Could you live without the internet?

For a change of pace, I’m going to answer the Plinky question. It’s not for want of ideas, it’s just a good question.

No suspense here: Yes. I could totally live without the internet. Unlike TV, cell phones, and constant access to music all around the clock, though, I wouldn’t *choose* to. We have a long and complex relationship, the internet and I. (I might have asked the real estate agent whether we could get high speed here as I was signing the offer to purchase. You know. Maybe.)

I started using Mozilla in 1993. My classmate at school came into the computer lab, walked up behind me and said, “Click that icon down there.” Which I did.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s called the World Wide Web. You can look at computers all over the world.”

“Like what?”

“Oh,” she said. “Newspapers and stuff.” So I looked to see how much an apartment in Sydney, Australia would cost, and I was hooked.

It wasn’t my first exposure to such an idea. As I mentioned in my post on repetitive stress, I have been using a connection to the outside world since it was a 1200 baud modem and the interaction was green text on a black background. (Boing, boing, boing, anyone?) I have booted computers from tape drives. I know about Peek and Poke, API’s and transfer protocols. I have written code to connect one website to another invisibly. I wrote a course (plus some workshops) on the integration of internet technologies into the university classroom. I am, as I claim on my Twitter account (and my resume), tech-savvy. But when I talk about this, I ask you to bear in mind that I am also a Luddite, insofar as I am highly selective about which technologies I deploy in my life. I still use the phone book, for example.

I primarily use the internet to meet human needs, and particular ones at that. I find that it is best at helping me with my needs for beauty, meaning, and human connection, but it is not my only source for any of those things. Some of my most valued social interactions are mediated by this medium, through cyber-representations of the people in it, whether blogs, tweets, status updates, or the movies they make.

Some of the people I know face to face. We use the internet to organize, maintain social contacts, and share ideas. It is how I came to be in the upcoming production of the Vagina Monologues, for example. But many of my internet contacts I know only through our online interactions, and I value these connections. [I started to list the people I would miss in this category, but it got too long.] I would be more isolated without these people, with their diverse and cosmopolitan views of the world. They keep me connected to the urban professional world I have wandered away from and are significant contributors to helping me make sense of it all. I would be devastated to lose their insights. I think that the internet is one of the things worth preserving, and one of the great opportunities for social reform and human flourishing. But would I live without it? Yes.

One of the things that remains surprising to me is how not-wired I had remained until the last few months. I have had an LJ blog for about 5 years, but I never was much of a regular poster. I started this public blog slightly over two years ago, but for a long time, I didn’t know what to put on it, so I barely ever updated it. I had a cell phone for about a year somewhere around 2001, but I never used it so I got rid of it. I didn’t start using Facebook in earnest until I started writing in earnest, because I couldn’t think of what to use it for. The internet, the phone, and computers are tools. If I can’t think of a use for them, I don’t use them. I would no more play with my computer than I would play with my pliers. The computer space was where I worked, and when I came home, I turned it off.

The world I currently inhabit is an odd one, with one foot in the virtual world, and one foot in the physical. I was recently at a meeting at which it was joked that “Only women with chickens were welcome.” It wasn’t a meeting for women with chickens, but every one of us around the table is raising them. The meeting was arranged online, and the minutes were distributed by email. The missing pieces of information we needed were procured from government websites, which are liberally peppered through the documents. But we use this technology to exchange ideas about saving seed, building greenhouses, and organizing local food systems.

There are definite advantages to keeping one foot in this world of the not-really-wired-much-at-all, because it keeps me grounded. It reminds me that the world will keep turning if I miss my post-a-day (although I haven’t yet.) If I lost touch, I might miss a meeting. I would no longer be able to find things out at the touch of a button. “Ask the internet!” regularly resounds through my home. I would miss that. But my real needs, for beauty, meaning, and connection, would still be met. I would still have Buddhists, and Pagans, and urbanites, and radical moms, and homeschoolers, and breastfeeding, cloth-diapering home-birthers, and queer-folk in my life. Just… not so many of them. And I would feel the loss.

Oh, internet. Please don’t vanish. We would miss you. You can tell from the kerfuffle about limiting our access this week. But yes. My life would continue without you.

Just, please, don’t take my phone… ‘k?


4 responses to “Could you live without the internet?”

  1. I am the same way – I *could* live without the internet, but don’t choose to. It would make homeschooling more challenging for one thing 🙂 But I do LOVE all things old-fashioned and you will find any one of us spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, making chain mail or any number of old-fashioned things in our home.

  2. It’s a funny thing because I find myself as so often in a place that is the inverse (or con-, ob- or whatever it is in English) of yours. Ours is a bit the country and city mouse dialogue. I am a Luddite by upbringing and training and came by my tech-savy by accident. I found a use for a cell phone because I worked for a consultancy and was living the yuppy-travelling-business life but have found a use for Facebook since a parenting staple burned down last year. I bring my husband to the far side of his experience by making bread and insisting on food that comes from happy animals, which I am (as yet) unwilling to raise myself in the postage stamp otherwise known as my backyard. And I rely on the internet to keep me in a steady supply of brain food. I regularly consider replacing a netbook because it makes it too unpleasant to read and contribute to the places of knitting, eating and intellectual stimulation that make my life good. Call this drunk commenting (as opposed to dialing). I am glad that you have chosen a place that does receive high speed and that you write well and often about the things I only ponder.

    I am only sorry I did not take the opportunity to get to know you better in person when we were in the same city. But that is sentiment.

  3. Now, I wouldn’t want to live without the internet unless my far-flung peeps were also living without the internet.

    That may be selfish, but the modes of communication when you have the internet do seem to crowd out the others, so I think that my isolation without the internet would seem less if no one had the internet.

    Also, I would vastly prefer to have the internet over the phone — probably even if there was no Skype.