy this.
“You use a computer to type your letters? Isn’t that cheating?”
“Wait, you have an answering machine?”
“Why don’t you use an ATM card? What does that have to do with the Internet?”
There is, I assure you, method to my madness. I may not be following the rules that you, my new friend, think I should be following, but I am following some rules.
I do not use electronics to facilitate communication. Another way of saying this is that I don’t have conversations with computers. I use a computer for information storage and retrieval, assuming (maybe foolishly) that I am taking out exactly what I put in. But whenever my purpose is communication with another being or collection of beings, I attempt to keep my voice intact. I do use the phone. I do have an answering machine. I do write letters. I do not blog, Tweet, Facebook, email, use ATM’s, go in the self-service check out line at the grocery store or frequent anything referred to as a kiosk.
Nick puts it a little more succinctly. “You’re trying to live in 1980, for some reason.”
The exceptions are few and unfortunate. I have cheated, more than once, at the self serve photo printing kiosk. I have essentially cheated by asking Nick to buy me something with his credit card. And twice now, in the unattended airport parking garage, I have failed utterly to put the pedal to the floor and smash the barrier. Oh, tragedy of responsible adulthood!
And these letters! These letters are cheating, friends, there’s no way to excuse it. My purpose is communication. The method is electronic. I don’t get on the Internet to post them, true, but that distinction appears more and more superficial as my real life without the Internet becomes more and more complete.
I didn’t send anything last month and a few people that I love have commented on it. “I’ve been looking for your letter!” Ladies and gentlemen, if you want me to write you a letter, it’s very easy. All you have to do is give me your address. You may be surprised by just how much I have to say to you. You may be alarmed by just how much I have to say to you. Send me a postcard and I’ll send you a novelette. Send me a novelette and I’ll send you a trilogy. That’s just the way I am. In the months ahead, I think, those are the only letters I’ll be writing.
However, with my excuses made, I do submit this final update. It is the six month report, the halfway mark. As I have done four times before, I am sending this in the mail to my friend Amy Chini, and asking her to post it for me on our blog. I will do my very, very best to be informative. This goes against my very nature. But there is information to be shared, and for that worthy cause I will attempt to silence the meandering philosopher within.
Unburdened by my natural tendency to expand and complicate ideas, the take home message of six months without Internet is horribly simple. There is no personal failing, no tedious requirement of living, no unpleasant reality that is eliminated by a ban on electronic communication. It still takes work to keep track of things and people. It still takes work to communicate. I continue to struggle with maintaining friendships. I continue to find it difficult to engage my intellect and parent my children at the same time. I continue to feel lonely. I continue to mismanage my time.
Similarly, there is absolutely no joy, pleasure or security that is not available to me for the asking. Letter writing has deepened connections with people I love. I have a regular schedule of phone conversations with family. I send and receive photos by mail. A steady stream of used books from local thrift stores satisfies the whole family of bookworms. The phone book turns out to work pretty well for finding things, as do newspaper event listings and paper maps. Personal finances are managed well enough by calculator, pen and paper. And human travel agents do still exist. You can find them in the phone book.
Shocking, almost, is this realization that the world doesn’t much care whether I’m on the Internet or not. No paradise. No inferno. Everything adjusts. Raised eyebrows quickly give way to forgetful apologies, which give way to silence. The ball is almost always in my court.
And so it follows that it is my own game that bears the change. Under my self-imposed conditions, I am required to observe and question almost every action that I take, from shopping to parenting to putting gas in the car. I am self aware. I am relatively unable to take short cuts. As a result, I experience a greater sense of personal integrity. I feel a little bit more like I’m telling the truth. I am better protected against Imposter Syndrome, as it appears in the larger community in its largest sense, as this vague feeling that I’ve misrepresented myself somewhere along the line and have gotten status and reward that I didn’t deserve. I am better protected against the nagging fear that at some point somebody is going to find me out.
At risk of sounding overly dramatic, I have felt a few times as though I had taken Neo’s red pill. Here I strike a note with people more or less my age, who remember immediately the image of Keanu Reeves waking up in a nightmarish world of feeding tubes and plastic pods. That nightmare reality, the red pill reality, had been veiled by a virtual world of computer-generated fiction, the Matrix, in the science fiction movie of that title.
I know well how that series of images was crafted to draw a response. Every detail, from the eerie soundtrack, to the precise timing of Neo’s rescue, to the unsettling absence of the color blue, was selected to maximize audience response. This is fiction. This is nothing like what I experience. And yet, I know that movies speak to true longings and true fears. That’s what they’re made for. I do not claim conspiracy. Nor do I claim that my physical awareness of my body is somehow inaccurate, that I have been tucked into a plastic pod, or have lost memories. I do not claim to be misinformed of the course of human history. I do claim, however, that the fragmentation of our experience into smaller and smaller pieces is, by definition, a loss of history. And a loss of history is a loss of reality. I do claim that our ever-developing capacity to imitate life through mechanical means has driven a stake between experience and truth. It is not the first such division, nor will it be the last. But this one, computer aided virtual reality, is growing. And I see that it will continue to grow. It is a Matrix without agents. It is an intentional, accepted diversion of our life force. It is the prison we choose.
Ahhh…now you’re worried for my health. But I am pretty sure that I have never been more healthy. As the project becomes more and more an integrated reality of living, and less a prank, it becomes harder to write about. It becomes harder to address these issues without being honest about my concerns, as a human being, a member of a society, and as a parent of small children.
And I still have six months more to go! Who knows how these thoughts will develop? The path forward is always more daunting than what lies behind. But as I declared above, I will do my best to see it out.
This goodbye seems to have no more or less awkwardness than any other kind of goodbye. I think we’re breaking up, Internet. It’s been great. Thanks for the good times. Have a nice life.