When my computer crashed last week, it was a dark day. Withdrawal pangs set in immediately. No email. No Twitter. No Facebook. What would I do with my time? Would any of my online ‘friends’ miss me or even notice my absence?
It took a few days, but when the digital DTs calmed, I began to see my unwilling disconnectedness as a blessing. I embraced it and decided to use it as a test to see if my quality of life would appreciably suffer from the lack of social media. I only borrowed Rhys’ computer to post an ‘I’m away…email me’ farewell message to Facebook and, of course, to keep up with this blog. In every other way, I washed my hands of the World Wide Web.
I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy. In moments of blankness and boredom, it’s a reflex to peruse Facebook (meme, meme, meme, brag, meme, rant, meme) or find some juicy celebrity gossip. Being unwillingly returned to the 1970s, I had to find new forms of entertainment and ways to relax.
As a child, I was a voracious reader but it’s surprisingly hard to read a book after years spent skimming webpages. You have to consciously force yourself to slow down. Re-teach yourself to focus on each word, each sentence, savouring them in your imagination. Not merely scanning to get the gist as we usually do online.
But what if I missed something important like breaking news or a particularly juicy salacious headline? It comforted me to remember that our favourite Irishman, C. S. Lewis, hated the wireless, motion pictures, jukeboxes and never read a newspaper. Like Lewis, I came to realise that if anything important happened, Rhys would tell me.
By far, the worst part of going offline was coming face-to-face with my own unimportance. Of the thousands of ‘friends’ I’ve connected with through my personal Facebook profile who saw my ‘away…email me’ post, only one reached out. One sent me an email. That put my so-called ‘friends’ in perspective.
At first discovering my own unimportance was a blow to the ego. But if I were perfectly honest, I barely know 10% of my Facebook friends in ‘real life’ and only two or three of them were real friends who cared when I confided in them. My reflex is still to post every success, every funny thing that happens, pics from our hikes around Cardiff. But seriously, what is the point? Very little, as far as I can see. Embracing my own insignificance went from wounding to incredibly liberating.
To appropriate from J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Life in the wide world goes on much as it has these past age, full of its own comings and goings, scarcely aware of the existence of Ivy’ and Ivy quite enjoys her life, scarcely aware of the comings and goings of the wide world. When you start to ignore it, you realise just how little the dramas of the rest of the world actually affect your real life, in the here and now. Being kept in a constant state of turmoil and empathy for the woes of world is kind, but it doesn’t help those in distress in practical ways while keeping us in a constant, unhealthy state of stress with the migraines, heightened blood pressure, comfort eating, self-medicating with tobacco, alcohol, etc.
We’re all looking for ways to remove stress from our lives and my computer crash was a gift. I’m calmer. I’m sleeping better and getting far fewer headaches. Best of all, Rhys and I are talking and laughing together instead of being glued to our devices.
Here’s my challenge to you. Post an ‘away’ message to your social media accounts. Close the laptop. Turn off the iPhone. Just live. Read a book. Take a walk. Talk to your spouse and children. Yes, you will go through withdrawal but you can tough it out.
After a week or two, you’ll be surprised to find how pleasant your real life is. How peaceful you’re capable of feeling. How delightfully unimportant you are to everyone except your true friends. As Walter Winchell wrote, ‘A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out‘. Try it sometime.