Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Unplugged: the results show

(warning….carve out about a day to read this whole post. It is a doozy! Guess that’s what happens when you limit your forms of entertainment!)

Oh what a week! Without any Internet updates, you’re probably wondering where I’ve been for a week (and a half). Well, I am happy to report that my exercise in simple living was a success. I managed to stick to the rules (for the most part....there were a couple minor debatable instances, but overall I stayed true to the spirit of the experiment) and I really felt some growth. I don’t want to over dramatize the issue, but until this week I felt like my life was on autopilot. Very fast autopilot. Get up, go to work, come home, eat, run errands, do some chores, and then it was time for some mind soothing (ok, numbing) tv and Internet ‘til bedtime. Rinse and repeat. Although certain days had their variances (church, young life, softball games etc.), all too frequently I found myself on one end of the couch, remote in hand, and Dustin on the other end, face half obscured by his laptop screen. Books were going unread, piles of magazines and dirty clothes were accumulating, and the mental list of fun summer activities was not seeing much action. Now, I’m a fun person. I love going out, exploring new places, talking with friends, taking on new hobbies. So why did I so often end up in the same place, mindlessly viewing another show or webpage?

One of the answers I learned this week was because it is easy. So much of my (and everybody’s) day is demanding. There are things to plan, work to do, rooms to clean and the vast majority of time is spent doing and thinking. Technology provides a break. Time to not do, to not think, which in moderation can be a very helpful thing. But used incorrectly, it can become an escape, a crutch, that prevents us from having to put forth any effort into things that truly matter, but may not have deadlines or tangible consequences. I know that this was the case for me, because after finally turning off the shiny screens at night, I didn’t find myself energized, happy to have a refuge from the demands of the day. I was usually still tired, still cranky, now with more stuff to do tomorrow. But the reason I kept going back to it was because it was easy. Even if it wasn’t fulfilling, it still seemed more appealing than all the effort of more doing and thinking.

But this week the choice to check out was taken away. I found that even if I didn’t think so, I did in fact have enough energy to clean up a bit around the house. And that pile of recipes I’ve been meaning to organize didn’t seem so insurmountable. Once I took away the TV option, I realized a wealth of other options I had been subconsciously ignoring. The possibilities were literally endless, and I was motivated by the equal parts excitement and boredom that my new habits had created.

Without TV I felt like a better wife. There was nothing (well, less at least) distracting me from talking to Dustin. It was actually quite the opposite, as the silence and stillness encouraged us to relate to each other more. And, I was honestly surprised by how much time we actually have. I had been living in a cycle of busy-ness, but what I didn’t realize was I was creating some of that mania myself. Taking better advantage of my time showed me how much I actually could do, if I made wiser choices. Saturday afternoons in front of a screen tend to fly by, but that same time spent driving down a country road, or eating a leisurely lunch while we listen to music, seems to multiply.

To be honest though, some parts of this new lifestyle were difficult to get used to. Sometimes when you come home after a long day you just want to veg out and be left alone, but without the aid of electronic entertainment; Not this week. Dustin and I had to talk. Or at least figure out something else to do. It was oddly refreshing and yet convicting that my biggest issue of the day was having a few hours on my hands and no real obligations to fill it. Something most people see as a luxury, me and my atrophied brain struggled. I know that if I choose to continue on this path I’ll find more and more interests and activities to pursue, to the point that I would wonder how I ever had time to laze on the couch. But in this first week, it seemed daunting at times to look over at my husband and know that for seven nights I was to serve as cruise ship director, planning our fantasy week of mass-media-free fun.

Beyond the period of adjustment though, there were definitely still some drawbacks to this experiment (and I do mean beyond missing the latest episode of The Real World). Without the Internet, I felt like a worse friend. Emails were going unread, facebook messages and invites were ignored, quick online chats weren’t happening. For better or worse, the Internet is a relational tool, and I missed being able to utilize it. One could make the argument that I should call friends, or send family a real, paper card rather than relying on the ease and immediacy of the Internet. But- with loved ones spread all over the country, it’s hard to deny the benefits of instant contact despite long distances.

I would be lying though, if I said that all, or even most of my time on the Internet is used for such altruistic purposes. On the contrary, I think my Internet usage can be divided into two categories: good, and excessive. The good are things I mentioned above: staying in touch, reading blogs of friends and other similar productive interests. The “excessive” grouping is the most difficult to pin down, because it’s kind of a fuzzy thing to define. Most of my surfing starts out good, with a question or goal in mind, or at least an idea of what I’m aiming to find. The problem comes when the good use lingers and stretches into the excessive realm. Fifteen minutes on craigslist searching for (my latest furniture obsession!) a bar cart: fine. Trolling the listings daily looking for beds, chairs, dressers, and (more) dining room tables: excessive. Perusing design blogs for inspiration and ideas: great! Realizing hours have gone by with nothing to show but a list of links and a pretty photo or two: excessive. The Internet is a deep expanse with never ending connections, and if you (I) aren’t careful it’s easy to go from casual wading to drowning in information without even realizing. For me, sitting down at the laptop with no time limit or restrictions is practically asking for me to waste an afternoon. It truly I a powerful tool, but only if you’ve mastered (or controlled) its use.

So, Monday the ban was lifted, but it was a jam packed day. I got home from work/the gym/dinner at a friend’s/YL campaigners around 9:30, and normally the first thing I would have done would have been to flop down on the couch and nurse my tired soul with some TV. However- the new and improved me was really starting to like the productivity that a technology hiatus had afforded me. I was able to put some things away, and make some lemonade, and clean up (I had manage to spill upwards of 3 cups of water on the floor in my attempt at happy homemaking!) before I parked myself in front of the tube. By then, flipping on The Bachelorette seemed like a choice, rather than a subconcious zombie routine. I made the most of my time by organizing my gmail address book, and sending out an Evite for my campaigner girls. However I am not so happy to admit that Tuesday night, with a husband asleep early due to a headache, I was left to my own devices (literally) and began an hours long binge of “Jon and Kate Plus Eight”. Not my proudest moment.

But I am a work in progress, and am excited by the changes I see in our future. Even if my week wasn’t perfect, it was filled with successes: I went on a walk in the park, dragged Dustin to Zumba with me, read “scary stories to tell in the dark” aloud (before bedtime…mistake!), played Yahtzee! with my inlaws, cooked, without the microwave and watched the longest softball double header of all time.

It was a good week…One of many yet to come.


  1. courtney, thank you for all you wrote! I was excited to see how your week went, and I actually read every word you wrote.
    I promise you, I feel so similar in how I can mindlessly surf the internet, write blogs, stay on facebook for way too long a time, etc. - and meanwhile my kids and my husband are missing out on some good quality time with me. I'm really going to make an effort to go upstairs with my husband at a decent hour(haha - not in the way you think....well, maybe a little bit!) and use the internet minimally and with purpose, in short snip-its for a time and see how things change for the better (i have been looking at prospective houses for us like crazy and i can get very obsessive!) not to mention i want to get better at reading and getting through a book in a month versus a year (i'm so not lying about that).
    anyway, thank you for the recap and i'm glad you had such a productive and enjoyable week. i may have to put a link to your blog in one of my future posts b/c it was very enlightening!

  2. I read it all last night so I didn't have time to comment until today! Sounds like a great week. Love that Dustin went to Zoomba with you :)

    I've honestly thought about getting an egg timer and setting it next to me on the computer and having strict time limits - but who'se to say I'd keep them. Thanks for the encouraging post - who knows, maybe you'll see a similar one from me in the future!