I toyed with the idea of disconnecting my Internet for months. But like an alcoholic, I wasn’t willing to put the drink down. Until I bottomed out.
Last Monday, I woke up, thanked God for returning my soul, and then, without missing a beat, the Svengali tug of the computer screen had me in its sticky claws. “I’ll just check my e-mails,” I thought. Another failed (read: feeble) attempt at appeasing what was left of my conscience. So I checked my e-mails, every account. I checked Yeshiva World News and Chrome’s homepage headlines, and the viewers’ responses, Weather.com (current, hourly and the ten-day forecast). . . . Three-quarters of an hour later, I wrenched myself away and davened Shacharis.
I knew I had to pull the plug to save the patient. I made the call.
“Do you realize what you’re giving up? Netflix, Twitter, Facebook,” said Jill, Verizon’s friendly representative fated to do the deed. She pressed on.
“Bayla, I see you’re on an old plan. I can offer you a much better deal, nearly half of what you’re currently paying.”
I insisted it wasn’t the money.
“Then why in the world are you doing this?” she asked.
“To get a life,” I replied.
As a freelance journalist who works primarily from my home in the suburbs, I can’t escape the keyboard, the screen—and the isolation. I was easy prey for the Net. Just one click took me to infinite, albeit illusory, worlds far beyond my lonely chair. The problem was, the lure to explore grew more frequent and lengthy, absorbing my attention. For hours.
What’s doing in Israel? Better check Yeshiva World News (again). Are the Dems still bashing Trump? I could use some music. I’ll listen to some songs on YouTube. Something soothing. How about Eitan Katz? Here’s one in Yerushalayim. Everyone’s swaying and singing in unison. Inspiring. Reminds me of Dveykus. What ever happened to that group? I’ll try Googling. Look, there’s a recent video of their reunion. Still sounding great. Isn’t that Abie Rotenberg on piano? What a talent. I think he wrote most of their songs. Not sure. I’ll check Wikipedia.
A tiny voice surged through the virtual stream. Get back to work. Remember the article? The one due tomorrow. It needs to be written.
Sometimes I yanked myself back to reality. Other times I remained caught up in nowhere-land, going nowhere fast. I thought I was connecting to everyone everywhere when I was really connecting to no one, letting precious time slip through my busy fingertips.
A periodic phone call from my husband would jolt me. I had to adjust to normal human contact and remember how to react in kind. And then it was back to the never-never-land of virtual life. There were days I did not leave the house. By bedtime, I often felt dull and hollow.
The Internet allure invaded my real-time relationships. On the phone with a friend lamenting her troubled marriage, at the kitchen table while my husband shared his thoughts on the Gemara he was learning, my attention would falter, and I’d succumb to the urge to surf.
I was losing life’s precious moments and had to do what had to be done.
After Jill told me she had pulled the plug, I tried going online. A gray screen opened, displaying the words, “There is no Internet connection.” I felt giddy, elated, free . . . and disconnected.
How would I research my articles? How could I watch online Torah lectures while doing dishes, folding laundry and preparing for Shabbos? How would I download shiurim onto my MP3 for my power walks? No more e-mail? How will I manage?
Fortunately, I recalled my life before Wifi. I’ve rediscovered the library. If I need to conduct research for articles, I use the computers there—which also gets me out the front door. I’ve reacquainted myself with neglected sefarim and closets full of Torah CDs and tapes, as well as with my no-longer-dusty CD/tape player. If I want to contact a friend or relative, I don’t shoot an e-mail; I pick up the phone.
Most importantly, I’m enjoying listening to my own thoughts again.
Admittedly, I’m not totally untethered. I also use the library’s WiFi to check e-mails, careful not to stay on long. To accommodate my non-existent sense of direction, I’ve retained limited data on my cell phone for Waze. I’m not fooling myself. This narrow window of access still puts me at risk. I try my best to take care of business and exit quickly.
Dare I say I’m grateful for having gone through the enslavement of Internet? It’s helped me realize that God doesn’t give us an “unlimited plan” on this world. I want to use my allotted time to accomplish more, give more, become more.
In 120 years, when every one of my minutes flashes before me, I can’t bear the thought of watching myself mindlessly staring at a computer screen, reel after reel after reel. With this second chance, I hope I can make up for all the lost opportunities—and leave all those dreaded clips on God’s cutting room floor.
Bayla Sheva Brenner is an award-winning freelance writer and a regular contributor to Jewish Action.