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Disconnecting has its benefits

Thom Barker
Thom Barker - Submitted

When I got my 2016 Honda HR-V in the fall of 2015, I had no idea it was capable of time travel.

Since I arrived in Postville a couple of weeks ago, it kind of feels like I have gone back in time. This is a world of hand-written airplane boarding passes, telephones attached to walls and mail that can take weeks to arrive.

I exaggerate, of course. All of the conveniences of modern life, if slightly less reliable, are available way out here on the edge of the world. The biggest adjustment, though—aside from the slow pace-of-life, which is a good thing—has been not having 24-7 access to Internet. Our connection is coming this week, weather permitting, but in the meantime I have had to come to terms with just how attached I had become to the electrogmagnetic umbilical cord of constant connectivity.

Initially, if I am to be honest, I experienced near panic, when, for example, I would see something “worth sharing” on social media only to realize I had no bars.

And I can’t tell you how many times I reached for my phone during the first few days in the course of day-to-day activities.

“How do I make banana bread?” I actually had to break out a physical cookbook. The horror.

“Who is that actor, what was that other movie he was in?” It eventually came to me. My life was unchanged.

And therein lies the insidiousness of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Angry Birds and a host of other programs, apps and websites vying for our eyeballs and, ultimately, our dollars. It starts with stuff that truly may be worthwhile and ends up being a selfie of your latest pimple embellished with stickers and animation.

Like most inventions, these online tools are meant to enhance our lives, but unchecked, can end up detracting. See something interesting while out walking, pull the phone out, take a picture, post it to Instagram and then realize you forgot to actually enjoy it.

A couple of years ago, I took a sabbatical from social media. I deleted my Facebook account, set myself limits on when I would check and respond to email and turned my phone off after hours. I discovered there is life after Internet and when I went back to Facebook after about a year hiatus, I was much more measured in my usage.

For a while.

It creeps up on you and that is not by accident. A tonne of psychology goes into developing software that engages and addicts. In fact, many researchers believe social media addiction may be one of the most important emerging mental health issues of our time. There is heated discussion about including it in the next edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

I can say from my own experience that when I have been disconnected, whether self-imposed or forced, I end up living much more consciously and even happily with less anxiety.

These days it is extremely difficult to disconnect fully. The Internet is the indoor plumbing and reliable electricity of our age.

Nevertheless, disconnecting periodically is a worthwhile exercise. It is amazing how little you will miss it even after a short time.

And it won’t miss you at all.

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