Freedom from the Virtual Tether

by Michelle Gagnon

Hi. I’m Michelle, and I’m hooked on the internet. Sure, I make all sorts of excuses. I’m only doing it for the marketing. I need it for research. It’s the only social interaction I get, especially now that the UPS guy won’t be showing up daily with Christmas deliveries. I can stop whenever I want.
So here we are in a brand new year. I’m not usually one for making resolutions, but Clare’s post on Monday touched a nerve.
Clare discussed the merits of keeping a writing journal while working on a book. And all I could think was that there was no way I’d ever find the time- I’m barely getting enough fiction writing as it is.
Which then lead to musings on why that’s the case…
When I tabulate it, time spent dealing with emails, social networking groups, and listservs has crept up every year. Every writer knows that this is somewhat of a necessary evil- we’re constantly told that these days online marketing is key, and maintaining a presence in these different forums is critical to our success.
But is it true?

Sure, I’ve made sales via Facebook, Twitter, and some of the lists. But even skimming the group digest deluge that arrives in my inbox every day sucks up precious minutes. Responding to other peoples’ comments and feeds takes even more time. And at the end of the day, I discover that I’ve spent a fairly significant chunk of it on minutiae. It’s as if I spent an entire afternoon hanging out by the watercooler (and yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of posting this on a blog).

So here’s my resolution: I’m signing up for Freedom, a program that will lock me out of the internet for specific time periods. For months I’ve resisted doing this, since it would seem to imply an appalling lack of self-control. But there it is, the sad truth. I’ve tried cutting back on my own, turning off my Airport. And yet when I hit one of those writing lulls, my first thought is, “I wonder if that email came in?” or “What’s happening on Facebook?”

Here’s the companion issue: checking all of those nifty devices. I went to dinner with a friend last week who spent most of our evening together simultaneously checking email, texts, and God knows what else. And I’m not throwing stones–I’ve occasionally been guilty of the same. It’s tempting, after all, to constantly monitor that virtual tether. But it’s also an addiction that appears to be spiraling out of control worldwide.

Two resolutions, then: the Freedom program, and keeping my various devices tucked away the majority of the time. As with all addictions, I’ll be taking it one day at a time. So if I don’t respond to your comments immediately, don’t take it as an affront- rather, a sign that I’ve taken that first step. Wish me luck.

14 thoughts on “Freedom from the Virtual Tether

  1. I did a rough estimate the other day and found that the number of words I have in blog posts is about the same as what I have in books and manuscripts for the same period of time. If we add the words from comments I’ve made on blogs, I’m sure it is much higher. But social interaction is important. Sure, it takes time, but I’m not sure I can say that it is less important than real writing.

  2. Good on you, Michelle. Society at large needs a dose of this. We are miles wide in terms of information, only inches deep in terms of wisdom. We are wired for some down time to actually contemplate things, and really be with people when we are with them. (I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see two or four people at a restaurant, all checking their phones).

    Let us know how this experiment works out. When you have time, of course.

  3. as a 63 y.o. who is still trying to figure out how putting a needle on a round black disc produces music….i am not a part of the techno world. my 3 ‘net activities are a quick am and pm check of email [mostly for news of grandkids], cruising epicurious for a recipe, and reading my old hometown paper. this is the only blog i do…and it was discovered on JSB’s home page. i don’t know how to text….i have a trac phone with 60 minutes on it in case i’m lost or need assistance. and i’m happy happy happy. honestly, i do stay connected with my world around me….just not with my thumbs planted on a keyboard. it can be done.

  4. Raising my hand. I’m an internet addict as well. I’ve had those days where the minutes have turned into hours and I feel like I haven’t accomplished what I should for the day. Freedom sounds good and if my unplugged idea doesn’t work, will try it.

    My pet peeve – the constant electronic checking out in public. Everyone’s attention is getting so divided. It really irritates me when someone comes into my shop and tries to hold a conversation with me while still talking on their cell phone.

    And if someone wants to talk on their cell phone in a loud voice right next to me in a store, they should realize the conversation is no longer private and subject to commentary. *grin*

  5. Last week found me in the mountains 150 miles outside of Anchorage. In Alaska anything outside of Anchorage or Fairbanks is considered rural or bush. We were in the bush. Albeit deceptively modern bush. The youth camp we were at had electricity and running water, heated buildings, and a nice cafeteria, but for a 21st century technophile is was 1950’s living. No cell phone or internet at all for 5 days. Not just the denial of using it, not option to use it. It just plain wasn’t there. Surrounded by 4k-10k mountains two hours out of civilisation forced me into a data fast.

    There I was in the forests and mountains with people I love knowing that they have my full un-email/text/google-distracted attention. And I theirs.

    Peaceful. I liked it. I want to do it again.

  6. Great New Year’s resolution, Michelle. I wish you the best success at conquering your e-diction. I’ll be checking your FB status and Twitter tweets daily for progress updates. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Thanks, everyone, for the support. It worked out decently today, although I ended up having to run around performing errands so keyboard time was at a minimum anyway. Tomorrow will be a better indicator- and yes, Joe, I will tweet about it. During my allotted break, of course.

  8. Thanks, everyone, for the support. It worked out decently today, although I ended up having to run around performing errands so keyboard time was at a minimum anyway. Tomorrow will be a better indicator- and yes, Joe, I will tweet about it. During my allotted break, of course.

  9. Good for you – and like Jim I think lots more people need to do this. I find now I just can’t participate in list servs – it just takes too much time away from writing. Keep us posted on how it goes!

  10. I once spent a week at a retreat at this Catholic (Jesuit) monastery and it was total silence for the entire stay, except for confession, and I have never been Catholic. It was enlightening and I’d never do it again.

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