I just came back from a week’s vacation. A week I spent without Internet. I didn’t even bring a smart phone. It was a personal experiment and a great experience.
This post contains no code samples, nor any software project experiences. It is just a personal reflection on the life online and what it do to us. If you can’t stand the thought of being disconnected for a week and feel that this post is nothing for you, please keep on reading. This post is definitely for you.
I have thought about the impact of living my life more or less continuously connected. I usually check my tablet first thing in the morning (before breakfast). I read the night’s twitter stream on the commuter train to work. I spend the working day in front of a computer. I even bring my tablet when putting my kids to bed, to have something to do while I’m sitting there in the dark waiting for them to fall asleep.
I’m sure that I’m not alone being constantly connected. I decided to do an experiment on myself. I left for vacation without my smart phone and without any computer. I brought my tablet for the games (mostly for the kids), but didn’t connect it to the Internet until the day before going back home.
I spent an entire week without the never ending flow of information coming in from the Internet. From twitter, by e-mail, from my RSS subscriptions. I spent the week by the pool at a resort on the Tenerife island (one of the Canarias, outside Africa’s north west coast). I read a book (with letters physically printed on paper made out of trees). I talked to my kids. I talked to my wife. I played with my kids.
I decided that whenever one of my kids asked me something, I tried to say “Yes” instead of “No”. You know that “No” that means “If I just say No I can continue doing whatever I do right now”. That “No” that I answer far too often when I’m thinking of something I just read on twitter, or in a blog post. That “No” that when used occasionally will train the kids in respecting others, but when used too often will just teach them that daddy is boring.
I had a great week. I’ve done a lot of fun things with my kids that I normally don’t (think that I) have time for. Without my mind being constantly involved in the ongoing online discussion on twitter, I’ve talked to my wife about the things we’ve seen and done during the day.
The Invisible Friends
I’ve learnt a few things during this week. The first one being that I usually am accompanied by a number of invisible friends. With the Internet not being limited to physical presence, I have my invisible friends with me at all times. That means that wherever I go, part of my mind is focused on a discussion with someone else, somewhere else. I do enjoy getting new impressions and ideas from all of you great people all over the world, but that also means that I do get impressions that those physically close to me don’t. I can read something that puts me in a certain mood, but those around me don’t share that experience. They might even read something on their own that puts them in a completely other mood.
When I and my wife put down our tablets a normal night, we have read different things, gaining different insights leaving us in different moods. Even if we’re close to each other it is as if we just met after a busy day apart. Without being connected (she wasn’t either, leaving Facebook behind) we experienced the same things, got the same insights and got in the same mood. We were not just physically located in the same place, we also had the same things on our minds.
Getting the Best of Both
I’ll definitely not go completely offline in my normal life. Far too many interesting things happen online. But I will try to limit myself a bit. I will try to set aside time when I’m focused on being online. Time when I’m focused on my invisible friends. The rest of the time I will try to leave my tablet, phone and computer. I will try to be mentally present at my physical location. I will try to get the best of both worlds, the physical and the virtual.
I will try, but it won’t be easy.
To my dear wife: If you read this (she usually doesn’t read my blog entries), please don’t use this post against me, at least not too often.