“No internet. What the fuck did you do?”
That was my first response after getting home from the Comcast* office. Comcast’s first response, after I handed over all of my equipment in a plastic bag, was a confused, “…What?” I sat down on my kitchen couch, because every good kitchen should have a couch, and I looked at the cluttered surrealist artwork on the walls, the dust and lint on the floor, the pile of dirty dishes, and I thought, “Who lives here?” To my far left, my TV area no longer danced with its usual comforting LED glow from the router. My fifty feet of coax and Ethernet cords lining the walls looked like dead snakes, succumbed to starvation after only hours.
But I live here. I write this from that forsaken place of pervasive internet technology. In the lower right corner of my monitor, a small red x covers the Wi-Fi symbol. If I misspell a word, my software says to connect to use the dictionary. The dictionary! But I didn’t go in blind: just since a person is mad doesn’t mean they can’t be methodical. I utilized Half.com for cheap reference books last year when I first gave serious thought to disconnecting. I made sure all of my important emails weren’t tied to my internet provider. I downloaded the open-source sound editing program Audacity. And I threw myself into the void. People kept saying, “Oh, you can’t get rid of the internet! There’s so much we need it for.” But here’s what I think… If you are unhappy. If you are truly unhappy but think of yourself as a rational, intelligent person, then maybe it’s time you start making some irrational decisions.
Within the first week I found out that I don’t have ADD. Imagine that. Also within that first week I started pulling together this morning ritual I now cherish. Instead of waking up, getting coffee, and going through the cycle of online distraction and worry, I get my coffee and sit on my kitchen couch with a book and I just read. I don’t get up to look up some obscure fact, or see what the weather is going to be, or check how many validation points I’ve acquired, or put myself into the political worry chamber. I just read. Those facts, I’ve found, turn out to be not so important after all, the weather still weathers, fuck cheap psychological validation, and if the President is going to send the world down a dark alley or up a bright one, we’re all along for the ride at this point anyway. If I think of something that truly needs the internet, I write it down with the date and I leave room for a checkmark once it’s completed. I mean, I had to look up the correlation between DMT use and aliens, but that’s just me.
So I wanted to write more. I have this grand story playing out in my head and now that universe is filtering in through notes and story boards. (See entry: Make the Room Dark to See the Creative Spark). I’ve said for years now I want to do something with music, and here I find myself a little more than a month later making a concept album about a man who loses his mind and journeys through Hell. It’s not entirely a music album, and it’s not entirely a band. I call it a meta-band, because it’s a group that exists only in the realm of my creative ecosystem, yet they create real music. It was born only when I killed the obstacles of my attention.
And I would like to stress how important that is: the obstacles of your attention. The world claws at your mind, taking all that it can get, and if you let it, you’ll feed a scrap to every hungry source until you have none left for yourself. I also heard of someone explain it like this: pretend every text message, email notification, or program update sound is a tiny electric shock that stops the thought flow in the brain. When you consider the modern day with dozens or even hundreds of notifications as a base response to this tech, the mind is in a near-constant state of interruption – and the notifications are only the beginning. To use the internet deliberately is to reclaim that attention and to stop the digital highway robbery of modern living.
But it’s not all good, I admit. My intent is in no way to create the idea that I’m living in a utopia.** Loneliness was amplified in that first week. Some might be clinging to the net for that very reason – “I don’t have a life outside. The internet is what little I have.” But a strange thing, a mighty strange thing is occurring. I find myself becoming more interested in those around me. I’m even working on an essay about a rather abstract concept, and I’ve been calling people I know and having lengthy conversations, even during periods of physical or mental illness. Before, I know, I would have looked up information about the subject online – if that. Usually when I didn’t feel well I would binge watch Netflix and convince myself that was all I was able to do. Now, during periods when I’m unwell (I get this toxic feeling in my brain the doctors are clueless about), I sit in the dark and listen to podcasts I downloaded with the free Wi-Fi at the gym. If even that is too much, bear with me here, I sit in the dark and do… nothing. The horror! I found out I like this enough to do it before bed. The quiet of the mind is paraded as nothing only in the modern way of living.
So as my thoughts on this subject develop, I would like to add a new concept to help those thinking about cutting back on internet usage or finding a way to live more deliberately: Find out how you can fall forward.
What I mean by falling forward is that with simplifying your environment to suit your goals, that simplification becomes your new nature. It might be the same concept as moving your kids out of a high-violence neighborhood so that they’re surrounded by better influences and opportunities for their future. If all you have around you are ways to further your goals, that’s what you’re likely going to do. To demonstrate the resistance to you: Even after I disconnected, I found myself clicking mindlessly on the Chrome icon until I finally had to delete it. Sitting down and opening the internet browser was the habit I cultivated over many years. I had a short break a few weeks ago as I stayed at my parents’ house, and I saw that habit come back full-force. But now, little more than a month later, the urge is there like a constant dullness in the back of my mind, but it’s not strong like it once was. Meanwhile, people are still saying, “But how do you survive? What do you do?”
When I quit constant access, I left wondering if something more insidious is at play in this world of captivation. I didn’t quite know what it was at the time, and I still feel like I haven’t completely grasped the implications of what’s happening, but I think it’s safe to say that technology plays against our evolutionary desires. They found out as much about the TV screen years ago. While the makers of any screen may not have set out during the modern technology boom to ensnare as much attention as they have, it’s obvious now that they know they can and so they continue to do so. They continue to refine and embed themselves into the concept of “what’s necessary.”
But the greatest illusion of it all, the big joke of the modern world, is that you’ve had what’s necessary all along. You only had to pay attention.
*The Comcast office for my area was once a backroad building with a small waiting room. This turned into a highway showcase Best Buy type of setup. People now take a number and wait far longer while surrounded by a room of the latest tech (back to the environment argument). Since the podiums are out in the open, you can hear how much everyone is paying – and it’s passed off as the norm. Person after person asked, “And why did my bill go up ten dollars this month?” The salesperson could only say, “Oh, that happened to everyone’s bill.”
When I think about if being off the net at home is truly worth it, I rephrase the situation: What if I told you I would pay you $1,740 per year to not use home internet? ($90 basic bill + $10 Netflix + $15 HBO Now + $30 Amazon just-because-it’s-there items) x 12 = $1,740. That sounds good to me. From the stuff I heard at the office, the average person is paying far more per year. I wonder if they think about that while they’re watching commercials.
**Mythologist Joseph Campbell, in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, wrote of the concept of willed introversion: “Willed introversion, in fact, is one of the classic implements of creative genius and can be employed as a deliberate device. It drives the psychic energies into depth and activates the lost continent of unconscious infantile and archetypal images. The result, of course, may be a disintegration of consciousness more or less complete (neurosis, psychosis: the plight of the spellbound Daphne); but on the other hand, if the personality is able to absorb and integrate the new forces, there will be experienced an almost super-human degree of self-consciousness and masterful control. This is the basic principle of the Indian disciplines of yoga. It has been the way, also, of many creative spirits of the West. It cannot be described, quite, as an answer to any specific call. Rather, a deliberate, terrific refusal to answer to anything but the deepest, highest, richest answer to the as-yet-unknown demand of some waiting void within: a kind of total strike, or rejection of the terms of life, as a result of which some power of transformation carries the problem to a plane of new magnitudes, where it is suddenly and finally resolved” (53-54).