Sunday, August 14, 2011

Internet withdrawal

Recently, I have had a lesson in loss of connection. Loss of Internet connection. What I learned surprised me.

While my companion and I were travelling in Europe this summer, our rental car was broken into when we made a short pit stop. The thief got away with both my laptop computer and cell phone. As you might imagine, I experienced many of the emotions common to victims of a crime: shock, outrage, anger, and a sense of violation.

On discovering the smashed car window, we did what I imagine are the usual things. First, in an adrenalin-fueled panic, we pawed through the contents of the car to see what had been stolen. (The idea of being careful not to touch anything in order to preserve fingerprints didn't cross our minds.) Then my partner yelled at me angrily, blaming me for the incident because I had been the one who had wanted to stop at that location. I gave way to hysteria, thinking the thief had also stolen my I.D. (He hadn't.) Then we looked around for the guilty party, questioned others in the vicinity as to whether they had seen anything, and later endured a frustrating morning in the police station in order to make a report to the most bumbling, incompetent officer I have ever met. For the rest of the weekend, I berated myself for having left the car unattended, even for a moment, and for having left anything of value in the car, even though it was all stowed away out of sight. And, then, after a few days, we put the unhappy incident behind us, and got on with our holiday. After all, we had only lost some property, not our health or our lives.

As a result of the theft, we lost not only the two devices, but also our connectivity to family back home and to social media. My partner teased me that I was experiencing "crackberry withdrawal," and, in fact, I was. I was withdrawing from an Internet addiction that I hadn't even known I had. For me it was a shaky feeling of being disconnected, a loss of normalcy, a kind of numb emptiness, and feeling of lack of presence in the lives of others. Three days after the theft, I found a community Internet center, where I spent a happy morning reconnecting with my kids, reading and responding to my email from work, and reading Facebook updates. Oh yeah, I also printed out our flight itineraries and tickets, seeing as I no longer had an electronic way to access this information.

Then we travelled onward, and for the remaining two weeks of the holiday, I did not access the Internet at all, and only used the phone once (a borrowed one) as we waited in the airport for our flight home.

After those first strange days of withdrawal, I rediscovered the freedom of not being connected. For one thing, because I couldn't read my email, I finally was able to fully let go of my work. Usually my email, and therefore my work, goes everywhere with me, and it is as persistent as a cloud of biting gnats that get through every window screen. I also let go of my kids; they were on their own making their own mistakes, which I would not know about until I was back in North America. What could I do about anything anyways from Europe? And the youngest is, after all, eighteen.

Now that I'm back, I've quickly replaced the cell phone, and I'm researching which new computer I will buy. Of course, back at work again, I'm as connected as ever. I'm back to blogging and facebooking in spare time. But, in my non-work hours, I'm not checking my email anymore. . . much. And rather than the dire possibilities I was picturing when I had no connectivity in Europe, my eighteen-year-old seems to have blossomed and matured while I was away.

I'm not going to give up all the things that I love about being connected. But I'm also going to hold in mind the value of all those things in life that happen when I am not online.

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