I took a strange, but satisfying journey off the grid over the past eight days. I confused my wife and friends by saying I wanted to be off the grid, meaning that I would stay disconnected from television, the internet, and my phone.
I did not talk to anyone other than my mother, my wife, my daughter and my mother in-law on the phone. I did not answer emails. I had an ill advised out of office reply to my emails that sent emails to basically everyone who has emailed me over the past two years. It was embarrassing and several friends texted me to tell me so that I could turn it off. My replies to them were my very few protocol breakers.
I am sure I will be asked what I did over the Sunday through Sunday hiatus, from November 21 to 28, where I did not leave my house. I did a lot. I read a lot. I read some old and new books. I worked on house projects. I cooked every day. I organized many of my books by subject matter. I inventoried a lot of my books. I painted. I cleaned. I relaxed. I enjoyed not knowing what was going on with the Packers, Bucks and every other sports team on the planet.
I did not miss what was going on in the news. I wanted to do that very intentionally. My wife was watching the American Music Awards when news of a man driving through the Christmas parade in Waukesha broke. I did not want to know the details. I told my wife multiple times to not tell me about anything going on outside our house. I was content not knowing. I did not feel like I was missing out on anything. I feel like I have not been off the grid since the grid was created. So I jumped off for a short time to see what it feels like to be “in the dark.”
I was content being in the proverbial dark. I enjoyed not hearing the daily news. I loved having complete control over my consumption of information. It was gratifying. It was healthy. It was like my long days on the ocean when I was in the navy, disconnected from the news back home until several days later. While in the navy I was completely unaware of what was going on in Milwaukee while I traversed the world with my shipmates. I think the world continued to function without me reading or hearing the news from home daily.
One of the most illuminating parts of this time off was my time to be introspective. I thought about the things I removed from my life over this short period and the real value of those things. We hear that we are in the information age. I think it should be called the stuff age instead. Things we are told are information are really not things we need in many cases. It’s just a bunch of stuff.
Do I need to know how Aaron Rodgers feels about vaccines? Do I care that Kanye West is changing his name? Is it necessary that I hear about every really bad car crash or police chase of a stolen car in Milwaukee? Does it really matter when the new season of (pick a show) is coming on (pick a network)? Can I live without knowing how much money Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are worth? Why do I need to know that (pick a sport) has overpriced players and coaches that promise a championship but rarely deliver? Is it critical that I know it’s the anniversary of the date you started job XY or Z?
Do I really need to know how many friends and followers Lebron James or Adele have on Instagram? Will my life be bereft of knowledge and understanding if I don’t check the daily news daily? Do I need to be able to check the “latest news” at 1:00 a.m. just because I can? Is the latest commercial telling me that (pick a cell phone carrier) service and 5G network is better than (pick a cell phone carrier) really something I need to know? Can I live without watching 20 commercials for stuff I have no intention of purchasing every time I watch a network television show?
My point is that a lot of what we consume as information allows people to make money telling us it is important. Do we need news 24 hours a day? Remember when you had to wait for the 10 o’clock news? Is it really important that I hear about the lifestyles of the rich and famous constantly as if their lives are really that important? Should I care if I miss (pick any awards program) seeing the happy winners drone on thanking a bunch of people I’ve never heard of?
I guess in a sense this time has dragged me closer to cynicism than I was before. I realize that big issues rarely get as much airplay as insignificant issues. Why do I need 10-12 minutes of weather coverage three times a day? Shouldn’t we spend more time learning about the impact of climate change or the disintegration of the middle class lifestyle? Shouldn’t we have the ability to know how many people died of Covid-19 in the last week or month instead of in the past two years? Wouldn’t that tell us about the trends in Covid-19 which is much more important to how we should approach our daily lives in this pandemic age?
I feel like “social media” is not very social because it replaces us spending time with real friends to interact with virtual “friends” online. It allows people to pretend to be someone other than who they are and troll other people just because they have nothing better to do with their lives. Being disconnected from social media over this past week means that soon I will see a ton of messages that I “need to” reply to. Or do I? How many of those are really important? What did we do before social media and the internet was created to learn about the world around us? We spent time talking to real people on phones that were not cameras or texting devices that we rarely use to actually talk on? Is it really sensible to spend over $1,000 dollars on a “phone?”
Wasn’t technology supposed to make us more efficient and give us more time to ourselves? What happened to computers making things easier for us? You could once pick up a cook book and make a nice meal, but now we have to watch a video or multiple videos from multiple “experts” telling us how to make the perfect (pick any meal). We once sat in a room and talked to our family members but now our electronic devices consume hours of our attention every day.
Is it no wonder that children have such a hard time socializing with their friends? They don’t know how to play because playing now involves having a game controller or phone in their hands. We work more hours now than we did twenty years ago because we have to keep up with the Jones’s by having the latest and greatest (pick any item). We go to the store and there are literally fifty different types of bread and 75 different brands of cereal, and two whole aisles of beverages to choose from. Why? Do we really need all of those choices? Our economy needs all of those choices apparently. Otherwise the 20 different companies that sell us cars would not exist and people would supposedly not have jobs. How many remember when you had GM, American Motors, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes and Volvo to choose from? Didn’t people have jobs then too?
I had planned this hiatus off the grid for some time because I was exhausted from working. I now realize I was also exhausted from keeping up with what’s happening in the world everyday. I rarely take time off. I burn the candle at both ends far too much. I don’t take good of care of my mental and physical health daily. I wanted to start a new habit of doing that consistently.
The hiatus was like being a hibernating bear, oblivious to the world outside my lair. I’m writing this now on the last day of my time off the grid. I’m sure someone will want to talk to me about the two Packers games I missed. Quite frankly I don’t give a darn about the Packers or Bucks. Life is full of days and hours wasted. I want to spend my untold number of days left on this planet being productive while working less and having more time off. I want to continue the work I do and try to make a difference in the world around me without infringing upon my time with friends and family.
This time off the grid allowed me to reconsider my outlook on my life. I have a newly formed idea about what 2022 will be for me. I look forward to honoring my late brother on the 2nd anniversary of his untimely death on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I plan to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the year I first volunteered at America’s Black Holocaust Museum next summer.
I plan to live my life on a different path in some very subtle ways. I will value time with friends as much as I can, while staying mindful of the danger of COVID-19. I want to have more fun with the people I care about and love.
Self care will become a constant part of my lived experience moving forward. I plan to work really hard so that I can retire early. I want to travel to many places I have not seen while I’m still young enough to enjoy them. Watch out 2022. Here I come.