No internet connection. No landline. To the last, my phone company have been the definition of efficient. If, and when, I go back online, I will have no hesitation in using them again. But, for now, I am trying to adjust to my first week offline.
I had imagined embracing the outdoors but the weather is a miserable combination of heavy rain and snow. So instead I rediscover the loveliness of watching rain on the window and listening to its pitter patter against a backdrop of howling wind. It is strangely comforting when snuggled up in warm blankets. Would I have been so aware of this if the internet was still here? Perhaps not.
But the rain is not the only thing I watch. I decide to take a gentle approach to less screen time and reacquaint myself with television. I watch my way through a rubbish film, a programme on confectionary in the Georgian era and then a repeat of Frozen Planet. I’ve discovered very quickly that leaving the internet is not a quick route to spending your time in a more fulfilling way. But there is something more relaxed about this form of time wasting. Less frantic. There is a breathing space and calm that comes from having access to less information. In knowing that any emails that arrive in my account are inaccessible to me. In having a more limited range of viewing options from which to choose. This is a slower way of life and, so far, I like it.
By the evening of my final day, I have braved the weather. I am not sure whether I would have got to that point had the internet still been accessible. It is hard to know whether the niggling in my brain that got me out walking was the usual New Year resolve or a lack of connection to the rest of the world. It may be something else entirely.
It’s a strange experience though. To be so disconnected. A couple of times today I have been tempted to see if I can find a way around it. Route out a dongle I had years ago for work purposes and see if it can be coaxed back into life. So far, I have resisted. It would be a slippery slope and I am committed to this experiment. For now, at least. But I feel depressed this evening and it is harder to anaesthetise that feeling without the constant stream of information that the internet provides. Harder to ignore all the things that are wrong with my offline life.
Four days in and I take my first trip to the library. It is a quick trip and it is unplanned. In all honesty, the last few days have felt very isolated and it is tiring resisting the temptation to reconnect to my online life. Today feels as though it requires kindness. At the library, I work through the thirty-three emails that have come into my inbox since I have been offline. It takes about five minutes. Only one email requires any real attention but, as it is related to an unexpected bill, it is good that I have seen it.
It perhaps would have made more sense to move all my banking and billing offline this year but I like being paperless. It is more environmentally sustainable and it is one way of moving ever-closer to the minimalist aesthetic to which I aspire for my home. So I have resolved to keep this part of my life online. But it is not satisfactory to be dealing with bills and banking in the library. I miss the privacy of home and I don’t have all the information I need with me to tick this off my task-list.
In a sense though, this is precisely what I need to learn. Not everything needs sorting out immediately. My world hasn’t ended because a few emails have sat unread in my inbox for three days. I can sort out the bill next time I am in the library and, overall, I have saved myself time by dealing with four days of emails in one go. This is new and unfamiliar but I will get used to it. I think, in the end, I will grow to prefer it.
Once I’ve finished checking my emails, I look up some film times and library books. These are things I would have done as soon as they came into my mind if I could have done but, this way, I am not doing them on a whim to satisfy a passing curiosity. I’m doing them because I actually need to do them and, as a result, I am focussed and efficient. I consider hopping onto an online newspaper but, in all honesty, I don’t miss this part of my online life very much. It feels good to be free of the 24-hour news cycle and constant exposure to negativity, both in the published stories and reactions to them. This is one part of disconnection I don’t mind.
After ten minutes, I find myself wondering how it could possibly be that the internet used to take up so much of my time.
The answer is Netflix and YouTube. After a week, it is YouTube that I am missing the most. I miss the mundaneness and familiarity of the daily vlogs. I miss the creativity that appears randomly – a song by Tom Rosenthal, for example. And I miss bullet journals, book hauls, evening routines, thought-provoking content on green living, wellbeing or minimalism. The day before I left YouTube, Adrian Bliss unexpectedly put up a video and I wonder what the next few episodes of his series held. Finding a way back online is tempting, just so I can indulge in a few minutes of this much-missed pastime.
It is hard to tell, so early on into my year offline, whether leaving the internet is improving my life. I don’t, yet, feel any happier for it. If anything, I think I feel more miserable. But I have walked more and read more, finishing three books in the seven days I have been offline.
One of the walks I took was to the only piece of woodland that I know of in the city in which which I live. In all honesty, I am not sure it could really be called woodland. The edges of the wooded area are always visible, as is the sky. The whole plot can only be a few metres long and a few metres wide. But I know, from walking through this area previously, that at some point it will be covered in bluebells.
Dave Erasmus, who inspired my year offline, talked about his experience of treasuring the bluebells in his wood. He treasured them because he had waited for them. Lived through the winter, looking for the first signs of spring, with a connection to the outdoors that he had not previously experienced. And so, with his encouragement to get out into nature ringing in my ears, I decide to integrate this seemingly critical part of his own ON/OFF grid living into my own year of experimentation.
As I came closer to the wood, the chirping of birds became more prominent. I tune into their singing. This, if there is such a thing, is mindful walking. The wooded area itself is bouncy underfoot, expect for the parts where I sink in muddy footpaths. And, if I am honest, I am not sure I like it. The isolation. The darkness. The noise of branches rustling as a bird hops around. This, to me, is not calming.
But it is engaging and I feel full immersed in the moment of being in the woods. When I emerge out of the trees, I feel better for the experience. In the end, this may prove to be the point of cultivating a balance between online and offline, cityscape and landscape. For it is the contrast, the experience of the contrast, that allows us to fully appreciate that which has always been there.