Life today is wired, whether we like it or not. Internet, email, social media, online everything and smart phones means we are always “in touch”, “on standby”, “contactable”… There are upsides to all this technology, especially when friends and families live far afield, but most of the time it is, quite frankly, exhausting!
So over the Easter weekend I pretty much ignored the e-world. The long weekend was so refreshing that I all but unplugged for the next six weeks. I maintained minimal online communications, monitored my bank account online and booked tickets to travel to Ireland for my niece’s christening but generally I avoided the Interweb, my regular diet of news websites, social media discussions, online libraries…
To my friends, I apologise for having been incommunicado for a while but hopefully this will not reduce me to a social pariah. After all, in the days before email and mobile phones (i.e. my childhood and teenage years), nobody batted an eyelid if four to six weeks passed without hearing from an out-of-town friend!
Turning the Internet off has not only freed up time and head space. It has also allowed my world to slow down, with pace dictated by the speed it takes plants to grow or me to cycle from A to B. Unplugging has also heightened my senses and left me feeling more engaged, not less.
Rather than scanning through news stories on the Internet and a glut of opinion pieces, often from people who have little to say, I have purposefully been tuning into the news on the wireless or making a point of reading hard copy newspapers again. Exhausted by a churn of (often superficial) observations on burning issues, I have avoided soundbites and headlines that vie for readers’ attention and spent more time curling up with a good book, e.g. Roger Deakin’s calming Wildwood – A Journey through Trees, the ever-inspiring offering from Richard Mabey and my ‘old friends’, A.S. Byatt’s trilogy of four novels. In the process, I have probably missed some key commentary by one or other expert in my areas of interest. However, taking time to digest ideas and let connections percolate feels like a better use of time at the moment and has certainly left me re-enthused.
Best of all, switching off all this technology has flexed all my senses. My fingers have sunk into damp soil; luxuriated in new yarns; and explored the grain of wood. My ears have been training themselves to find flat, sharp and natural notes on the violin; have delighted in the song of the boisterous blackbird in my neighbour’s sycamore; and have enjoyed concerts ranging from Bruckner’s symphonies to haunting Gaelic songs. Instead of spending time in e-libraries, I have experienced the fragrance of hidden London wild spots, like my local creek and the overgrown paths of old cemeteries. And with new produce in the garden, my taste buds are being treated to an array of seasonal flavours.
Switching off is increasingly difficult in an age when every transaction seems to involve a log-in and password; libraries have become digital knowledge centres; and specialist, or even just proper, shops have all but disappeared from the high street. Add to that a desire for a freelance career and the idea of unplugging from the digital world sounds like madness. However, to preserve my sanity and have the energy to develop a portfolio of freelance opportunities, turning off the white noise of the e-world feels increasingly necessary. Moreover, remembering what life was like before we were all perpetually connected is really quite lovely!