A week ago, I switched my life to being primarily ‘offline’. Or, perhaps it is better to say I took steps in that direction. I was still online during working hours, and I left the messaging apps on my phone online.
Still, being offline for that majority of my non-working time was, a little unexpectedly, a bit of a shock. The impetus for this little experiment was blog posts by Ploum and the software they’ve developed, Offpunk.
Offpunk is a command-line tool for managing/browsing http,gemini and gopher feeds. It enables you to download content to a cache, and subsequently browse this content while offline.
Every morning, I synced my feeds with Offpunk, and these kept me going throughout the day. There was always plenty of reading material.
The first thing I noticed was the disruption to my morning routine. As soon as I wake up, I reach for my laptop or phone and start browsing things like twitter, hackernews, youtube, etc. It’s amazing how much time is sucked in by this routine. In place of this, I would wake up, sync the Offpunk feeds, read through a couple, and then go on with my day. I still spend a decent chunk of my morning hours reading a screen, but that feeling of ‘infinite’ content was gone. It was nice.
Throughout the day, with the pull to return to the infinite content stream removed, my downtime was primarily made up of reading. I read a lot. Luckily I had started an engaging, easy-to-get-lost-in book (Project Hail Mary), so I never felt bored. I also tried to find other things that didn’t require me to be online, such as music production.
As I said, I didn’t go fully offline, but I do think I succeeded in disconnecting from the endless stream of entertainment and stimulation that comes from many online services. Removing yourself from this stream is quite rewarding. Unfortunately, it is something (in my case at least) that you have to forcibly remove yourself from. I know that I will go straight back to it soon.
One thing I did miss a lot, which can only really be done online, is playing bridge. In its place, I tried reading some bridge books, but it’s not the same.
Replacing the web with other forms of entertainment
It might be said that I’ve simply substituted one object that sucks attention (the internet, social media) with others (books, coding, music, offline video games). This is true in a certain sense. One thing that the internet prevents you from doing is actually /thinking/ very much and I have to admit that the kinds of activities I replaced it with were sufficiently entertaining to help me continue my avoidance of reality and the hard work of thinking.
The act of thinking is a strange thing. It seems to come on most strongly when we are bored, i.e., when our mind has no activity to latch on to. For example, while waiting for a train or walking. Personally, I do find that these times, which are ‘in-between’ normal activities, are the most creative times for thinking.
Entertainment is a way of avoiding boredom and, by proxy, being forced into having to think and confront ourselves too much. I certainly had no shortage of entertaining activities this week, in spite of being ‘offline’.
However, there were still two important differences:
- The activities I substituted the internet with were /free from advertising/. I was reminded a bit here of when I quit smoking (eventually with the help of vaping). The feeling I get now when I sense cigarette smoke is a kind of ‘icky’, nauseous feeling. One day this week, while at work, I clicked on a tweet from out department and was brought to the twitter feed. I scrolled down a bit and the first advertisement I saw (it didn’t take long) gave me the same feeling I have about cigarettes. It’s was such a relief to be free from all these internet advertisements for a week. I’m not sure what this constant bombardment of ads does to our neurological structures, but it can’t be far off what smoke does to our lungs.
- The internet is a source that encompasses many kinds of entertainment. Meaning that, once I am online, I am only a click away from some new kind of entertainment activity. In contrast, when switching from reading a book to playing around with music production, for example, there is a lot more downtime and space between the activities. Also, you have to spend some time actually thinking about what kinds of activities you /want/ to do. On the internet this whole process is streamlined.
Things I failed at going fully offline:
- Sometimes, I wanted to find out something small (like the name of someone, the name of a book, etc.) and I would have to immediate urge to search for it online. Toward the beginning of the week I resisted this urge, but in the last few days I did use search engines to retrieve a few small bits of info. Did these bits of info improve my life much? No. But it is still handy to have search functionality for certain things. If I were to go fully offline (no searching) I would need a way to store some of these ‘questions’, and maybe allow myself 20 minutes in a day to search for them.
- Maps and podcasts.
- While travelling, I still used google maps to calculate times and bus routes. I could figure out how to get to most places in Dublin by myself, I’ve lived in around 8 different places all throughout the city over the years. However, I would always fail against google maps when it comes to finding the best/quickest way somewhere.
- I still listened to podcasts via streaming. The podcasts would be easy to go ‘offline’ with, I’d just need a way to conveniently auto download the ones I always listen to. I’m sure there is a setting for this on the app. With the maps, however, there is a lot of amazing functionality there that would take a lot more effort to replace.