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Offline: how to use the internet

Offline: how to use the internet


After a year away, the internet is a little bit scary and totally enthralling

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Whew! What a week.

First came Monday, and then Tuesday, and then there was the internet. You know how in Star Trek when they engage the warp engines and the Enterprise kind of stalls for a moment while its projection blurs toward the future, toward the stars, and then it’s gone? I’m in the blur phase.

I feel severely disoriented, totally overwhelmed, and kind of… happy about it?

At 12:00AM on Wednesday, May 1st, I rejoined the internet. I guess I thought I’d just start using the internet again, see some funny cat videos, and that would be that. Instead, I almost had a panic attack as I attempted to pull off basic 21st-century maneuvers like managing multiple tabs in a single browser window. Of course my inability to cope, which involved me shouting at my coworkers and incoherently stumbling through a discussion of pornography, was livestreamed to the internet.

I couldn’t be more proud. Because the internet was scary, and the livestream told that story.

I looked like I needed a hug, because I did

After the livestream ended, I went outside for a cigarette to settle down — because I’m apparently a huge smoker now, which wasn’t a big deal when it was just a thing I did instead of a thing open for discussion by all ‘net users. Coworkers exited the office a couple at a time, and gave me handshakes that turned into hugs, or just straight-up hugs. I looked like I needed a hug, because I did. I felt traumatized by the internet.

And yet, somehow enticed. I stayed at the office until 3AM, clicking, scrolling, and tabbing. When I got home at 3:30AM I wanted to get back online, but mercifully I didn’t know the Wi-Fi password yet, and my roommate was asleep, and so I went to bed. My mind churned for half an hour before I slept.

Maybe there’s something about information that makes you want more of it. Something about the fear I have of the internet that produces adrenaline. Something that makes me love the internet as much as I try to hate it.

The next morning, armed with the Wi-Fi password, I attempted to “work” from home. I’m sure it was cute for my coworkers to observe, like an old-time newspaper man getting his first WordPress blog. When I arrived at the physical office, I felt a little more useful. I know I want to “be with people” on the internet, but I have to relearn that skill. For now, I need to be face-to-face with someone to feel like an interaction is actually working.

Unfortunately, face-to-face was rare, because it seemed almost impossible to step away from the internet. In a meeting I found myself poking around on an iPad, catching myself, setting it in my lap and trying to listen really hard, and then diving back into the iPad a minute later. I had a recent Vine that was really "blowing up," so I was tracking the likes, then I’d swipe over to my email and become utterly bewildered, then I’d see if I had any new snapchats. My distraction was obvious to everyone in the room, despite the fact they all had laptops open in front of them. I just can’t split my focus like them yet. It hurts to even consider.


In fact, I started to feel alone at the office. Because I couldn’t be in two places at once, I chose to be inside the computer. I went full Tron; I jacked into the Matrix. Snapchats became reminders of moments I wasn’t present for, work emails felt like a foreign language I couldn’t converse in, and on Twitter I was just a madman shouting on a street corner.

That evening I watched funny YouTube videos with my sister and my roommate, but I had trouble setting the internet down when they turned on an actual movie. I sunk into my iPad and lost track of the conversation, and humanity.

On Thursday I was worse. I started to talk loud and fast, and felt panicked constantly. I sent emails to the wrong places, put calendar entries on the wrong days, and jogged around the office like a lost kid in a supermarket, clutching my laptop to my chest. Also, I felt like I might have lasers inside of my eyes (I forgot my glasses at home), and so it was weird to look at people. I got really hungry, and a coworker brought me food, but then I didn’t eat much of it.

I want to be a part of it all, but the trouble is I still want to be a little apart from it, too

But at least I was working. At 8PM there were four of us left in the office and I proudly looked up from the computer: I’d managed to process my work email all the way back to April 30th. Only 21,076 unread messages left to go.

At home at last, I Skyped with my parents after 15 minutes troubleshooting my Wi-Fi router. They told me I looked tired, which is something parents are very good at. And it was so good to see them, and it was so good to be on the internet. I knew it then. In two mere days I’d made a 20-year technological leap. The future is amazing. We have so much cool stuff. I want to be a part of it all, but the trouble is I still want to be a little apart from it, too.

Afterwards I meant to chill and listen to internet-streamed music, but instead I watched StarCraft videos and ate cereal. And then I finally closed the YouTube tabs, put the music on, pulled up the text editor on my Mac, and began to write.

Everything is moving so fast, so I’m not sure how to explain what’s happening. I recently half-seriously told someone I want to be an "internet caterpillar" when I get back, not an internet butterfly. But I feel like the metamorphosis is happening without my consent. I guess I should get some sleep.

Still, it feels good to write. I know how to do this.