I went to a writing conference Saturday without my laptop. For eight hours I wrote by hand in a notebook. Arriving at the college, I had trouble with the wifi. I couldn't think why I needed my phone at all and powered it down. I turned it on at lunch to call my wife but turned it back off. Writing by hand was good. I could have typed more words, but there was no door prize for most words written. It felt good to be fully there at the conference instead of checking email, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, and every other damn online thing.
Later, at home, I turned the phone on to check email (spam) and the (bad) news. I found an article about a guy who has blockaded all news since the election. Rather than read the whole thing, I began writing this. Why read about someone making good choices when I can make my own?
My writing last week was spurred by Michael Harris's books The End Of Absence and Solitude, both about the loss of quiet and solitude in a "connected" world. I avoided Facebook last week unhappy with how much time I'm spending there. I limited Twitter to five minutes once a day.
Here's the worst thing about people who disconnect: they write things like this. The evangelist sins more than his flock but still calls them sinners. Don't let me tell you how to live. I'm just trying to convince myself. I know I'm a sinner.
In another article this week a tech writer ditched online news for newspapers. He coined a Michael Pollen-like rule: "Get news. Not too quickly. Avoid social." I like the article and the writer, but during his two months off social media news he had tweeted a dozen times most days about, wait for it, the news. I follow him and had read those tweets, but when he wrote of unplugging, I wanted to believe, just as I want to believe I can do the same thing. Given that he didn't unplug, I really can do the same thing.
Let he who is without social media be the first to cast phones. Or something like that.
No matter what I claim about disconnecting, I'm far from living the life of Thoreau. I want to live that life, but I also want to play piano. It's just I'm unwilling to practice and learn how. I'm ready to drop social media and online news just so long as I don't have to, you know, drop any of it.
Two years ago I unfollowed everyone on Twitter. Why not just delete the account? Well, it's my name and I would hate to lose that. Besides, I knew I would go back. I'm a waffler and hypocrite. But that time away informed how I rejoined Twitter. Last year, I unfollowed everyone who spread bad news. That was almost everyone given who is running the country, but I wanted to be thoughtful again. I'm never going to be perfect and I'm unlikely to quit Twitter, but I can always be more thoughtful.
I want to choose what I do instead of following the crowd. It's a lot of work to be thoughtful, but yesterday my phone was an inert lump instead of a demanding master. I focused on writing and the people around me. Even my eyes felt more focused.
Rather than draw grand conclusions from these disconnections I'll say only that they are possible and each one makes further disconnecting a tantalizing proposition. Being thoughtful turns out to be almost as addictive as social media. Who knew?