journal

On resisting the digital and embracing the analog

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

I recently spent ten days in Tuscany with Kyle and some writer friends, and my re-entry has been a bit more brutal than I would have guessed. Picture this: rolling cultivated hills seen usually on wine bottles or in b-grade hotel art—absolutely everywhere you look; air sweet as honey, food you’ve only dreamed about. Sounds like a scene from a General Foods International Coffee commercial, but it’s real.

Add fantastic conversation with nine other lovely friends including, but not limited to, some of your favorite things: in my case, books and writing. These people understand the weird world you live in, and you are grateful for the empathy.

Also, there is no Facebook when you’re out and about. Also no email.

Not having a good international data plan for my phone, I simply turned off the cell phone bit of my phone (I’m super techy, obviously) and rendered it only a wifi-capable device. No Yelp for dining recommendations, no Google Maps for directions, and no email to check, Twitter to refresh, or Facebook to scroll if I had a few minutes of downtime.

And it was glorious.

I thought I was alright at this back in my normal life, but I didn’t realize all my knee-jerk reactions to whip out my iPhone for so many little things. Without access to it in Tuscany, we’d simply ask a local for the location of their favorite gelato spot, and then walk there based on his spoken directions. We’d breathe in the beauty around us instead of wondering what we were missing online. (Granted, this was somewhat easy because we didn’t really want to be anywhere else, but that’s just it—no phone to check added to our contentment of the here and now.)

What Tuscany taught me about living analog

Sure, Italians have their smartphones, but other than taking pics or the occasional phone call, I didn’t really see them out all that much. And once we’d return to our village, we’d have wifi access again—but the pull wasn’t really there for me. Other than posting to Instagram (for whatever reason, that’s the one digital space that really doesn’t exhaust me), I barely glanced at my phone, even when I could.

I just… didn’t want to. I was enjoying the real world too much.

What Tuscany taught me about living analog

What Tuscany taught me about living analog

What Tuscany taught me about living analog

I’ve been back for three days at the time of this writing (a week and one day at the time of publication), and never before in all my travels have I been so aware of the loud yelling that is the echo chamber of the Internet. Since I’ve been overseas quite a bit, this is really surprising to me.

Perhaps it was because I was in a place of such otherworldly beauty with the best sort of company? Or maybe the Internet has gotten even louder in the past year? Not sure. Either way, as soon as I had access again, I wanted to turn it right back off.

And so I am, in a way. It’s a tricky business, when you make your living off the Internet; try as you may, you can’t bury your head in the analog sand forever. But you can set tighter, healthier boundaries, and that’s just what I’m doing.

I’ve written an email manifesto, per my husband Kyle’s suggestion, and have added it to my email signature, for my own peace of mind. He witnessed how immediately stressed I became when I first opened my inbox after my hiatus, and for me, it’s just not worth the physical and mental pressure it adds. Email is little emote than someone else’s agenda for my time, and as my friend Myquillyn says, if someone has an emergency, they’ll find a way to reach me.

I’ve barely been on Facebook, the loudest place (for me) on the Internet. It has its usefulness, sure, but I’m so much more aware of its tendency to replace a digital existence for the real world around me. I love that it helps me stay in touch with faraway people I love. I don’t love that it compels people to share every little thing, and to scream at each other WITH ALL CAPS and vie for more page views with black-and-white statements said only to get a rise out of others.

It sucks away the beauty of life, and if Tuscany taught me anything, it’s that beauty matters.

What Tuscany taught me about living analog

What Tuscany taught me about living analog

So, I’m barely opening Facebook these days. I may be missing something, but right now, I don’t care. I need to keep up with this blog’s page because, like it or not, it’s one of our top three sources of traffic, and well, livelihood and all. (I really have a complicated relationship with Facebook, I’m learning.) But I’m not going to dedicate much creative energy there because, well, the goal in my work and in this online space that I love isn’t to have a brilliant Facebook page.

I’m back to writing more analog-style. I loved rediscovering in Tuscany my love for journaling, so I’m reacquainting this simple habit back to my real world (this will no doubt be a lifesaver on our big trip as well). In fact, right now I’m writing this entire post with a Bic pen and a Moleskine notebook. At 3:30 a.m., no less (jetlag and all).

I’m grateful for the Internet, I am. I’ve found some of my favorite people there, and it allows me to provide for my family, doing what I love. But it’s just so LOUD. And I don’t love that.

Tuscany reminded me of this. My love of travel is teaching me this. And I remember why I love living simply: so that I can say no about whatever the culture is screaming “yes!”

What Tuscany taught me about living analog

What are you learning these days?

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Comments

  1. Love this post. I am also trying to embrace the analog. I’m learning to try and seek out the important pieces in life no matter where I currently am. We live in India most of the year and right now our slow summer on Bainbridge Island seems better and more simple than our hectic life of city living and travel with three kids in Asia. But I know there are truths to be found in both places. I just need to look.

    • Bainbridge! Yes. Are you the one who mentioned Bainbridge on the travel site? Either way, I totally get the slow pace of that island. And yes, there are truths in both places and both situations—I’m learning that, too; to find ways to slow down, regardless of geography or surroundings.

      Thanks, Abby.

  2. So with you on this one!

    I seem to be giving up so much lately in the pursuit of simplicity and peace… caffeine, Facebook, alcohol, fashion, shopping, comfort eating, TV… but it’s working.

    Reading Jesse Rice’s book on Facebook was the final push I needed to get me thinking seriously about what was driving my life (and why it wasn’t me!)

    Keep on keeping on friend x

  3. I did part of my graduate school program in Italy. Your photos bring back wonderful memories and your stories make my heart swell. Having lived there and having traveled there (and many other countries) over the years, I’ve found that there’s an undeniable friction for me between that life and this American one. I loved the slow pace, the mouth watering and fresh food (and they eat so many veggies and fruits – be still my heart), and the warm people. The art, the beautiful flower boxes, the Roman aqueducts in town squares….free for all to enjoy. Moving back/returning is always challenging but once I’m back for awhile, I’m reminded of the many wonderful things in the US as well. It’s easy to romanticize other places because, well, the US most definitely isn’t perfect. But there are a lot of wonderful things here, too. We aren’t frequently held hostage by labor strikes, we don’t have to race to the post office because they’re only open a few hours (and odd hours at that) each day, the same capitalistic society that can be disheartening at times is also a big reason the US is full of entrepreneurs and innovation. Our political system is shockingly stable when compared to the frequent turnover in so many other countries.

    All that to say, what I’m learning is that there are wonderful things in every country and there are not so wonderful things in every country. Part of the beauty of travel is that I can learn that everyone, everywhere has something to offer and no one culture or country has the patent on the way to do things. I try to incorporate what I love from other places into our lives wherever we live.

  4. Well said. For me, this reminder never gets old. I continually need to adjust the balance with my online life and my real one. (Not that they’re not both real…it’s just hard to describe them. :) I think I’m gonna pull out my own moleskin today! Thanks.

  5. My husband and I just got back from a week-long road trip, and as I’m diving back into the “real world” of work and the Internet today, I’m echoing these very same sentiments. I’m thankful as ever for the work and exposure it provides, but my heart is also sore for simple days of reading hardbound books, exploring the outdoors, and enjoying meals without the company of my iPhone to remind me what still needs to be done. Many thanks for sharing this and reminding me I’m not alone here.

  6. I love this to pieces. I’ve pulled away from a lot of online spaces in the last year, and I haven’t really missed it much. I have an email address that I use almost exclusively for subscribing to the blogs I love, and I keep up with those writers there. I’m always amazed that no matter how much I shut down the aps and the places that make the most noise for me, there always seem to be more layers to go, more room for making quiet. Chris Heuertz has a great chapter on creative absence in his book, Unexpected Gifts.

  7. avatar
    Natalie says:

    I so appreciate your blog and books and what you are saying here. So much so that regardless of how much I cut back on my time online, I still follow your blog because so much of what you say resonates with me and enriches my life. Thank you! And I’m excited about the new travel blog as well. Simplifying and travel are two sides of our family coin as well :-)

    On a side note, I’m wondering if you are aware of the problem with downloading the Summer Stories ebook. Perhaps the emails aren’t reaching you or the proper person? I think there may be many others with the same problem (see comments on your page for purchasing the ebook). I’m sorry to mention this here, but I don’t think emails are getting through and I’m not sure how else to bring this to your attention. Thank you for any help you can provide with this!

    • avatar
      Natalie says:

      P.S. The irony of me bringing up unanswered emails in my comment to your post about pulling back from email isn’t lost on me. I just suspect that customers falling through the cracks isn’t at all what your intent is in pulling back, and something tells me that you just aren’t aware of the problem and would want to know :-)

  8. avatar
    Heather says:

    I really appreciate this post as I’m feeling a natural withdrawal from the social media ecosystem. And I had to smile when I read your bit about asking locals for recommendations rather than Yelp or google. Relying on friendly locals is a rule we follow when traveling here at home (U.S.) or abroad. In 2005 my husband and I produced a documentary about independent businesses surviving in the shadow of corporate giants and our best meals were the ones rec. To us by the lovely people we met along the way.
    Cheers and Thank you from Seattle,
    Heather

  9. Oh, I love this — especially the gorgeous pictures of Tuscany! What a lovely journey. We just got back from 9 days in London and Paris with our children, and I experienced the same wonderful thing — no scanning my phone while waiting at a restaurant or in line. I was present and experiencing everything around me. Here’s to the power of travel, and {temporary} disconnection!

  10. This post struck home for me. As a writer, I understand what you are saying about a certain need to be connected via the internet. I have too little self control though, when I get on FB for work it is easy to be sucked in to 10 other topics. There are a pile of books that have been pushed aside all year, waiting for summer, and so far? I’ve finished exactly one. Too easily distracted, thanks for the reminder to focus on what matters. And the whole email thing? I resorted to that in order to stay off the phone. You gave me pause, since it is usually open all day and every time I walk by I am used to checking it. Time for new priorities…Thanks

  11. Amen!

  12. I love this. I just got back from a week’s retreat in the woods with dear friends and no cell phone or Internet access whatsoever. I was actually a little itchy about it before we left, as I actually really love Facebook and my blog has really taken off in the past month.

    But OH MY GOSH, was it heavenly. And I didn’t feel much of an impulse to jump right back into the online world when we got back into range, even. That surprised me. I’ve eased myself back in over the past few days, but I too am wanting to give myself more boundaries to try to keep a portion of that detachment from it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your beautiful photos. I agree. Beauty matters. :)

  13. avatar
    Kristen says:

    This is always a good reminder! I decided to give up Facebook for Lent this year and while it was definitely refreshing, I still spent a bunch of time on the internet on blogs and looking at other things. Was I trying to fill the online void? I’m not sure, but this has been a much-needed reality check to downgrade my digital life. I live in a beautiful place and I need to make sure I’m getting out and appreciating it and teaching my kids about the importance of appreciating it as well!

  14. July has become my month of Internet rest: no blog, no Facebook, no Twitter. Totally freeing and a good reset for me. I know I’ve talked about this book here a million times, but I really think it’s worth a read — THE SHALLOWS: WHAT THE INTERNET IS DOING TO OUR BRAINS.

    Here’s to holding onto the beauty, peace, and real living!

  15. I love this. Just totally and completely in line with how I’ve been feeling lately.

  16. I took a hiatus from FB about two years ago. I finally decided to get back on but only have 9 friends on it. I’ve been “brutal” in deciding who made the cut and who didn’t. This also applies to pages I “like”, etc. I figured it’s my life, I choose what to allow in it, regardless of what society thinks. Keep up the good work and continue to write analog…

  17. Sounds like a wonderful trip! This post is great incentive for me to turn “off” and live life. Though I am not that social online, I do get pulled into the the streams of what others are doing, and what I might miss out on. . . Thank you for the reality check! :)

  18. I love the description of the internet and social media as “loud.” I get very overwhelmed by noise in the real world, so I see how the same could be said of these other mediums. I’m going to have to ponder this… I’ll be curious if this idea affects how I interact with the internet in the days and weeks to come.

  19. Oh my goodness, those photos! It’s hard for me to figure out how to strike the right balance with online time/iPhone time, especially now that the internet provides a significant portion of our family income. I usually end up overdoing it and then needing 4-5 days of almost no social media or emailing to recover. What I want is to be able to say, “that’s enough, I’m done!” before getting burnt out. Right now I’m on a 5 weeks on, one week off kind of cycle so my brain doesn’t get too loud.

  20. We were there in March. And I experienced much of the same. It was wonderful.

  21. Thank you for this, Tsh! This resonates with me. I closed my FB account about 8 months ago, and have not missed it at all! I had been spending way too much time and emotional energy on it. Also, I do not have a smartphone and don’t feel the need for one. I do have an email address and subscribe to a few blogs that are life-giving to me (including this one!).

    I’ve been thinking lately how it’s going to be a challenge to balance online activity/e-device use as we raise our 4 year old son. I’d love to read a post here about that topic ~ raising kids to embrace the analog!

    Thank you!

  22. Oh the irony of finding out about this post on Facebook and reading it on my smartphone.

  23. As a fourth generation Italian American, my challenge is passing on the traditions of family connectivity that was so important to my own upbringing and pass it on to the next generation. We still gather for brunch after church every Sunday, though we attend three different churches. We still meet for every occasion, big or small and make every meal a special event. We do take it for granted, my grown brothers and sister, but we are so fortunate to all live close. Not to mention, grandma’s house was built behind ours, so facetime literally meant looking out the kitchen window into hers while on the phone! And no, i’m not on Facebook! :)

  24. Absolutely loved reading this post! This really resonated with me and I feel like you articulated exactly what I’ve been feeling about the “loudness” of the Internet.

  25. Your post makes me realize that I have time to walk uptown in the mornings for coffee and a pastry in our town center. It’s about a mile and I could easily start my day that way, as many Italians do. It’s so much easier to drive, yet we miss so much when in our cars. Between walking and not spending so much time on the computer, I could have a simpler life too. It’s a thought…

  26. This. I could totally relate to this post. I have to return to work tomorrow after vacation and I know my email will be loud. When your work is the internet you have to still take breaks from work. Have dinner without feeling the need to Instagram a picture. Experience a concert without live tweeting it. When I am on vacation I give myself permission to do only what I want to do. When I am at a conference, I like to focus on the conference.

  27. Oh, how I love this. Thank you.

    • Reading this post at 12:03 in bed at night. Excellent post and so “simple” it won’t keep me awake all night trying to analyze it and apply it to my life. The espresso pic at the end….. Makes me eager for my morning huge cup of tea with honey and cream…… A simple but happy pleasure that adds to the rhythm of my life. :).

  28. Yes! Thanks, friend! I give an amen shout!

  29. This is so refreshing to read. Especially when it seems like everywhere you turn people are talking about using social media to “create your platform”. Maybe too much time spent on that and not enough spent in the real world, “creating a life. A home. A place of peace and learning and fun for my family. Thank you for sharing; great truth!

  30. Great post. The beautiful of Tuscany is almost unbelievable. I couldn’t agree more. I really need to make some digital boundaries.

  31. What a great read! Tuscany is high on my list of places to visit for all of the reasons you described. I agree with how our lives are being sucked dry by technology and constantly worry and wonder if my kids will be propelled forward or hindered because of it?

  32. I love this Tsh! I feel exactly the same way right now, its time to step back from the social media scene so much for me. Just the blog and other peoples blogs and then have more time for real life and real friends. We’ll have to meet in person one of these days when you are back in Bend :)

  33. I am seriously going through this right now. Having traveled to London & France over the last three weeks… it’s been a brutal adjustment getting back into blogging. I knew I probably wouldn’t want to bake as soon as I got back, so I had photographed a few things before I left for vacation so putting a post together today wasn’t too much work. But really, it felt like pulling teeth. I wanted to do anything but write up the post. Getting away for three weeks really allowed my mind to shut off the distractions and the conundrum of the blog from social media to comments to baking, photographing and writing. It was nice to turn it all off. *sigh* I just don’t know how to get back into the groove now.

  34. Does anyone have advice re this: Birth announcements, invites, other important family news that is only posted on fb…? Even if I log on periodically, I might miss something important. Hate that, but not sure how to request that people at least email, or text now I have a smartphone (that was a problem too – getting texts before I had texting). When I post something good on fb, I sometimes send a group email to good friends or family that are not on fb. If I step back from it, how do I ask for important news from others? I’m thinking of things like young nieces/nephews who have a baby, or an invite from church friends to go sledding (both things we missed, ugh)!
    Thanks, this is kind of a dilmna.

    • This is really annoying to me. I miss family news, too because I’m not on Facebook. Eventually I find out about the births anyway. I remember when we used to make phone calls to relay good news.

  35. avatar
    Christie says:

    Hi Tsh,
    I have been wondering…did you see those QR codes (or whatever they are called) everywhere and on everything while you were in Italy?

  36. This post resonates with me so well. I felt the same way after returning home from a trip recently. While on my trip the days went by slowly and I hardly took out my phone. It was lovely. I felt inspired everywhere I went. As soon as I got home I was grabbing for my phone more often and was just not as fulfilled. I’ve been thinking about how I can create that slowness and inspiration throughout my workweek. I’ve just found your blog for the first time and I am just beyond excited to read the other posts and follow your trip. You and your husband are living how my husband and I hope to when we start a family. It is exhilarating to find other like-minded people, even if it is through the internet. :)

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