Maybe the news these days is no worse than it ever was, but with so much of it coming at us nonstop through so many different channels, it concentrates the effect.
For whatever reason, the news seems to be extremely toxic these days and I find I have to moderate my intake so it won't adversely affect my mood. That can be more difficult than it sounds because I, like so many others, have come to face the fact that I am an internet addict.
My name is David Cogswell, and I am an internet addict.
I’m finally admitting it. It’s been creeping up for years.
I remember in the earlier days of the internet, whenever I arrived at a hotel, the first thing I would ask the desk clerk was, “What is your internet availability?”
If the hotel didn’t have it, I would be crushed. All my plans would fall apart. I would lose contact with everything. I wouldn’t be getting messages I needed. I wouldn’t be able to send in things that were due. I was thrown back into the Dark Ages.
The hotels would often charge exorbitant rates for a mere dribble of internet, and they knew that you would pay it because not having internet was not an option. It was a necessity.
Everything has evolved far beyond that. Internet availability is becoming less and less of an issue. It’s available almost everywhere. It seems as if it’s actually hard to find a place where you aren’t subject to the tyranny of some screen or other.
Now, the difficult thing is to exert the act of will required to shut it down and look around and live in your actual surroundings for a while.
The internet has moved from being a necessity to being a pathological condition. But occasionally, even as the internet became almost ubiquitous, I have found myself in places that were off the grid, where internet cell service is just not available. And rather than being a horror, it actually turned out to be liberating.
In the end, the lack of internet was actually a thrill. It was like suddenly being plunged back into the world of my senses. It was breaking the narrow boundaries of a screen and leaping out into the full-color, three-dimensional, surround-sound, real-time, ongoing pageantry of nature.
A serious condition
The trouble is that I am, by this time, so addicted to the internet that the only way I’m going to get off of it long enough to notice where I am in the world is to be forced off it.
Hence the rise of a new (old) attraction: being off the grid.
The cardinal rule of internet access is that if I can use it, I will. I am constantly drawn in to find out about whatever the latest disaster is and to make sure the world is still in one piece, more or less.
It feels like the phone is constantly beckoning to me. There is always some reason to give in to the impulse to drop whatever I was thinking of, reach over and grab that little bugger. There's always at least one good reason, some email I'm watching out for, some answer I'm waiting for, some urgent news item I want to catch up on – And, what if this is it? What if today is the end of the world?
Any excuse will do as a reason to pick up the phone and dive in. Once I have made the plunge, I can't extricate myself until I've checked through a long list of places where messages or news may appear: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Google News, a practically endless series of things that are suddenly necessities to me … every few minutes or so.
By the time I get to the end of the series of stop-in points, along with various random side trips, some time has passed. Then, it’s possible that something else came in during that time. So, it seems like a good idea to go back to the top of the list and check through everything again. This loop can repeat indefinitely.
At some point, I notice how much time has passed and I have to work up the willpower to seize myself and pull myself out again. I realize that I have just blown a bunch of time on insignificant, forgettable, repetitive actions. I feel like a white laboratory rat in an experiment on operant conditioning.
Worse than the time wasted, is the effect of all the bad vibes in the news I absorb throughout the day. After I've spent some time perusing the news, I've taken in such an overload of toxic energy, my mood has been noticeably dampened. Oh, well.
And it never stops. I'm practically incapable of resisting picking up the phone in the morning and plunging in. And once I am in, I'm going to be enmired in things for a long time.
That's what makes "off the grid" vacations such an attraction now. For serious internet addicts, such as myself, the only way to break the addiction is full-on cold turkey.
Amazon without the dotcom
I recently took a trip to the Amazon (the real jungle, not the online mega-retailer), and I went into remote territory that was off the grid. There was no cell phone coverage and no access to internet.
Once you get over the initial shock, you go through a withdrawal phase, and sooner than you would expect, it becomes really liberating and fun. It’s like rediscovering your own senses, remembering what it is like to live in the real world, the world beyond Instagram, and to be immersed in it and interact with it.
The Amazon was a great place to do the withdrawal, because it is one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. That’s a whole story itself, but to actually be in the great Amazon jungle on a riverboat, traveling up and down the Rio Negro lined with towering trees and thick, tangled vines and brush was a wide-eyed peak experience. It was to be a child in wonder again.
It turned out to be one of the greatest trips of my life. I am still sinking deep back into those memories often. It’s a pleasure just to remember that time.
If you think this might be something that would interest you, you are not alone. Practically the whole world of internet addicts is ready to sign up for rehab. Just google “off the grid vacations” and you’re on your way.