[Written two hours ago from my cottage]
I’m sitting in a rocking chair by the glow of the fire, listening to the logs crackle and fingers tap-dancing across my laptop keys. The living room window is flanked by a towering case of my favorite books and a Taylor guitar. I see thick snow clusters floating down outside into our garden. I sway my head gently to Macy Gray’s new album, her sensual voice an homage to her roots in jazz. I am utterly at peace because when I’m here at home in Eugene, OR, I’m unplugged from the world.
When I say ‘unplugged,’ let me be clear: not only do I lack internet and cable in the cottage, but I also haven’t had a cell phone plan since 2014. I’d dropped my carrier initially to move to Argentina for 10 months and I never found a reason to reactivate. My friends, family, and employer have long-since grown accustomed to not being able to reach me 24/7; they appreciate that I’ll respond once I’m online at a local cafe or a public library. And with wifi now ubiquitous throughout much of the world, it’s not difficult to find a connection when I need one.
From 2010 to 2014, I lived in San Francisco—ground zero for technological innovation. I loved the city, but I felt overwhelmed with my cell phone constantly at my side. Crushed by information and saturated with media. A gnawing feeling that my attention and time were never really mine to control and that I could be thrust forcibly into the infinite at any moment. The same feelings that people try to escape through digital detox camps and the like.
We’ve all been down that rabbit hole: the one that leads us from a text message to a Facebook vacation photo in Cambodia to a Google search for the name of that pink temple in Angkor to a Wikipedia article about the ancient stone making up the walls to a text message response, and so on. Seven minutes gone. With connectivity comes the possibility of continuous distraction—the pestering flak of text messages, pop-up notifications, electronic calendar reminders, and emails. Oh, the emails.
Constantly drowning in information without limits was taking its toll on me. I never seemed to have enough time to do the things I really wanted to do, the things I’d always included in my New Year’s resolutions: reading more books, playing the guitar, gardening, hiking, cooking for my friends, and writing for pleasure. Now when I come home, those are the only things in front of me, the welcome embrace of my chosen pastimes.
Free from text messages.
Free from checking email.
Free from pop-up notifications.
Free from Google news headlines.
Free from Twitter outrage.
Free from self-aggrandizing Instagram posts.
Free from Facebook check-ins.
Free from Netflix binges.
Free from self-promotion and distractions.
I can breathe again.
When people ask for my phone number, I have to explain that I don’t have one, which usually leads to a lengthier discussion about my lifestyle. Here are some answers to common questions I get about my disconnected home life:
How do you keep in touch with people?
The same way most people do: email, iMessage (for my fellow iPhone-users), WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Skype, Instagram, etc. I even write letters by hand. I learned that our modern means of communication are not only plentiful but redundant. As tech companies compete for greater market share, there’s never a shortage of cheap, convenient ways to communicate with other people. The difference is that I have access when I choose.
What if somebody is running late and needs to contact you?
I deal with this the same way we all did pre-smartphone: I wait, usually with a podcast downloaded for offline listening. I’ve also noticed that people tend to make more of an effort because they know I can’t be reached; in SF, friends would sometimes cancel at the last minute or text about being late, as if the ability to communicate instantly with me diminished their accountability. That never happens anymore.
What if you can’t find an internet connection?
When cafes and libraries can’t be found, there’s always a Starbucks or McDonalds nearby with open wifi access.
What about all of the useful apps?
When traveling, I’ll download offline Google Maps, Yelp recommendations, or Trip Advisor lists prior to setting out for my destination. I spent most of 2015 road-tripping across the US and had no problems with this strategy.
What about emergencies? What if there’s a global disaster?
If it’s something pertinent to my local community, one of my neighbors will certainly knock on my door. If it’s not, there’s probably nothing I can do about it and I’ll find out soon enough. Dwelling on crises doesn’t help anybody. Case in point: one of the best decisions I ever made was to spend the entire 2016 election day hiking to various waterfalls in central Oregon, totally off the grid. Would it have been better for me to watch the ill-fated polls all day? No way.
What about your work?
I’m managing editor of Sechel Ventures LLC under two fantastic mentors. I’m grateful to have worked for this company for two years. My bosses are aware that they can’t always reach me and have faith that my ability to recharge offline at home ultimately improves the quality of my work. Plus, if the French can pass a ‘right to disconnect’ law establishing off-duty employees’ power to ignore work emails, I’m sure a similar rule could benefit many overworked Americans as well. (Not that it would ever pass in this anti-labor/pro-business country which has yet to establish maternity leave protections, a decent minimum wage, or solid PTO laws.)
What about news stories and other online reading?
I’ll load important reading onto my computer before heading back to the offline sanctuary. On a related note, I’ve always preferred periodicals to newspapers, films to cable TV series. When people take more time to produce something, it broadens the scope and improves the quality. Minute-by-minute media coverage is chewing gum for the brain.
What about Netflix?! What about other great TV shows?!
I get this question a lot, and yes, I’m probably missing out on some popular culture here, although for my must-sees like Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and South Park, I’ll stream them on my computer at the Bier Stein, a local beer bar within walking distance of my cottage with 26 rotating taps, delicious food, and fast wifi. There are worse ways to consume media.
This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and there are certainly times when I wished I had web or phone access and didn’t. But for me, these sporadic nuisances can’t outweigh the freedom to focus on what’s really important to me: the simplicity and peace of mind at home.