Unplugged Confessions of an Internet Junkie
by Courtney Gillette - Tuesday, April 1st, 2014
RANT & RAVE: Going cold turkey on web surfing could mean time for other pursuits

Last month, some people pledged to give up technology for one day. Where’s the challenge in that? Turning off your smart phone for a few hours is hardly revolutionary. Anyone who’s forgotten their charger knows how that feels. How about no Internet for a whole month?

From Aug. 6 through Sept. 3 last year, I gave up the Internet. This has become my summer tradition: a detox from Facebook and Buzzfeed lists, compulsive email checking and scrolling Instagram before I get outta bed. I did my first Internet detox in 2010, taking one week off. A huge nota bene here is that I have the entire month of August off from my job, so it was relatively easy to avoid the Internet.

My rules for the detox were unchanged: one hour of email checking every Sunday, plus permission to hop online to submit book reviews and other free-lance projects. I made a hard copy of all the resources and guidelines I needed for upcoming residency and fellowship applications. And I allowed myself to binge on episodes of The Lying Game on Netflix.

But mostly, I read, wrote, rode my bike, baked, saw friends and stared out the window. I’m someone who’s madly in love with the Internet but also seriously lacking in self-discipline. I walk around with my nose tucked not in a novel but an iPhone. It was lovely to take a big break, then the break was over and my fingers tickled the keyboard.

Hello September, and hello Internet! Back from my one-month hiatus and partially overwhelmed: Facebook! So busy! So much to look at! Here’s what my Internet-free month looked like, by the numbers:

Books I read: 11, plus five poetry/essay manuscripts for friends. This includes two books for book reviews, along with Vampires at The Lemon Grove by Karen Russell; Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith; the first four Lying Game novels by Sara Shepard (I know … I know); Freak of Nurture by Kelli Dunham; Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg; The Dinner by Herman Koch; and like half of Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Words written: 22,199 … and I constantly berated myself for not writing more. Writers! We’re crazy!

Number of crap emails I got: 827. Lesson learned: Email is mostly crap! It is a lot of junk from J. Crew! The most important email I got over the entire four weeks was one telling me I was awarded a residency I applied for (!). They sent it on a Tuesday and I saw it on a Sunday. Life goes on!

Times I cheated and just had to Google something: four. How to make cake flour, how to get a library card, how to stretch pizza dough and, technically, I forced my girlfriend to Google Beyonce’s new haircut because, c’mon, I had to.

Times I had to peek at my email because I forgot a password for some app I decided wasn’t the Internet: three. Songza, Seamless, and My Fitness Pal. A true Internet purist might have skipped all Internet-fueled apps, but there were some that I just couldn’t pass up, including Netflix, ABC Family (to watch Pretty Little Liars, duh), Songza, My Fitness Pal, my bank app and Seamless, but I used Seamless only once because it felt like total cheating when I could call the pizza place myself.

Number of letters and postcards I sent: six.

Number of TV shows I gorged on: three, including two seasons of The Lying Game, four episodes of Pretty Little Liars and three seasons of Skins. Many people were skeptical that I wasn’t online but I was watching Netflix. And seeing how I watched hours upon hours of bad television because of this loophole, I get it. But when it’s 8 p.m. and I’ve baked a cake and written for two hours and read for four hours and meditated and rode my bike to get groceries and watered my plants, guess what? I wanna veg out and watch Netflix. It was a vacation, after all.

Number of Facebook notifications I had: 92.

Number of times I missed Facebook: zero. But to admit, when I did finally log back on and see my friends’ names and photos and links to hilarious Buzzfeed articles, I thought, “Oh! My friends! I missed them!”

Number of times I read a cookbook instead of Googling a recipe: 21. Cookbooks, who knew? So relaxing. So wonderful. I cruised through many of the Smitten Kitchen cookbook recipes and also got real intimate with Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything (and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, which, I realize, is redundant alongside the Everything one). I’ve perfected making my own pizza dough (it involved the one cheat; I mean, how do you stretch it? How?) and also made Smitten Kitchen’s caramelized peach pancakes four times. So good.

Things I was dying to Google: Beyonce’s haircut … again, I know; baking soda vs. baking powder; free financial planning courses; cruiser bike; that Drake song with the chorus, “still got it”; is neutral milk hotel back together?; why was The Lying Game cancelled?; when does Scandal start again?; what classes are at the gym by my work; best yoga videos on Netflix; drywall anchors; Dec. 19 Beyonce tickets; New York Times subscription discounts; September weekend rentals; outdoor summer movies; why is everyone talking about Miley Cyrus?

Biggest takeaways from this hiatus: It’s nice to wake up and not check my email. I kept replacing it with “wake up and play Spell Tower,” but once I deleted my games, I seriously curbed the hit-snooze-and-squint-at-my-iPhone habit.
The Internet time-sucked for me, but especially Google. In my first return-to-Internet day, I watched myself have a thought: How would I make gluten-free cornmeal pizza crust? Stop to Google it, and spend eight minutes reading recipes. This happened in bed with a book in my lap at 11 at night. Why did I need to know about cornmeal pizza crust right there and then? Instant information: It’s too dangerous for me. I’m gonna try and keep my information-seeking on a need-only basis.

Give me a big hug, Internet. I kinda missed you.

Courtney Gillette is a writer, ex-teacher and a lover of milkshakes.

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