The Internet Cleanse

Maybe it’s the pained, persistent calls for “my baby” (and subsequent consternation from my mother). Maybe it’s the constant anthropomorphizing. Maybe it’s the rapt attention to three blinking bars in the top right hand corner of my screen. Maybe it’s the fact that a power outage that left an entire building without light left our faces glowing in LED halos.

Whatever it is, there is no denying that I (and dare I venture to say we) have an unhealthy obsession with the computers, iPhones, and internet-enabled devices in our lives. The instance I reference above was one in which—though I am ashamed to admit it—I was a co-conspirator. Sitting in a hotel room in Moshi, Tanzania, two friends and me were completely unfazed after the electricity suddenly switched off. Why? Because we all had our happily humming laptops sitting before us, as faithful as a pack of friendly puppies. Is this a sign of the times or a sign of impending doom?

But I’m not one to dwell on the problem—after all, maybe this in itself presents an opportunity.

It’s time to end the rapture induced by an internet signal and the ensuing groans when connection is lost. Otherwise we might soon find that we’re losing connection with something far larger and more important—the physical world we inhabit. Now, I didn’t come to this realization after spending a little too much quality time with my Macbook. In fact, the opposite is true. As they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder.

After spending two months traipsing around Tanzania without my Macbook (to be fair, I had a faithful though comparatively underwhelming netbook in its place), I came home excited to see “my baby” once again.

But alas, the time apart had proven too much for my laptop to handle. It’s hard to truly understand the devastation of a crashed hardrive until one has felt the loss for oneself. But during the time that my laptop was undergoing resuscitation at the Apple Store Genius Bar, I was granted an enlightening moment of clarity—I didn’t need it. Any of it.

I had just spent two of the most liberating, exploratory months of my life in a country that has a tenuous relationship with far more than electricity. Often finding myself sans-Wifi and window-to-the-world-less, I decided to walk outside. That’s right, I marched into the open air and explored the city that was bustling around me. I realized that the online world could wait—and whatever I missed in the hours or days during which we were disconnected could easily be dredged up with a quick google search anyway.

And so, the moment of clarity I felt as I sat at an Apple store Genius Bar was really something that had been two months in the making. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves and the online world floating above our heads, is to leave it be.

When I think about some of the happiest moments that I spent in Tanzania, I remember the ones when we were camping in the wilderness with nothing but a card pack and our minds to fuel conversation and laughter. I remember  the moments when our battery life hit 0% and we gave ourselves a reboot instead. Those are the moments that I will share with my kids and grandkids—not the ones when our faces were bathed in fluorescent light while the world was shrouded in darkness around us.

So, if I could offer just a grain of advice—turn off your computer and disconnect yourself from the internet. For a day, for a weekend, or for longer—whatever the time span, use it to cleanse yourself of an unhealthy attraction that has left so many of us imagining a human touch in the rectangular machine that sits on our desks and bedside tables. Shut everything down and go outside—take a walk, talk to a stranger, and live in the real world. It’s one of the most liberating feelings I have ever felt.

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