I'm writing this blog using the Internet. Once it's posted, I'm hoping other people will visit my page in order to read it online. And, once this is finished and I'm free to go about my business, I have no doubt that I'll decide to go off and check out what's happening on Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps I'll have a look at my YouTube channel. Maybe I'll check my emails. The point is, I'm likely to be online.
I am a teensy-tiny bit obsessed by the Internet. By which I mean: I LOVE IT, PLEASE NEVER TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME.
The thing is, I like to occasionally step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. And so, I started wondering if maybe, just maybe, I was spending too much time online and whether I would actually be able to avoid all use of the Internet for 24 hours. Now, 24 hours doesn't sound all that long. But I'm someone who wakes up in the morning and immediately goes online.
So, on Tuesday at 7:50pm, I tweeted my followers to say that I would be gone from the Internet for 24 hours. I put the same message out on Facebook (because I figured, the more people that saw it, the more people there were to furiously berate me if I was spotted on social media before 8pm on Wednesday - which I decided would be the time I was allowed back online).
The very first thing I noticed, once my phone was face-down on the table (so as not to tempt me), was how restless my hands felt.
Seriously, I am so used to my phone being either in my hand, or within easy reach, I didn't know what to do with myself. I twiddled my thumbs. I picked off my nail varnish. I thought back to the days when a mobile phone was literally just a device used to call or possibly text someone else and I had a brief, but wonderous "the world has come so far..." moment. Then, I remembered that we still live in a world in which we allow Katie Hopkins a platform to air her vile views and where Donald Trump might actually become President of the USA, and then I felt sad and the earlier moment was lost...
I needed cute gifs of puppies, in order to cheer me up. I needed to go on YouTube for some medicinal Dan and Phil videos. Instead, thankfully, I was able to spend a couple of hours playing Articulate! with my mum, sister and sister-in-law. Unfortunately, during said games, my sister spoke at length about the new iPhone update she'd just downloaded and all the cool features it entailed. I couldn't update my operating system, what with needing to be connected to the Internet in order to do so, so I did what all mature adults would do in that situation: I got mildly tipsy on my sister-in-law's very strong mojitos and kicked my sister's butt in a game of Cards Against Humanity.
Turns out, you don't need the Internet in order to make sick jokes.
As the first minutes without the Internet turned into the first hours, something became very apparent: I use the Internet for more things than I ever realised, before.
By the time I went to bed on Tuesday night, I had had to restrain myself from:
- Checking the weather app on my phone, to see what the forecast was for the following day.
- Googling several different things out of curiosity.
- Downloading the latest software update for my phone.
- Finding a recipe for a cocktail, online.
- Opening and reading the Facebook messages I'd had.
- Checking my bank balance via my online banking app.
- Booking a restaurant online, or at the very least, checking the menu.
On an average day, I would do any of those things without giving them so much as a second thought. They're just part of the fabric of my life, now. We have access to shopping, banking and socialising in our pockets. How crazy is that?! We have the answers to millions of questions, right there at our fingertips. And I take those things for granted every single day. Realising that fact made me feel incredibly ungrateful, especially in a world in which there are plenty of places where people don't have access not only to the Internet, but to safe, clean running water, for goodness sake. Feeling even slightly deprived because I had chosen to go without the Internet for 24 hours was one HELL of a case of that awful phrase: First World Problems.
By the following day, I was feeling strangely liberated. I am one of those people who has to answer text messages the second I get them (or at least, the second I know about them if I've been away from my phone or I miss the alert tone). I'm exactly the same with social media messages or comments, so whilst it was frustrating to see the numbers go up on those little alert bubbles that appear on your phone next to various apps, there was a weirdly pleasant sense of me-time associated with not clicking on any of them. As though I wanted to say: "No, Internet, we are on a break. Stop trying to contact me."
Admittedly, by late afternoon/early evening, it was feeling slightly less liberating and more like seeing a pile of Christmas presents under the tree and knowing you have to wait for what feels like an eternity before you get to open any of them... Who knew junk mail could be so exciting?!
But I was starting to realise that I miss things, by being glued to the Internet all the time. I watched the news without glancing down to read a funny tweet. I sat and chatted to my parents, without being distracted by any Facebook messages. I ate a meal and felt no compulsion to take a photo of it and upload it to Instagram. Without the distraction of being able to rush to Google to ponder various weird questions, or the ability to lose myself in a succession of hilarious Tumblr posts, I was free to engage more in real life. It made me realise that maybe I do need to switch off now and again and remember that I don't have to kill a spare hour by going online. I can just as easily listen to music, read a book or go for a walk.
That said, once 6pm arrived, I had realised why I also need the Internet. After all, every Wednesday at 6pm, a brand new bedtime story for children goes live here on my blog (check out the full list of previous stories here). And therefore, every Wednesday at shortly after 6pm, I'm supposed to market said stories, by posting the links on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and anywhere else I think might help increase my readership. Without access to the Internet, it dawned on me that I had no way of spreading the word about my stories. I had created something and there was no way to encourage people to go and look at it.
And that got me to thinking about the fact that I was also vlogging my 24 hours without the Internet, for my YouTube channel.
The Internet has given me the opportunity to create a space where I can publish my writing for other people to read. I can publish entire books on Amazon. I can make videos and post them online for anyone to watch and - hopefully - enjoy. The Internet has given me the chance to unlock my creative potential in ways that I don't have in my offline life. I could still be writing, making videos or coming up with stories for children without the Internet, but being able to share all of those things online allows me to feel as though my creativity has a purpose. It's being viewed and read by people I've never even met in my life.
To me, that's pretty amazing.
So, by the time 8pm rolled around and I could open up the browser on my laptop once more (and finally click all those notification bubbles on my phone...), I had slotted the Internet into a slightly different place in my affections. I need it, for a variety of reasons. I want it, because it's still an excellent boredom-killer, a brilliant way of staying in touch with people and a fantastic method of making life that bit easier.
But I can live without it. I can do other things, rather than hunch over my phone and scroll mindlessly through Twitter for hours at a time. If I needed to, I could give up the Internet for another 24 hours. Maybe even longer.
Just, you know... Don't make me.
Click here to watch my 24 hours without the Internet vlog!