7. How does it feel to be offline?

Disconnecting is hard.

Turning down distractions in order to truly focus on something can be a heroic act for some, including myself.

It is easy to bounce between applications on my smartphone, easy to scan headlines, respond to text messages or double check email. Fills me with a sense of staying on top of things, of achievement, responsibility, duty. Connected to the world, to countless possibility, to everyone who isn’t me.

The internet is a constant reminder of the inherent connection that exists between every one of us. It can reinforce existing relationships between friends or family members — but shines when connecting us beyond geography, around affinity. Beekeepers, hobby guitarists and wilderness explorers all convene online to learn from each other and share experience. No matter how niche, if it exists, it can be found online.

I take relief in this sense of connection every time I reach for my phone. Even with notifications hidden or habit-forming applications uninstalled, the desire to tune in with the outside mind compels my hand towards the device more often than I think reasonable, and as with snacking fried food, compulsion usually trumps good intent. I conscioustly know better than letting addictive impulses govern my behavior, but acting out said self-control is beyond my ability most of the time.

These impulses reflect a recurring sense of longing, of wanting to reach into the ether for new ideas and pictures reassuring my friends are well. Not mere distractions, these moments are a shared sense of belonging. They affirm a particular relationship with others by maintaining very real social bonds separated in space and time.

The shared mind permeates the disconnected, individual mind. When away from the internet my thoughts lurch towards greater connectivity. Everything I do not know needs resolution, leading to investigating vocabulary definitions or wondering where my brother is traveling or whether it will rain next week.

The spell is only broken with sufficient intent. Sometimes it means ignoring my phone, preferably stashing it somewhere inaccessible. This technique is spotty and I frequently surrender. More often it means keeping the phone turned off and stored it away from the body. Only then does the mind unstick from the potentiality of online-ness. After a few seconds of panic followed by minutes of bewildered tabbing between tablet applications or notebook pages, the mind settles.

With a disconnected mind, I confront the blank page. Without the live wire of infinite potential poking my neurons I ease into inner exploration. Feed into all those memories, ideas and thoughts that have been looking for expression. Writing, dialoguing, wandering – no matter. The offline state invites a deeper, more deliberate state of mind.

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