I’ve now been without a home internet connection for a week and I’m still appreciating my untethered peace of mind.
But it’s not like I’ve gone total caveman here.
I’ve got into a rhythm of working for four or five hours in the library, from whenever I finish my morning diary (see below) until my stomach tells me to get stuffed.
In the early evening, I’ll check my messages again in the lobby of the hotel where I go for my saunas. And that’s it for internet.
I appreciate that, in the grand scheme of things, this is still a very long time to be tethered.
2.6 billion people around the world live without a mobile phone and 360 million more have no internet connection either.
But I live in the UK, where there are more mobile phone connections than citizens and the average person spends 6.4 hours a day hooked up to those sweet sweet mbps (which I like the think is the noise our brain makes when it gets a dopamine squirt from some click bait headline).
Temperature Check Please
Besides my data diet, I’ve been particularly enjoying having some distance from text messages, which have a nasty habit of crash landing in my brain like meteorites from outer space.
When we speak to someone on the phone or in person, we usually open with some variation of ‘Hello, how are you?’ — and, quite often, we listen to the answer.
We do a temperature check, we attune ourselves to each other, and only then, when it’s appropriate, do we announce our needs, whatever they are.
We can’t do this human temperature check via text message because they are, by nature, asynchronous.
We can never know the state of mind of the recipient in the instant that we communicate with them.
That’s an astonishingly optimistic way to go about a conversation, isn’t it? And, given how much we message (145 per day on average in 2018), isn’t it amazing that we’re not all nervous wrecks already?
So it’s been nice to be able to step away from text messages for all but a few hours a day. Nice to know that nothing can crash land — it’s like a temporary force field has been thrown up around Planet Dave, only disabled by libraries and hotel lobbies.
The Most Wonderful
But the most wonderful gift of this untethered time has been what feels like a reclamation, a reclamation of something that I had forgotten was mine: my early mornings and my evenings.
I usually wake up some time between half six and half seven. That gives me a couple of hours before the library to read, write and walk.
I don’t know what I did in the years when I had an internet connection, but I know that my mornings were nowhere near as grounded.
Until this week, I hadn’t written what Julia Cameron calls ‘morning pages’ for a long time.
It was once a habit to write my diary first thing, but at an unspecified time in the past few years this became last thing at night: still a healthy habit, but with very different results.
𓉔𓄿𓃀𓂻: Manifesting The Abstract
Writing a daily diary is the engine-room of what I do. As I’ve written before: it’s my process.
All my adventures, many of my stories and myriad other gifts of mental processing can be traced back to these pages.
It’s a quiet place to unload, unravel and understand. (Not so quiet today: Back In The USSR playing right now — written at the height of the Cold War, it still suprises me how radical Paul McCartney could be — and how good on the drums too.)
In Egyptian hieroglyphic script, each word ends with a determinative symbol that gives context to the preceding consonant-sounding signs.
For example, the determinative used at the end of the word relating to motion is a pair of legs walking — as in the word 𓉔𓄿𓃀𓂻 (shelter-vulture-foot-legs walking: h3b) meaning ‘send’.
But here’s the one thing that has stayed with me in the twenty years since I studied Egyptology: the determinative used to connote any abstract concept, such as ‘greatness’, ‘dignity’ or ‘truth’, was a scroll of papyrus: 𓏛
Because it’s only through writing — in this case, on a roll of papyrus — that we can manifest the abstract.
It’s like magic.
Once we have captured and written down our abstract thoughts, we can examine them at a distance, modify, modulate and manipulate them. Under the spell of our penwork or typecraft, we watch as our mind changes.
Writing a diary (journal, morning pages or whatever you call it) is a form of self-counselling.
My diary means I can arrive at face-to-face counselling sessions with the ingredients of my mind, my thoughts and emotions, at least half-baked.
I don’t just tip mental shopping bags, bursting with random ingredients, all over my counsellor’s kitchen floor. I’ve already prepped the meal.
So I’m grateful to my phone network for screwing up and bringing me back to my morning pages.
I now write twice a day: a thousand words on my untethered laptop, looking out over the slow winter dawn, and a thousand words on my Neo Alphasmart typewriter, tucked up in bed with the curtains drawn on the moon and stars.
Morning pages to write myself into a positive, productive mindset.
Evening pages to tie up any loose ends before sleeping, to reflect and regenerate.
Same Time, Different Tenor
Comparing this disconnected week with the very much connected week before, I was surprised to find that I spent the same amount of time on my devices — including the exact same time on messaging apps and email.
Not what I was expecting at all.
The difference was in the detail, however. I spent three hours more on my laptop and three hours fewer on my phone. Consequently, this led to an 8 percent increase in what RescueTime calls ‘Productivity’.
Given that I wasn’t trying to be more ‘productive’ and that the only apparent difference between the two weeks was my internet connection, this is a useful insight.
I don’t know what you use your mobile internet connection for, but I’ve also been happy to find that I haven’t missed any of its other features.
Mildly inconvenienced at times, perhaps, but not in any way that made me ungrateful for this opportunity for silence.
Social Gravity Pulling Us Back
But there’s only so long that our society will tolerate those without a tether.
Already I’ve run into problems dodging through two-factor security and accessing my bank account. There are also some websites that won’t work in the library.
No, not those ones! Honestly. Who do you think I am?
I mean totally legit ones – Substack, for example.
In the UK, the unseen forces of social gravity pull us strongly back in the direction of, not merely a mobile phone, but an internet-enabling smartphone.
Remember, though: this kind of social physics is not Newtonian. We can — and will — push back.
My phone actually started working again yesterday.
Between the hours of 9pm and 10am this morning, however, I kept the life-giving SIM card stashed away in a lock box outside the flat. Bliss.
With a little care and preparation, I believe that Pandora’s box might just work.