Thursday, December 2, 2010
Return of the Jedi
Well, that was disappointing.
I had planned to reenter cyberspace somewhat gracefully. This didn’t seem like too much to ask. After all, we're talking about the new, improved Esther: Year Without Internet Esther. I was going to come right to my blog and impress you all with my hard-earned wisdom and composure. I was going to be calm, and serene – I was going to float back onto Facebook.
And float I did. I floated right out of my head: -- reaching for this and grabbing for that, having two conversations at once while also deleting masses of junk email and ticking off the mental list of pages I had to check just in case something had happened that I would just DIE if I didn’t know.
Nick came into the room and said, “I wouldn’t want to be that keyboard.”
I closed my mouth.
What the hell happened? Was it all a dream? That chrysalis to butterfly transformation that I described to my penpals: did I imagine it? The calmness that allowed me just that morning to spend thirty minutes with a guitar in my lap, practicing the transition from a G to a D, over and over again; the open space in my brain that fairly yearned for crazy hard reading, from global economics to the history of US immigration policy: is it gone? Is it over? Am I an Internet junkie all over again?
For a couple of hours it sure looked like it. At one point I literally pushed now-3-year-old Milo off of my lap, saying things like “Just…just…just a second. Go play with your trucks. I’m almost done.” I was almost done for three hours.
Only minutes before I made my not-so-triumphant return to the Internet, I had been on the phone with Liz Darlington, whose daughter, Eleanor, is the same age as Stella. We were talking about our lives, the cities that we live in – now at opposite ends of the country - and about the Internet. Is the Internet a road by which we travel to certain destinations? Or is the Internet a city – the destination itself?
If the Internet is a city, yesterday, for me, it was Las Vegas. It was a Las Vegas of skin and lights, Las Vegas as it is understood by Bill McKibben in his book, Deep Economy: “an attempt to figure out what More might mean when you’ve already had too much.”
Eventually, though, it all stopped spinning. I sped up, or the Internet slowed down. Both, actually, because I made it through those backlogged emails, and the number of people I haven’t talked to in an entire year is a finite number. I don’t have that many friends.
And once I got stopped on the street corner, at the intersection of Friendship and Purchasing, and was able to watch a couple dozen cars go by, I understood that this experience only supports my thesis. It DOES matter whether or not I go on the Internet. It does matter what I think, and how I think it, and at what pace. I am so adaptable. I am so wonderfully capable of change. I can do as the Romans, and keep up with Joneses and squish myself into whatever outfit I imagine ought to fit.
This is an odd thing coming out of the mouth of a person who still likes to take the very biggest piece of carrot cake, but I’m not terribly interested in resurrecting the Internet Binge. I might even move this blog to a page with a more appropriate title -- someday, when I get around to being on the Internet that long. I do want to tell you about my experience of the previous year. And I want to do that at a measured pace. I got free, and I liked it, and I think we would all be disappointed if I couldn’t now display some of this restraint that I keep claiming that I've found.
Promising that there is more to come, at some point, let me close this with the most important announcement I can make. I did it. I accomplished what I set out to do. I went 365 days without accessing the Internet on any device: not my computer, not a phone, not somebody else’s computer. I didn’t do email. I didn’t do Facebook. I didn’t Tweet or blog or use Google. There is fuzziness at the edges of the experiment, as it felt like there had to be, to keep the center intact. Sometimes I used an ATM card. A lot of the time I didn’t. Sometimes I mailed letters to Amy to post on the blog. A lot of the time I didn’t. I taped a piece of paper over my caller ID and refused to use electronic kiosks. But I made exceptions to the kiosk rule – notably the airport parking garage – and the piece of paper eventually fell off.
It seems like now is as good as any time to admit, too, that I failed on the first attempt. In a bizarre series of events that felt totally out of my control (but obviously were not), on the very first morning of my experiment, I found myself on a library computer, using Google. I was shocked, but mostly shocked into greater resolve. At 12 noon, I started again, and the second time it took.
Am I glad I did it? I can't tell you how glad. There were some rough spots. There were some times when the whole thing just felt absurd and stupid. But there were also times when I thought, I might have gone my whole life without knowing this, without knowing how it feels to be this free.