If there is one thing old (white) dudes love writing about, it’s unplugging, a process in which a person chooses to leave the Internet in order to connect back with the self. This usually is because the person involved is too addicted to Tweeting and emailing and is generally overworked because they are in a position to be “overworked” enough that they can walk away from everything while still sustaining their normal lifestyle without their Internet life (otherwise known as “their work,” otherwise known as “their income”).
Stories like this come around every few months and they always make me go huh. I don’t understand them. I don’t understand how these people can do it logistically. Last year, David Roberts famously went offline for a year to write about it and the sub-sequel to it is a fairly viral story posted to the New York Times this past Saturday. The story is advertised as an anecdote about being “addicted to technology,” something you will think about in alarmism and project yourself onto. Are you addicted to technology? Are you looking at your phone too much? Are you in need of unplugging? Probably.
That’s what this story is designed to do: make you think about your relationship with technology and consider cutting back. It starts honestly enough—recounting frequency of online check-ins, feelings of FOMO, anxiety related to email—but, as it begins to get vulnerable with the writer sketching his addiction, you see it for what it is: an old man with enough money and clout and kids and connections that he can “unplug” for a month long vacation to attend to a malady.
I was determined to revisit my Internet challenge. Several weeks after my 30-day experiment ended, I left town for a monthlong vacation. Here was an opportunity to focus my limited willpower on a single goal: liberating myself from the Internet in an attempt to regain control of my attention.
I had already taken the first step in my recovery: admitting my powerlessness to disconnect. Now it was time to detox. I interpreted the traditional second step — belief that a higher power could help restore my sanity — in a more secular way. The higher power became my 30-year-old daughter, who disconnected my phone and laptop from both my email and the Web. Unburdened by much technological knowledge, I had no idea how to reconnect either one.
I did leave myself reachable by text. In retrospect, I was holding on to a digital life raft. Only a handful of people in my life communicate with me by text. Because I was on vacation, they were largely members of my family, and the texts were mostly about where to meet up at various points during the day.
During those first few days, I did suffer withdrawal pangs, most of all the hunger to call up Google and search for an answer to some question that arose. But with each passing day offline, I felt more relaxed, less anxious, more able to focus and less hungry for the next shot of instant but short-lived stimulation. What happened to my brain is exactly what I hoped would happen: It began to quiet down.
Um. Huh. What a lovely life this dude leads, to be able to walk away from everything for a month save for texts! Can you imagine? Can you imagine exiting your twenty or thirtysomething life to tend to your Internet addiction? Yes, addiction issues are very real and must be taken seriously but—Dude.—are you real right now? We all have this problem. Across the socioeconomic spectrum, we have this issue and we have to live with it. He, this fortunate person of privilege, was able to act on it.
Can you or I as a twenty or thirtysomething do that? Not unless we are supremely enabled, gifted financially to be able to “unplug.” Reading the story gave a very similar shooting pain down my spine that I had in reading David Roberts’ story from last year: I cannot unplug. I am working my fucking dick off writing and Tweeting and Instagramming and emailing in the hopes that I can one day be able to afford to be able to not have to worry about paying for my fucking rent, wondering if I can make payments because life is expensive. Yes, myself and my man do well but we are on a very dry foundation that can crack and swallow us up because we have zero support outside of our own financial providings.
So can I unplug? Can you unplug? We probably cannot, if we are in similar circumstances. This is an extreme fantasy of the forty/fiftysomethings or the rich, those who don’t need to always be online in order to “stay relevant,” those who can stay off Facebook for months because “it doesn’t interest them,” those who have jobs for fun. In the real world of 2015, of being a twenties and thirties person in a city, you have to work—and you have to work online. That shit is exhausting, too. You don’t even have time to think about your addiction to technology because you are too busy griping about why someone your age isn’t emailing you as quickly as they should be.
That’s not an addiction: that’s reality. Sorry you’re so lucky, New York Times dude. Sorry you got to take a monthlong vacation to unplug. Sorry.