In October of this year, I moved from a tiny bungalow in the low-income suburbs of Kansas City, to a big old farmhouse surrounded by woods and fields. The cable lines don’t run out here, and no reputable high-speed internet provider was willing to service me anymore. Suddenly, no more Netflix!!! Not to mention that emailing clients, updating blogs and Facebook pages became a bit more of a chore. I had to go to the library, or the coffee shop – which meant that I had to put on pants.
I went without home internet for the next 35 days. I know that sounds like no big deal. It’s not like I completely unplugged, and retreated to an ashram up in the mountains. But for a work-from-home freelancer accustomed to spending hours online every day, it was quite a change. Enough so that it put my whole relationship with technology into a new perspective, and taught me some valuable lessons.
Lessons which I would like to share with you:
1. I’m grateful for Facebook.
I want to start by saying that I didn’t come to despise technology and social media. Far from it. I have come to appreciate how the internet, and Facebook in particular, adds a whole new dimension to my life. I can promote my business for free, and touch in daily with distant friends and family members. I can swim through an ocean of news and information, and enlighten myself on any subject I can think up. I can exchange ideas with kindred spirits around the world that I have never even met in person, and never would have met if not for our global online community. I’m grateful for it!
2. Technology is addictive.
Having said that, a person can obviously go overboard, and become too absorbed in social media, Netflix, memes, music, videos, and the endless buffet of digital candy available at the touch of a button. It is tempting and oooohhh, so easy. While you’re drinking your coffee or having your lunch, you only have to click here or there to have a laugh or learn something new. In every randomly occurring moment of downtime, there it is—waiting, calling to you, offering you millions and millions of beautiful distractions.
Pretty soon, if you’re not careful, it becomes automatic. You can’t experience even a single second of boredom without whipping out your smart phone and checking your messages. You no longer talk to people around you, savor your food, or stop to watch the sunset and smell the roses. You are hypnotized; addicted to the screen. Technology is a wonderful tool, and a terrible habit. You only need to look around to see how many people suffer from it.
For the first week or so, I experienced what I can only describe as withdrawal symptoms. It felt like I was kicking cigarettes. I longed for news, for discussion, for music and movies. But really, I just craved distraction; distraction from the boredom and the frustrations of daily life. After a while, the craving subsided, and I began to enjoy life’s boring little moments so much more.
3. Entertainment does NOT equal happiness.
Which brings me to my next point. We live in a culture shaped by media, and – surprise, surprise – the media would have us believe that what we really want is more media! We are told every day that more access to music, movies and entertainment will actually make us happier. But that’s bullshit. My experience proved to me that the opposite is true. Entertainment dwarfs us, and distracts us from the real, juicy goodness of life.
I don’t really want to be inundated with media and information 24/7. I don’t want to be entertained. I want to feel alive. What really makes me happy is exercise, being outdoors, spending quality time with my family, savoring quiet moments alone with my thoughts, etc. The more we are bombarded with distractions, the more we lose touch with the wonder and beauty of simply being alive and breathing. We forget how miraculous it is to be a sentient, thinking being, living on this bountiful planet, spinning through the infinite cosmos at more than a million miles per hour.
4. Less is more.
Given all day to sit around in my pajamas and browse the web, I will click on everything that I find halfway interesting and spend hours just indulging my curiosity. When I’ve got to go down to the library, it’s a whole different ballgame. I’m like a surgeon, or a laser-guided missile. I’ve got stuff to download, research to get done, pages and profiles and websites to update, and I’ve only got a couple of hours. So I put together a to-do list, get my priorities in order, and I get more done in those couple of hours than I would in a whole day of laying around the house.
That’s how I should approach the internet all the time. The old adage, “less is more,” definitely applies to time spent staring at my laptop screen. With a little discipline and organization, I can get the important things done in very little time – and I can live without the cat videos and click bait. Instead, I can take a walk in the woods, play catch with my son, or just sit and contemplate infinity, and the impenetrable mysteries of life. Or I suppose I could get some of the housework done…
5. Time is a limited resource. Invest it wisely.
The most important lesson I learned is one so simple and obvious that it’s become cliché. Of course time is valuable! But when it really sinks in that you only have so many years to enjoy this experience that we call life; and those years are made up of months, which are made up of days, which are made up of moments; and those precious moments go by so fast… when you fully grasp that simple truth, you no longer want to spend those precious moments of waking consciousness watching another clever Buzzfeed skit. You want to grab life by the balls, and go after your dreams. Spend your time doing what you love, with the ones you love. Invest in yourself. Work out, read more, learn to play an instrument or speak a second language. Make the most of today. It’s all you’ve got.