This is one of the phrases that we dread the most these days. With so much of our lives spent online, it’s not surprising that our pupils dilate and our chins quiver when we, after ten seconds or so of panicked waiting, receive the dreaded news that we actually aren’t connected to the Internet.
What are we going to do without the Internet? Will we die of boredom? Will we stare at our walls and placidly hum until the Internet comes back? Will we have to be in our own company, aware of our own thoughts and feelings? Ew, right? Could be any or none of these things. I suppose not many of us, especially those who usually enjoy an interruption-free connection, have much experience of what offline life is like.
I decided to write this after the Internet in my flat mysteriously malfunctioned one evening. It is always pretty slow, and hiccups occasionally, but this particular evening I was faced with endless loading spinners, blank pages, and confusion for hours. I had been very busy using the Internet for several things - editing a website, watching a movie, searching for articles. How dare I be interrupted? What had I done to deserve this?
At first, I felt quite irked that my masterful balance of workflow/evening entertainment/reading had been so rudely suspended by this mysterious malfunction. After my initial reaction, I felt a moment of helplessness and looked around for other things to do. I closed my laptop, set it aside in the corner, picked up a book and began to read. Once I did this, I began to immediately feel better. Good, even. I think I experienced the (for me) rare and almost ethereal feeling of disconnectedness.
The reason this feeling is so rare for me, and I guess for others as well, is that I tend to strongly downplay the benefits of leaving the Internet alone for a little while, despite being fully aware of said benefits. It’s the same with meditation. I hear about the benefits of meditation all the time, but I still turn my nose up at it. It could be that I am averse to things that have proven long-term health benefits and, like an anxious little squirrel, would rather forage for and collect the nuts of short-term rewards.
These short-term rewards seem to be numerous in society, and all the many tiny spikes of excitement involved in searching them out can pile up and lead to exhaustion. Life definitely leaves me feeling exhausted a lot of the time. It probably doesn't help that modern society seems to shout louder and louder (through numerous channels) that doing nothing is the pursuit of the weak, unambitious and lazy. I think the Internet going down reminded me of a good lesson that everyone could likely benefit from, which is that it’s important to disconnect sometimes - and not only from the Internet. I mean disconnecting from the expectations of always being “on” and the almost inevitable anxiety, worry, guilt and exhaustion that comes with it.
Human beings need downtime. Internet-free days of lying down and doing absolutely nothing, or perhaps sitting in a quiet, sunny spot and meditating for a few hours, void of expectations. It’s a really important part of self-care that we should prioritise and never be ashamed of. The best employers realise this. I think a lot of us do, too, although we are still worried about disconnecting for fear of missing out on something, aka FOMO. It’s my hope for myself and everybody else, that the societal taboo of simply doing nothing grows weaker and it starts to feel a lot more normal to step aside, spend some time with ourselves, and switch off.