I pulled out of the driveway and picked up my iPhone for my usual morning conversation with my mother. Oh. Right. So, this was it: The 52/52 experience I dreaded most, the one which would prey upon my greatest fears, weaknesses, and addictions. A week totally unplugged—no phone, TV, radio, email, or internet.
I envisioned seven days of feeling incomplete. Isolated. Amish. Apparently, I’d be living the life of Ma Ingalls at the Little House on the Prairie.
The only exceptions I’d allow were phone calls and emails relating to my day job, inflexible obligations I couldn’t ignore without risk of losing my paycheck. Just before noon, I opened a colleague’s email from my work account. I clicked on the embedded Amazon link and began perusing a collection of books… *Crap*
I’d made it through twelve hours—half of those sleeping—and already I’d failed. I wandered ten yards down the hall to remind my coworker that I couldn’t read personal emails. Consequently, she saved a week’s collection of internet goods for me and, on the eve of day seven, she emailed me dozens of stories. She was nearly as weak as I was.
A half-hour later, I picked up my office phone and was greeted by the voice of Son #1.
“Hi. Is this an emergency?”
“Um, I thought I could call you at work.”
“Only if it’s an emergency.”
“Well, I do need to talk to you.” He paused, and I braced myself for alarming news.
“The band wants to play a show Friday night. Can you watch the dog?”
Two hours later, I received an email from the editor of my university faculty-staff newspaper. She was writing a story on The 52/52 Project and needed photos. Very iffy territory. But this was a work-related publication, I told myself. With a deadline! So, I clicked through to Facebook, where my photos resided. I stared at the glaring red flag: “14 NOTIFICATIONS!” Holy hell.
I copied some photos, emailed them, and closed out of Facebook. I applauded my willpower.
Late that afternoon, I also resisted the temptation to call my mother for my usual en route-home-from-the-office conversation. I gazed at the car radio. As my mind was forced to wander, I found myself thinking about Tom Laughlin of “Billy Jack” fame, who’d just died. I spent the drive trying to recall all the lyrics to “One Tin Soldier.” As I finally and successfully belted out the entire song, I concluded it was thirty minutes of my life well-spent.
That night, I read the last three day’s newspapers—even the sports pages—as well as three chapters of a book. “I love to read,” I announced aloud to myself. Really, how bad could this week be?
I awoke to two missed calls from Son #1. No messages. What would Ma Ingalls do if she were frantic with worry about one of her grown children? I figured she would make a quick stop on her way to work, to ask Grandma Ingalls to text him.
My mother opened her door and hugged me. “I’ve really missed you,” she said. It had been not quite thirty-six hours since we’d talked.
She promised to check in on her grandson. An hour after I arrived at work, he called my office phone. Knowing he surely recalled yesterday’s conversation about “emergencies,” I worriedly picked up the handset.
“Hi, Mom. Hey, that show is actually Saturday, not Friday. Still OK for you to take the dog?”
Not a single phone call all day from any family members. Sure, I loved them, but I had to admit, not having to mediate or coordinate anything—even for the upcoming Christmas holiday—was liberating.
Still, I felt disconnected from the world. What were all my cyber friends up to? What sort of horrendously delightful diatribes were internet trolls leaving in comments on Yahoo news stories? On the drive home, I stared at my iPhone lying on the front passenger seat. I had turned off all email and Facebook notifications. What the hell was I supposed to do at red lights?
That night, I wrote by pen and paper, then retired to bed far earlier than usual. I tossed and turned, Facebook images haunting me. I even—almost—missed Twitter. I’d hit an all-time low.
My office calendar showed I had a doctor’s appointment the next day. The paper calendar in my purse placed the appointment at the day after. Since I couldn’t call to confirm, I decided to go with the next day. Better a day early than late, yes?
On the way home from work, I passed a discount furniture store. In the parking lot sat a concession truck, the type you’d see at a festival or fair. It advertised corn dogs, lemonade, and elephant ears. And, not just the usual sugar-coated confections but also “Dietetic Elephant Ears!”
Dietetic elephant ears, offered by a random festival truck in a mattress store parking lot, in the middle of winter? I reached for my iPhone to take a picture of this bizarre sighting.
OK. I’d at least take a note to write about this later. I grabbed my iPhone again, to leave a recorded note on my favorite Dragon Dictation app.
I needed to check on the hours for the zoo’s Christmas lights. Impossible, without phone or internet. I needed to find a new recipe for our family Christmas gathering that weekend. Apparently, I’d have to go home that night and reference my three dozen dusty cookbooks.
After my doctor’s appointment—at which I fortuitously arrived on the correct day— I was feeling socially unconnected and deprived. I decided to stop at a nearby friend’s house. She wasn’t home. The rules forbid me from calling her cellphone from mine, to see where she was.
Who made these damn rules anyway?
As I rounded the corner, I happened to pass her approaching car. And so, we managed a visit after all. Several beers were involved. It was the best of times, out there on the wild prairie.
Son #2 arrived in town for the Christmas holiday. At least I assumed he did, since he he’d been instructed ahead that he couldn’t—and indeed he didn’t—call to say he safely made the five-hour drive from Milwaukee. A terrible, inconsiderate, rule-abiding mother I was. I worried, but never allowed myself to pick up the phone.
After a mid-morning meeting, I returned to my office to find one of my best friends leaving a series of Post-It notes across my desk. She’d stopped to ask me, the old-school way, to meet for drinks after work. Heck, yes! Except for the problem of driving the half-hour home to let out the dog first.
She convinced me it wasn’t cheating if she called Son #2 to see if he’d arrived home and could manage dog duty. He told her he was a couple hours away and would take care of it.
What he couldn’t take care of, however, was paying for his scheduled eye appointment and new glasses. For that, he needed a credit card number. I was forced to return his next call. I told myself it was a matter of medical emergency and financial hardship. As well as a small matter of my not planning ahead.
Poor Ma Ingalls probably always had to plan ahead. Me? Thank God I had just one more day left of this shit.
My right ear had throbbed for three days. Ironically, as I’d gone unplugged, my ear had plugged right up. It was worse this morning, but still I didn’t call the doctor. I figured I’d already used up my “medical emergency” with Son #2.
I glanced at my dog, Ringo. “Quick, Pa,” I shouted at him. “Run and fetch the doctor!” Ringo blinked at me, not budging from the couch.
I struggled through my last day. I drove home from work, resisting temptation by burying my iPhone at the bottom of my purse. Just knowing I’d be reconnected at midnight made it bearable.
I went to sleep, dreaming of my four BFFs: my iPhone, Google, Pandora, and Facebook.
I woke the next morning--Christmas Eve day! I was off work, and finally back to the rest of the world around me! I raced to my laptop.
No internet connection.
I turned on the TV. No cable.
Hours passed. I stared at my laptop, clicking “internet access” over and over and over. I gawked at the flickering snow on the TV. Given that the weather was decent, I felt certain a random outage wouldn’t last long.
Oh, the cruelty of life’s great ironies.
Nearly twelve hours after what should have been the end of my week-long nightmare, it finally ended.
I spent the rest of the day on the telephone, including a call to the doctor. I embraced my laptop, cranked some Christmas tunes, and turned on “The Grinch.”
Somehow, I related more than ever to him: that ornery old recluse.
Just imagine how happy he and Ma Ingalls might have been, if only they were Facebook friends.
The thought of going unplugged for a week: Terrifying or liberating? What would you miss most? Seriously, how pathetic am I?