Unplugged: A week without internet

When my lovely bosses at Cherwell asked me to do a feature on going without internet for a week I have to admit I was pretty worried at first and tried to dream up ways of getting round it, such as timing it to coincide with a holiday abroad. However, I had to admit it seemed like an interesting social experiment and a challenge. After all, we are constantly being told that the internet is becoming a more and more integral part of our lives and there seems to be a never-ending supply of stories about the dangers of the internet and its overuse. I was curious to see how far I could go.

A friend in college had voluntarily and surprisingly comfortably done ‘No Facebook February’ but she made the mistake of telling people that she would not be accessing her account for a month. People started to post various amusing YouTube videos on her wall and it turned into a very good source of material for anyone looking for some quality procrastination. I decided not to make the same mistake and not to let anyone know about the trial I would be undergoing. Surely it could not be that hard? Oh how wrong I was…

The first two days were surprisingly fine and I didn’t really notice my lack of internet usage. This was probably because I was out for most of the time and away from the computer. Being no luddite, I often used to use the internet on my phone just to pass time, usually while waiting for someone or when on the bus, checking Facebook or my email. I found it quite odd not doing this. In fact not using the internet felt kind of liberating and it felt like I had more time. However, over the next few days this would not be the case.

Not having access to the internet created minor annoyances which were not always possible to get around. For directions, I often used to use Google Maps or the maps app on my phone but now I found myself stranded without technical aid. There were other small things like not being able to use BBC News in the mornings to check the headlines, or not being able to use Google and Wikipedia to check something I was wondering about. And, devoid of online procrastination, I found myself discovering numerous other distractions. Thankfully the cricket world cup was on as well as the second legs of the Champions League 2nd round.

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Trying to do an essay on my computer pushed my resolve almost to breaking point. A few times I came close to slipping. It seems pitiable now, but I think I am mechanically programmed to automatically sign onto the internet every time I switch on. Each time I made this mistake, it took all the willpower I posessed to press that wretched ‘close’ button. I think I was most tempted to check Facebook or my email. What if there was an email or something that required a reply? What if a friend posted something on my wall that needed a ‘like’ or comment with an obscene amount of x’s in response? It would be rude not to reply – the world as I knew it would be over!

I found myself texting and phoning more to keep up to date with friends and happenings. After all I had to find a way to replace my hours of facebook stalking which would enable me to understand everything that everyone I know or ever knew or who a friend of a friend of a friend once met a aparty was doing at every moment.

I did end up going out more than I had planned, since at home it was always very easy to turn on the computer and waste away hours on Google, YouTube and Facebook. I enjoyed this side of the experience as I felt I was making the most of my time, which I seemed to have much more of. However, when it got to the last few days and when I had already been out and seen people and had already watched most of the sporting events on TV, I really felt the absence of the internet. It is probably the best time-wasting tool available and I passionately missed that. But it was fine when it was all over and I could return to watching mildly funny YouTube videos that I had been sent on Facebook or to the short online games on Mousebreaker. It seems a bit silly now, but without internet I felt I was missing out on small things like this. Oh the bliss…

I am slightly impressed with myself that I made it through a week but to be fair it wasn’t too hard. I just had to suppress a habit. Battle with my fingers itching to check out Facebook. Reaffirm to myself that I am not in any way addicted to the internet. Initially it was, in fact, rather liberating not wasting away time online. However, by not using it, I realised just how important the internet has become in our everyday lives and how much of our day we devote to it. I think I used to spend at least 2-3 hours a day online, probably more. At the same time I realised that if I was not using the internet I found other replacement distractions. It would have been much more difficult if I had to try to go a week without a phone, TV or computer.

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Unplugging does not seem to make sense and is impractical in such a wired world. The BBC recently did a special report where they put a remote Nigerian community online, while families in South Korea were challenged to go offline for a week. South Korea is often called the world’s most wired society, boasting the fastest average broadband speeds on the planet. We have heard many stories of internet addiction there and even deaths resulting from extremely long online gaming sessions. The BBC found it very hard finding two families in South Korea to give up their normal lives and go without internet. Many people they asked protested saying it would be too great a sacrifice and that the internet was too important a part of their lives. They shopped online, they needed it for work, and their children did homework online. In the most developed countries, the internet has become so integrated into our lives that it is difficult to imagine going without it. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the internet has made so many things easier and more convenient for us, but perhaps spending a little less time checking who’s poked my primary school classmate might be a good idea…

Overall, I found my week offline to be an interesting experiment and it made me think about the big role the internet plays in our lives. Whilst I would not voluntarily do it again, mainly because during term time I would find it impossible, I don’t regret my experiment.