Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Year Without the Internet

“This is a story about going all still and quiet—and how that changes you.”                                                                                      ~Esther Emery

I’ve only owned a smartphone since December. The day my husband and I ventured into the Verizon store to make the purchase, I had a very dark and bad attitude toward the sales clerk and technology in general. My computer’s screams felt like more than enough distraction in my life. How would I ever focus and function with the noise of a smartphone? But I wanted to be able to Facetime with my sons and receive texts that weren't garbled on my old phone, among other things. I felt forced into this new, beeping, pinging, ringing world where someone or something would have constant access to interrupt me and my thought life anywhere at anytime. The world I love to abandon when I enter the refuge of my home now tags along in the new digital age, and this private introvert does not always like all the company.
So I was curious about Esther Emery’s experiment of giving up the Internet for a year, a journey she chronicles in her beautifully written memoir, What Falls from the Sky.  As a successful playwright and theater director, wife, and mother, one day she found her professional and personal life starting to unravel. Many of us would seek out a counselor, change our location, look for a new job—but Esther logged off the Internet and dove into the silence. She took the drastic step of leaving behind ATMs, social media, and email.
And she began to listen.
“If you’ve heard it said that God can be found in the silence, or that silence can be found in God, then it is fair to say that I found both at the same time.”

Without the Internet controlling her life, she learned to love her neighbors in her Massachusetts city, visit the library with her children, buy books at Goodwill, use a phone book, read a paper map, shop at brick and mortar stores. She stared longer at her children, played with them on the floor, visited church for the first time in a very long time, and wrote letters by hand.

She began to ask questions and wonder what happens when we leave the digital world and open space and margin in our lives.  I know for me I deepen and hear the voice of God better when I allow more space and margin. I change, feeling a little less angry, annoyed, inadequate. Esther made many of the same discoveries.

What happens when we find our validation somewhere other than the false affirmation of the Internet? A hard question for many of us to answer but worth the asking. The result for me is an internal warning saying I should retreat from using  the Internet so much, exercising caution and awareness over its pull. I should try with all my might to pull back from the constant barrage of information, communication, and false affirmation, fighting the urge to scroll through my phone in a doctor’s waiting room or the lobby of a restaurant, instead sitting in stillness and thought.
In my nod to Esther’s book, I decided I would try to give up social media for Lent. I failed miserably. First I began checking Facebook because some people use FB to reach me--but I vowed not to scroll. But then I was scrolling. I’ve only been on Instagram when my husband told me my four sons posted pictures of their brother trip to the mountains. (But I didn’t scroll)
My failed and minor experiment has shown me the power of the Internet to woo me and distract me, waste my time, and destroy my attention span, which seems to be decreasing by the week. As a writer, I used to be able to write for hours without yielding to a distraction. Today I check my email and Facebook constantly…and I hate this behavior.
So as a result of reading What Falls from the Sky, I will be making an intentional effort to resist the pull, however poor my efforts. I want to take long walks without any noise, go on a drive without playing any music, sit in a park with a paper book, and write a novel or a blog post without reading people’s status. (And if I write a blog post, you can always receive it by providing your email over at the right-hand side of your screen. Wink.)
And if you’re wondering how Esther’s story ends, you’ll have to read her book, which you can buy here. But I will say that she now lives off the grid in a yurt in Idaho with her husband and three children on three acres of land. And that sounds like a life enriched by silence.


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