I went off the grid last week. It wasn’t intentional. First we changed ISPs and the connectivity we take for granted had a hiccup. We were soon back online, but it was irritating none-the-less.
As luck would have it, it was a warning of what was to come. The main logic board on my laptop packed it in the next day and I was once more cut off. I realized how dependent I am on that little 10 by 15 inch slab of brushed aluminum and electronics. My world was unplugged. It felt like it was a very big deal.
Given that I felt like my right arm was lopped off, you would think this might impact the quality of my Father’s Day. And it did. But it was all for the better. I didn’t have to check emails. There were no task reminders beeping. No Google searches itching to be launched. No Facebook posts to like. I was off the grid. And the day was glorious.
I realized that the things my daughters were thanking me for on last Sunday had little to do with the thousands and thousands of hours I have spent online in my life. They seem to appreciate my sense of humor. That predated the Internet by at least three decades. They like that I’m fairly calm and levelheaded. To be honest, being online generally has a negative correlation with my current state of calmness. I’m a pretty good listener but I’m a much better listener when my attention is not being distracted by a nearby screen. I try to be thoughtful. I’ve previously gone on record as saying that I fear the thoughtfulness of our species is eroding in the world of wired instant gratification. And finally, I try to be a good and ethical person. While being online helps inform those ethics, they are mostly the product of that off-line thoughtfulness I try to set time aside for.
I certainly felt the pain of being off-the-grid, but I realized that much of the urgency that caused that pain was a by-product of my being online. I think technology is creating it’s own cloud of noise that continually intrudes on our lives. These things all seem urgent, but are they important? Are we ignoring other, more important things because of the incessant noise of our digital lives?
If we sat down and made a list of the values that we hold to be important to us, how many of these would require being connected? Would being online make us a better parent? A better husband or wife? A better son or daughter? Probably not.
Technology should be a tool we use to help express the person we are and what we hold to be valuable and true. Technology should not define us. It should not be it’s own truth. It should not create it’s own values. But when technology becomes as ubiquitous as it has become, I fear the line is becoming permanently blurred. Our being online may be changing who we are. I’m pretty sure none of us intend to be distracted, short tempered, disconnected or intellectually shallow but the world is increasingly being filled with such people. I sometimes am one of these people. And I’m usually online when it happens.
This Sunday reminded me that there are things that can wait. This includes about 99% of what we do online.
And there are things that can’t wait. Like children who grow up way too fast. My kids are now 22 and 20. I’m pretty sure neither of them wish their dad had spent more time doing things on his computer.