Sometimes having access to technology can be a negative thing. I was in a bad place this spring, checking e-mails eight times a day, spending too much time on Facebook. I was in need of a change. I had a three week trip to India planned in March. So I made a promise to myself: no e-mail while I am there. Making that declaration felt liberating. No tired eyes, no cyber world, just real life with people, interactions, and events happening the way they used to.
When the challenge began, I went through a kind of withdrawal. It was like quitting smoking or skipping coffee. It was having physiological effects on me. I was itching to get back. Dying to know if I as missing something. I was jittery. These reactions wore off in the first 4 days, leveling off to the occasional urge which I let go.
In the end, I had 23 days without e-mail, and it felt so great that I made myself another promise. I will go for another month without internet sometime within 2009. When? I don’t know yet.
When I talk to people about this, they look at me like I am insane. Maybe I am. But I had a wonderful time just being. Not chasing after e-mails. Not being the good guy. The nice guy who replies to everything that comes in within 24 hours, the guy you can count on to put out fires, even when after the fact, you realize you didn’t really that guy. That guy. He’s not a happy guy.
I got inspired to do this when I read about Sally Field. (By the way, Norma Rae is one of my favorite films. If you haven’t seen it, go check it out!) Field talks about her process when she prepares for a role. In order to get deep into the work, she turns everything off. Total isolation. No phones, e-mails, correspondence of any kind. In that way, she is in a space where her imagination can really work.
She has an assistant who is handling a lot of this stuff, acting as a buffer. Of course there are things Sally Field needs to deal with, but she chooses to only give priority to things involving her immediate family members.
I don’t have an assistant. So I put up a handy vacation responder with my dates for the India trip. It included my cell number as an emergency contact.
I was not preparing for a film. I was not writing. So it was not a creative space that I was trying to protect. I just wanted to be fully present in what was happening around me in India. I was successful in that. It was undoubtedly the best India trip I have ever had. Being offline contributed to that, I’m sure of it. Checking e-mail would have been a way to engage with Paris, the US, and other places. It would have taken me out of India. Why would I go to India if it’s just to be plunged back into my everyday mundanities?
Did anyone use the emergency contact? Yes. Two people did. One was completely unnecessary – it was someone trying to sell me something I didn’t need. The other was an offer for a job. A television series in France wanted me to act. It would have meant cutting my trip short. Was the money good? Yes, I found out. Was it the lead role? No. I turned them down. Staying in India with family was too rare and precious an occasion to give up.
I think about this when I see people who are always connected. I don’t want it. I don’t want an iPhone or a BlackBerry. If you have these things and they work for you, fine. I’m not judging you or saying that it’s bad. I am just talking about me. When I am constantly connected, when I am in that space where I start feeling unloved because no one has sent me an e-mail in the past five minutes and that people are not commenting on my tweets, I know that something is very wrong.
In the end, I survived 23 days without e-mail and surfing the web. I even enjoyed it.
Those of you who know me know that my goal is to write stories that touch people’s lives. I know that if I am too distracted by the internet or anything else, it takes away from my writing. I don’t observe as well or as deeply as I could. So I make it my intention to use the internet in smaller doses.
To be continued.