Why Fast the Internet?

One night in late September I stumbled awake with an idea: give up the internet for a year. While the thought came in the flicker of night, it had been gestating for more than a year, beginning with the research and writing of “In with the Old,” an article for the New York-based journal The Curator.

In it I wrote:

There’s no question that technology has overrun our lives. Over the past century, the world has welcomed technological ‘progress’ with arms wide open and we’re living with the clicking, dinging, anxiety-inducing deluge of it.

But a creative backlash is underway, helping human beings cope with the avalanche of data that passes in front of most of us every day through the use of computers and cell phones.

Slow food, the back-to-the-land movement, and groups like letter writing clubs are being formed by a new subculture: the 21st century luddite, wielding fountain pen and notebook, and some checking e-mail from the public library a mere hour per week.

Rebecca Dolen and Brandy Fedoruk [owners of a computer-free paper store in Vancouver, called Regional Assembly of Text] think this movement is more than a blip on the technological continuum.

“We started the letter writing club right off the bat because we wanted to have an ongoing community event. There have been a few hardcore regulars but 80% are new people each month. We started with five to ten people and now regularly have 20 to 30.”

There’s a universal sense that something must be done to rope the nodes in. But what? We can’t all pack our bags and head for the hills, or can we?

I’ve been growing increasingly uncomfortable with the role the internet plays in my day-to-day life and the impact it is having on our society at large.

Earlier this year I watched a CBC documentary called: “Are we digital dummies?” In it there is a scene of a priest conducting a blessing service for smart phones. Here is a man, dressed in holy vestments, calling on the God of the universe to bless a Blackberry. I had a visceral -- absolute bodily repulsion -- to the scene unfolding before my eyes.

While the benefits of the internet are numerous: Skype and photo sharing, for example, it is mixed with an ever-dominating persistence for our attention, and it is this I find unsettling. The centrality of internet technology in our daily lives makes me squeamish and I feel I need to figure out why.

I have suspicions. I think the internet makes me lazy, as a thinker, a writer, and a friend. I think the internet allows me to emotionally disengage, enabling me to pass the time with ever-ready filler: mundane, contextless information via newsfeeds, Facebook and Google Reader.

The truth is, I am both bored and obsessed with the web.

It is my hope to complete higher education in the area of media studies, particularly looking at new media’s impact on our understanding of citizenship. During this season with young children (I have a 2-year old and a 4-month-old,) conducting this experiment would allow me to gather first-hand research while staying at home with my children.

I anticipate this fast as an opportunity to enliven my real relationships and filter out the extra. I know it will be an enormous adjustment in my day-to-day life, but I also expect it will be a life-giving exercise. I know it will be a huge change for my family, in particular not seeing pictures and blog posts appearing online. Instead, I hope to pick up the phone more often, send letters, visit in person whenever possible.

Spiritually, it is my sincere hope that this fast opens my ears to God’s voice and my eyes wide to the world around me, while the hum of my online life falls quiet.

I have decided to begin with a one month fast. I have spent the last month gathering up important phone numbers, getting maps, and dusting off my dictionary. As of midnight the data will be turned off my iPhone. No more emails, no more Facebook newsfeed, no more Google maps.

How will I chronicle the journey? Each day of January I will write and mail a letter to my dear old friend Marisa Ducklow in Vancouver who will scan the pages and post them with her thoughts. I can't wait to see what unfolds.

I welcome all of your thoughts (and thank those that already shared on facebook.)


That's it! I'm officially offline. Happy New Year, Everyone. Thank you for joining Marisa and I on this journey.