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first person

Drew Shannon

Confession: My home is internet-less, by choice. And it is bliss. I have neither a modem nor a data plan for my cellular phone, which makes it easy to disconnect. Just as dipping into a piping-hot bubble-bath requires a strong constitution, so does going without home WiFi. But, once in, it is a soothing, relaxing experience.

I am a 31-year-old writer – not, as you may be thinking, a curmudgeon fearful of technology. I take pleasure in explaining, “I’d rather spend that money on gin than a telecom service contract.”

I am not attempting to escape cold, harsh reality through isolation. I devour newspapers daily (in print, preferably), keep a radio tuned to the CBC for the hourly news broadcasts, and am always reachable by text, telephone and, for someone who desires an in-person interaction, visits can be arranged.

Don’t think this has to anything do with JOMO (joy of missing out) or going on a fruitless “social-media cleanse” either. I sometimes find myself asking: “What is it, exactly, everyone does on the internet all day?” Not having internet access at home isn’t as uncommon as you may believe; I’d venture it is what we’re all thinking about but are afraid to commit to – such as deciding not to keep up with the Karadashians.

“I went to the woods, because I wanted to live deliberately. … I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” so went Henry David Thoreau, proponent of living simply in mostly natural surroundings, in his book Walden. A good point, that: The world shimmers greatly in comparison to the world wide web, with no purposeless dilly-dallying.

I accept, with loathing, that the internet is entirely necessary in order to survive nowadays. But I think, like putting Brylcreem in one's hair, a little dab'll do ya.

And so, mornings, for me, comprises fetching a coffee with a splash of WiFi from the Starbucks across the street. (While waiting in line, I’ll chat with aged regulars; the younger ones are always twiddling thumbs on their phones.)

My work is no matter of life or death or breaking news. While sipping my drink, there is plenty of time to send and receive e-mail, to download a podcast, get a general sense of what is happening and peruse online distractions. I can glimpse what fury is presently fuelling Twitter. I can peep on Instagram at what this friend and that acquaintance did last night. I swim through that murky mess, knowing that shortly I’ll leave the coffee shop and the internet noise behind. After four to five minutes, I am rather engorged and bored with it all, anyway. I’ve discovered the less the internet is used, the easier it is to leave and I can focus on what’s surrounds me.

Recently, for example, outside my coffee-shop window, I witnessed a Charlie Chaplin-quality pantomime. A woman carrying an Hermes Birkin handbag was arguing with a parking officer over a ticket he had put on her Porsche Cayenne. Her friend joined in, dashed away and, a minute later, zipped by in her car and dropped off the offending parker’s partner. The argument continued, fingers pointing and arms a-blazing, and another parking officer arrived as back-up. Then, two police officers in a squad car pulled up. Thoroughly sated with caffeine and entertainment, I returned to my apartment, leaving the result of ticket squabble a mystery; some things remain best left unknown. I’d take watching that live performance over scrolling zombie-eyed past a Twitter-duel on an electronic screen any day.

When I moved into my apartment, I had an opportunity to change how I lived at home. I had had enough of perpetual internet buzzing and incessant updating; it was unnecessary. I also saved myself the horror of waiting between the hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for a technician to arrive and install an internet connection. I’ll disclose here that, early on, in desperation, I did try to guess the passwords of the WiFi connections swirling around me. But, thankfully, I never cracked the codes.

I suppose, too, that my lifestyle choice is for aesthetic reasons. My eagle’s nest, in a 100 year-old, three-storey walk-up, remains in fine century-ago form: tiny vestibule; skinny, hair-kissing staircase; single-panel, sash windows; and inside is crammed full of books, lamps, antique “brown” furniture, crystal stem-ware, silver flatware, you get the gist. It adds to the 19th-century romance of being a writer, I remind myself – like Flaubert, in a garret, but without tuberculosis and with a hot-water supply.

I’ve learned there are various software solutions for blocking a computer from logging on to the internet for hours at a time – novelist Zadie Smith wishing to ease distraction while writing, uses one – as well as something so low-tech as unplugging a router, but that is a half-measure. I prefer going whole-hog on all endeavours.

I now keep a notebook, scribbling topics I must look up next time I am online, either in said coffee shop or in a peaceful corner of a library during working hours. There are many benefits to not being able to log on at home. No late-night, insomnia-inspired online shopping binges. No endless flicking through Netflix, looking for something to watch while wasting away hours not watching anything. No YouTube rabbit holes. No sending slap-dash, rage-written e-mails.

I am a writer – not a YouTube make-up artist sensation, an Instagram influencer or professional gaming live-streamer. I can live without the internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I’ve never been more compos mentis.

I connect by disconnecting. And if mindless procrastination is what you're searching for, may I suggest, instead of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, polishing your silver?

Pasquale Casullo lives in Toronto.

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