| One Day Closer |

Deprogrammed

Whether or not we learn daf yomi, we're all climbers, struggling one day at a time to achieve our goals

O

ne year ago I canceled my home Internet plan and received a priceless gift instead.

Two years ago I would have rolled my eyes at such a declaration. That’s nice, but it’s not for me.

I never loved the fact that the computer was constantly beckoning, but in today’s world it’s simply the reality — and who was I to pick a fight with reality? When fleeting thoughts of getting rid of the Internet would pop up, I’d instinctively dismiss them, and for good reason. I need it for work. We live in Israel and I need my family to connect with my kids. I need to order clothes for them. I need to have access to recipes. I need new shiurim to listen to. I need to make passport appointments.

What I saw was that my needs were real. What I didn’t see was that the Internet was endlessly pulling me out of my home with a thin, imperceptible rope. My computer was reliably filtered, and I was a responsible, smart woman who surfed the Internet mostly for practical uses and home and family management. I never did anything inappropriate, never was addicted, never used Netflix or even basic social media.

So why, then, did I have that niggling feeling that I was being held in an invisible chokehold? Wasn’t this just normal life?

But my conscience would pick at me, telling me that my computer was sucking minutes from my day with all the “here and there” checks, not to mention the binge sessions. Addicted I was surely not, but attached I definitely seemed to be. I would sometimes run to the computer in the name of unwinding, with sincere intentions of a quick stress release, only to turn around at midnight and face a mountain of neglected housework. During the day I would do “fast check” of my bank accounts, the blogs I followed, some news sites, and then a half an hour later my heart would sink in disappointment as I realized I was not prepared for the kids who were coming home any minute.

I tried alternate plans, I tried prevention. I tried a rule of nights-only Internet. I tried filters that shut off the Internet at certain times. I tried keeping my computer completely off except when absolutely necessary.

Ultimately, though, in moments of raw honesty and introspection, I’d face the ugly fact: The Internet defied my limits.

The World Wide Web stole my time with such subtlety that I myself didn’t understand what was happening. I was too caught up, too enmeshed to be able to perceive the constant interruption to my day.

There were occasional flashes of clarity, where I’d almost be able to face that slippery slope. There were days I’d realize I was trying to resolve my kids’ fights when I didn’t actually know what was going on before the crying started — I’d been checking something online instead. While a child was telling me a story about her day, I’d catch my mind as it wandered to what awaited me on the screen in the next room. Often my children would have to wait “just a second, please” until I wrapped up whatever important agenda I was taking care of online. I was overcome by remorse when I noticed that I sometimes could not maintain an undistracted conversation with my husband and kids.

I could no longer deny that somehow, this rope would have to be cut. I contemplated the operation, grappled with it, chewed on it, and dreamed about it many times. At the same time, I clutched at the rope for fear of being stranded, panicking at the thought of but what if I really need it and I don’t have it?

And then one day, I read an article about a normal woman just like myself who actually took the plunge and described her experience, her life without Internet. She, too, was not addicted, just attached, too-often involved. Her words described how no Internet user escapes the trap of innocent-but-endless surfing and how unproductive it felt to be so drawn in, inevitably clicking from link to link to link. This is it, I told myself, just do it.

The beginning was thankfully an easy transition. I used Internet at work every day and didn’t miss it so much at home. But a few months later, I had a baby. Maternity leave meant no Internet access on a regular basis, leaving me in a state of catastrophe: no pictures to family, no Amazon orders, no “daily dose” of e-mails or alumni newsletters. I would complain to my husband, whine to my friends. I would sometimes cry tears of regret and confusion. There were nights I would rant about how we need it back, how I can’t do it anymore, how it’s just too hard. Waves of turmoil would overwhelm me and leave me drenched in despair.

My husband was a solid rock of support, keeping me strong and expressing how he was proud of me for making this life-altering change. His response to my complaints was steadfast. No denying, no rebuttal, just the simple reminder: Everything in life comes at a price. Yes, he would validate, sometimes we need Internet when we don’t have it. It’s true. But the price we pay for those few times is a price we decided is not worth paying. We’ve been there, and we see the difference. And that was the truth; we did see the difference.

It was not a simple transition, and the change was not immediately recognizable. But life had become undeniably different, and so, I began to realize, had I.

Before I canceled my Internet, I was busy and distracted. Time-strapped. Pulled out of my home.

After I canceled my Internet, I saw I had more of almost everything I needed. More focus. More time. More sleep. More mind space. More davening. More patience.

True, apps and e-mails save time, and technology offers plenty of convenience and efficiency. But until I experienced the other side, I had only an abstract understanding of what it meant to create my own time. In my life of Before, I, too, was so busy saving time that I wound up with no time — to read, to write, to declutter, to socialize, and of course, no time for myself. In my life of After, I slowly learned the experience of taking time and deciding with a clear mind how to best maximize it, to utilize it in the way I need to most: with a balance of self, friends, and family — and no interference.

In my life of After, I’m more attuned to what my kids are going through, and my decisions and interactions have become more genuine. Here and there, I find sparks of reassurance, a welcome boost to my sometimes-weak resolve. I’ll read an article about Internet and technology controlling our lives, or I’ll receive a comment from a friend who respects me for my decision. These little signs give me encouragement for which I am grateful.

We’ve all heard it before: Your potential lies one step out of your comfort zone. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would struggle. But one year in, I can’t think of a simpler way to say that my head is just different. Gone is that feeling of getting sucked in while my brain shuts down and my hands click and type as if possessed, controlled by a force stronger than my willpower ever will be. Gone is the constant chatter, the buzz demanding: Respond to coworker’s e-mail! Look up home remedies for an eye twitch! Ask Google if my eight-month-old should be crawling! Order new winter coat! Check Wednesday’s weather forecast! Post pictures from vacation! Watch that TED Talk! Download new music!

That voice is gone. Not buried and not muted, but blessedly obliterated. My brain is quieter, my slave driver has taken off, and that rope, yanking me to every possible destination except to the one where I most belong — firmly rooted to my floor, playing, thinking, cleaning, hugging, cooking, being — has unknotted.

(Originally featured in 'One Day Closer', Special Supplement, Chanuka/Siyum HaShas 5780)

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