Two-thirds of the world’s population have no Internet access. I know fewer than a handful of them, including my father-in-law and my mother-in-law.
This month I spent two weeks in their computer-less home in the suburbs of Cincinnati.
With no Internet access, I found the experience to be as unsettling as when I lived in Oregon and would go tent camping in primitive sites with no running water. Daily, I feel compelled to shower, and daily I feel a need to connect my electronic gadgets to other devices out there in cyberspace.
Of course, I had my laptop and my iPad with me, but they were mostly useless without being connected to the Internet. With envy I perused the list of neighbors with Wi-Fi networks, but unfortunately, each was protected by a password. Twice I slipped away to a local coffee shop to tap into the Internet.
Even my company-issued Android 4G smartphone wasn’t much help. With no tech support, I had to wipe it clean and then rebuild it myself from the default factory settings. Reformatting my phone, though, gave me something to do while I waited for hours in the emergency room while my father-in-law was treated for a bloody head wound that resulted from a nasty fall in the driveway.
Being in the home of my unplugged in-laws forced me to withdraw from some of my daily digital routines. In the process I reconnected with portions of the analog world I’d forgotten about or inadvertently overlooked.
Instead of spending my time updating Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WordPress, I connected with people through actual conversations. My elderly father-in-law is an interesting yet quiet, Southern gentleman from Alabama. Though he does not own a computer, he is well-educated, having earned his doctorate at Ohio State. He spent his career working as a chemical engineer for such companies as Procter & Gamble. He’s always been a huge sports fan and will spend hours talking about last night’s Reds game, the Bengals prospects for the coming season or any other sports-related topic. With some luck, I even got him to share his childhood memory of the time he saw Babe Ruth play ball. Conversations like that don’t happen on Twitter.
Since I was not online, and since the TV was usually on a sports channel, I had to get my world news the old-fashioned way. I walked to the end of the driveway, picked up the Cincinnati Enquirer and read the ink-on-newsprint version of the paper. With an undergraduate degree in journalism, I will forever revere the newspaper industry, even with its dramatic changes in recent years.
Being disconnected from the Web created an even tighter bond between me and my Moleskine notebook. I made handwritten lists. I drew charts. And I even created mindmaps like I used to–with an ink pen on blank pages of paper.
My unplugged vacation was actually a much-needed sabbatical from my digital dependency. The world moved slower. Though I felt like I was in a time warp, I also felt a little more grounded.
It was nice to be unplugged, but…
It’s also nice to be back online. I love technology. I love electronic devices. I love being connected to my virtual world. I believe computers and social media have connected us in valuable, irreplaceable ways.
Yet, for a brief, two-week period I found it refreshing to be disconnected. During my downtime, I resolved to find a happy balance between my virtual and my analog worlds. As the Book of Ecclesiastes (kind of) says, “To everything there is a season–a time to be connected and a time to be unplugged.”