The Useless Agony of Going Offline

Image result for man walking off cliff

His title. Not mine.

Last year, Matthew J.X. Malady wanted to try an experiment: He wanted to go dark for 72 hours. No phone. No computer. No tablet. No social media. No nuttin’, honey. Part of the impetus for his project came from reading about a man who literally walked off a cliff to his death because he was so glued to his electronic device that he didn’t notice he had come to a precipice and there was no fence to stop him. He tumbled more than 40 feet to the jagged rocks below him.

For Mr. Malady, burning questions included, though were not limited to, (a) could he do it?; and (b) what effect would this have on him and his hardwiring. Upon completion of this experiment, Mr. Malady then wrote about his experience in a piece for The New Yorker titled “The Useless Agony of Going Offline.”

Did Mr. Malady succeed? Did he shrivel up and die before the third day? Did his head turn into a multi-coloured pumpkin? These are all fine and fair questions but will have to wait until I wax poetic about this whole ADHD/wired-all-the-time tendency that many of us have adopted not only willingly but wholeheartedly. When did we cross the proverbial Rubicon of Internet-based technology?

Technically speaking, I signed up for my first electronic mail account in 1996 through my university. I never used the account once. It wasn’t until moving to Korea (No, not North Korea) in 1997 that I set up a real e-mail account through…Hotmail (groan).

I like graphs, charts, timelines and the like, so let me present mine here and see how it stacks up against your own experience with this wonderful world called the intercyberweb.

1996               Set up my first email account

1997               Began regular use of commercial email

1998               Wrote and received my last handwritten letters to friends and family

2000                Bought my first computer (a Commodore 64 doesn’t count, right?)

2000                Wrote my first story on a word processing program called Word

2001                 Began using my computer for employment-related tasks

2004                 Became a full-time freelancer and depended on my laptop 24/7 for work

2007                 Joined the Gmail Revolution

2007-09            Travelled five continents over 24 months, using my laptop for work in locations that spanned the border of Uganda and the DRC, the beaches of Fiji, the bridges of Venice, the Black Sea port of Varna, the jungles of Vietnam, the coffee shops of New York City, and 28,000 miles of airplane travel time.

2009                  Signed up for Facebook

2013                  Designed my own blog and began posting regularly

2014                   Joined Twitter

2017                   Joined Instagram

I suppose when I write it down like that, I’d have to say my “Rubicon moment” had to be 2004, when the almighty computer and being online was directly tied to my ability to pay the rent. Over that time, I think I’ve gone through something like one desktop and 10 laptops, most of them destroyed by attrition rather than viruses. The longest I’ve gone without using any Internet-related technology is three weeks, though I didn’t have much choice as I was travelling through India and Nepal and it was 1999, so the technology wasn’t so ubiquitous in remote parts of Kashmir and Pokhara.

More recently, I went two full days without checking emails, using my phone, surfing the Internet or looking in on my social media sites. I considered that an accomplishment. (Does that make me a slave to the Internet? Perhaps Brian Ferry can rework his 1985 classic and call it “Slave to the Net.”)

Anyway, back to Mr. Malady’s experiment. Did he indeed self-combust in fiery flames after the 72nd hour? Here’s what he had to say about finishing his pet project:

“At the end of the experiment, I wasn’t dying to get my phone back or to access Facebook. I just wanted to get back to being better informed. My devices and the Internet, as much as they are sometimes annoying and frustrating and overflowing with knuckleheads, help me to do that. If getting outside and taking walks, or sitting in silence, or walking dogs, or talking with loved ones on the phone got me to that same place, I’d be more than happy to change things up.”


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