The National Catholic Review

“No wireless?! I’m calling the realtor!”

Those were my first words when we entered the beach house we had rented last week. How would I do all the work I had brought with me? How would I read news, watch videos, and upload blog posts? What about all the online sales, Groupondeals, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, and Google chats? What was I going to do with myself all week?!

As it turned out, quite a bit.

I don’t intend to bore anyone with the details of my vacation, but nearly a week away from my laptop screen and the Internet proved to be a blessing rather than the curse I had dreaded. For all I knew, the Euro zone had failed, Mitt Romney had selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, the Pope had converted, and I was clueless about what was happening at work. Apparently none of these things materialized, and yet, somehow, the world continued on without my contributed anxiety, input, or concern.

The average American spends about 32 hours surfing the Web each month, more than double the average global total, and I’m willing to bet that number is much higher for twenty-somethings like me. What are we doing with all that time? An interesting infographic breaks it down here, but there’s really nothing surprising: email, web searches, news, video. Short bursts of time online adds up to many hours.

I’m forced to be online much of the day for work, and I spend much of my evening on the computer by choice (I don’t have cable, so I need to find other ways to waste my time). Being connected has become an end in itself, and technology affords us an opportunity to do business and connect with friends and families in unprecedented ways. But going without access to wireless at the beach for a week was somewhat freeing. I conversed with friends over margaritas, played a few games of Scrabble, watched some of the Olympics, and walked along the beach.

The technology that we have at our fingertips each day allows us to possess seemingly godlike abilities. We can be many places at once, know what others are thinking, and order anything on earth to be delivered to our doorstep. But we’re not gods, and being away from this technology for a bit, giving our minds a break, is a good reminder of our limited capacities.

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Comments

David Smith | 8/8/2012 - 2:02am
I, too, am reading more with the iPad. There's just so much more to read, and it's all in one place, not scattered around the house or gone missing.

For me, computers mean very little communication.  I enjoy these forums, thinking through the little puzzles of life with others who are doing the same, but that's about it for talking.  Almost no email.  Books and journals, mostly.  I've recently discovered the Christian Science Monitor weekly and the Wilson Quarterly, for example, and reading several books simultaneously lets one sort of simmer in the right brain in while another's up in the foreground.  Very pleasant.
J Cosgrove | 8/7/2012 - 3:15pm
A few somewhat related things,


There was a study done in the last year about smart phone and internet usage. In a famous study from years ago done with chickens, the birds were fed in various ways. If the birds were fed on a strict schedule the birds figured it out and waited next to the feed slot at the appropriate time.  If the birds were fed at random times, then they did some crazy things because they could not predict when they were being fed so they hung around the food slot nearly all the time just in case some food might come out.


Researchers have found similar behavior with humans with email and blog reading.  Because a person does not know when he or she will receive an email or someone random will send a new message or post a new comment, they check constantly to see what has happened.  So people several times a day check their email or favorite websites to see what is new.  We are all acting like birds.  Of course with texting and some programs alerting you when a new message comes in, we can go back to being human???


Several years ago before the internet, my wife and I traveled across the country, mainly in Canada.  We had no cell phones, no internet and stayed in places without a TV and never bought a newspaper.  It took us 8 days and it was great.  Didn't miss a thing in the world but had a great time in Canada and some other places in northern part of the US.


Finally, I have to admit I am addicted to my tablet.  Since getting one my reading has gone up about three times but it is a tremendous time absorber with books but also things like Words with Friends/Scrabble.  I have found it much easier to read with a back lit screen than a book.  A couple friends found this offensive and said they would never give up reading books but for me it makes reading much easier and I can easily switch to a different book if I want to.  And the local library lends out books for the Kindle and Nook, though not too many as of yet.  Otherwise it can be an expensive habit.
Kang Dole | 8/7/2012 - 7:42am
Uh huh. Admit it. You spent the entire trip trying to find a wireless signal you could steal.
Melody Evans | 8/7/2012 - 2:24am
Yes!

I work at a Christian retreat center on the coast and a few years ago we made, what I feel, was an error.  We decided to provide access to wireless in a few of the public areas.  But then we dug in even further and have stretched the access throughout the entire grounds, even in guest rooms.  I wish, instead, that we would have kept that technology off grounds and blessed people with an opportunity to see how beautiful being disconected from technology and reconnecting with family and friends can be.  The founders of this retreat center decided to not install phones or television sets in any of the rooms in order to keep distractions away.  But now, one of the first questions I get asked at check-in is what our wireless password is.  Of course, A LOT of reconnecting with family and friends still takes place, but just think of what the possibilities could have been.

A few years ago a big storm came through here and knocked out power to the area for about six days.  It was in the middle of winter and no guests were on grounds, just the staff.  Thank goodness the retreat center has generators so we kept the dining hall warm and bright and the kitchen running.  What a blessing it turned out to be.  Staff had become so used to returning to their rooms and computers immediately after shifts, but for a week we all gathered together over coffee and meals and card games and conversations.  I wish we would disconnect from the internet more often.  :)