It only took a few days for me to get back to my old manic, internet-obsessed ways, though there’s a new emptiness in those old familiar gestures. I can’t unsee the divide between the real and the digital worlds. I can’t melt back into not knowing this is a game we’re all playing willingly, pretending. I’ve had many discussions over the past couple of weeks about going offline for good, for at least a year, as an experiment, and I’ve met with vehement rejections of the idea from people whose opinions I respect a great deal. I must be crazy to even consider it, they say. I’d be foolish to think that life without the internet could be anything but a vast emptiness, devoid of information, entertainment, or social contact. Yet this can’t possibly be true. Can we really be so reliant on the internet already that we can’t even conceive of a life without it? Or can the idea really be so distasteful to us as to seem entirely absurd?
Part of me still really wants to do it though, to disconnect. But there’s a fear there. It’s true, things wouldn’t work the same way without the internet. I wouldn’t see the people on Facebook or Twitter. I wouldn’t get to participate in the latest trending topics or see the new babies or offer my congratulations when a friend finally gets a story published in Tin House. I’d be reduced to leaving the house to interact with people, or maybe having actual conversations with them over the telephone. Or writing letters. I’d have to rent movies from a video store and any TV would have to be watched on an actual television. It would be weird.
This weekend my mom compared willfully abstaining from the internet to an act of social terrorism. I’d basically be demanding that other people communicate the way I want to, or not at all. And I can see that point. It definitely would take more effort to talk to me on the phone or write a letter than just to dash off a quick email or see what I’m doing on the Facebook. But I don’t know. I’m tired of checking my email. I’m tired of caring about “likes”. I’m grumpy about the idea that it’s somehow my social duty to remain connected in this way that feels false to me, simply because it makes it easier for everyone else I know. And of course, I’m a fan of the big, sweeping gesture as a way of life. Or at least a way to get out from under the weight of this cognitive dissonance. Because, like I said, I can’t unsee the divide.