Back in January, when I declared I was going to do a 'gym level work out every day', the reply I got back from most people I knew was "damn! that sounds tough!". And when I told people I'm going to 'be a vegetarian for a month', the answer I got back was "Really? That's going to be hard for you, isn't it?" These are the kind of responses you'd expect. But when I said "I'm going to give up recreational internet for 30 days" the response was "Are you out of your f**king mind?" Wow.
Seems that no one can remember a time without the internet. Or rather, no one can imagine life now without the internet. Strange isn't it? Only ten years ago, for most people in England the internet was something they used at work. A lot of homes were not connected and there was hardly any broadband (despite the claims of the provider). There weren't even smart phones & Wifi was uncommon.
In this regard the UK was running far behind it's European neighbours. Having spent most of the nineties in Germany & Holland, I was shocked at the appalling level of connectivity when I returned to the UK in 2005. It was like, for lack of a better description, the mid-nineties. People were still using Dial-up! Back in the Netherlands I had a 2 megabit cable connection in 1999. By the time I returned to the UK, it was on a standard European 30 megabits at home.
Indeed I was on-line much earlier most. I subscribed to CompuServe back in 1993 and have been checking my email a million times a day ever since. I remember coming back to London on a holiday in 1994 and trying to convince my friends (yes, you lot on Facebook right now) to get email addresses and modems. People thought I was mad.
But oh how things have changed, eh? Now, not only are we all on-line, but we are all on-line all the time. On our mobile phones. Nearly everyone has multiple email address, multiple ways of getting on-line and I'd argue that it's become the main way people connect with each other. We probably send more messages to our friends than make phone calls. Ask yourself this: The last four people you communicated with - do you even have their phone numbers anywhere?
I've been on-line for over 20 years. That's twice as long as most people. So would it be a challenge for me to give it up?
Challenge No. 04: No Recreational InternetIt turns out that I can't just give it up. For one thing, my employer wouldn't allow it. In this internet age, half my job revolves around being on-line. And truthfully, messaging - especially email - has become a life essential. It's no longer a luxury. Even my Mum uses email. And she's going to be 75 this year.
So the rules of this challenge again would have to be quite specific. No Recreational Internet means nothing that is non-essential. Anything work related is allowed. As is regular email or direct messaging. But aside from that...
No Google maps.
No BBC iPlayer.
No on-line games.
No on-line Shopping
and so on. So how did I get along?
This is the challenge everybody expected me to fail at. In fact I think everyone thought I would just curl up into a ball and tremble in confusion. At work people came up to me on the first day to enquire about my well being. Are you OK? How are you managing? They shuddered at the thought of the torture I must have been going through.
Really? Come on people, wake up!
Sure I've been on-line for a long time, but I'm 44 years old. I didn't even own a computer until I was 20 something. So no, it's not that hard when you think about it.
The first week was the most interesting. I got so much stuff done. All those little things around the home. My ever increasing do list that I never get round to because I'm wasting time on Facebook or I'm getting lost down the YouTube rabbit hole.
I read loads of books and comics. Watched all sorts of TV & DVDs that had been stacking up. Wrote stuff. Cleared out my inbox (email is allowed, remember). Made phone calls and visited people!
The thing I found hardest was the habit I've developed of cross-referencing things I see on TV with Wikipedia, IMDB and Amazon. What films has that actor been in? Is that a fact? How much does one of those cost? Somewhere along the line I'd become dependant on having a second screen.
The weirdest day was when one of my closest Friends - Frank - become a father for the second time. He called me first thing in the morning to give me the good news. Laura had a baby boy and both were in great health. But then, several hours later, I started to get text messages from people. Most of them went something like this "Hey, you're not on Facebook, so you probably don't know that Frank & Laura had a baby". I think I got three messages like that.
The assumption was, that if you are not on Facebook, you don't have a social life.
I'm glad I did this challenge. I'm on Facebook a lot less now. I've rediscovered reading at home (not just on the tube). And I'm using a lot more of my cookbooks - and believe me I have many of those. If only I owned an encyclopaedia...