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.)
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.
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.
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 are you learning these days?