Off the grid

10 years ago tomorrow morning I boarded a cargo freighter bound for New Zealand in the port of Long Beach and left behind America and its gridded comforts for an open-ended journey into my own future. 15 days later I disembarked in Tauranga, a small town on the northeast coast of the north island of New Zealand and the first stop of the trip that I now call The Big One; the time in between, to this day, is the longest I’ve ever gone without access to the internet and a phone since I started using the World Wide Web when I was around 13. When I realized a few months ago that this anniversary period was coming up, I immediately started thinking about the best way to commemorate it. I went through renting a cabin, driving across the country, doing a good international overland route for old time’s sake, and a few other options. When I sat down and thought about it, though, I realized that in my final days as a 23-year-old I was essentially placeless, with wheels instead of roots, and that because I’ve grown and changed a lot in the past 10 years I should do something to honor who I am now, not just who I was then. When I thought back to crossing the Pacific all these years later it was the forced disconnection that really resonated, so I decided that I would combine that aspect of the trip with my newfound placefulness, giving me an opportunity to explore Seattle through a new lens and deepen my relationship to it while I transition both into my 34th year of life (my birthday is February 4th) and into whatever comes next for me after the Mayor’s Office.

As soon as I finish sharing this blog post with the outside world I’m going to unplug my wifi router, turn off my phone, and disconnect completely from the world of electronic communication for 15 days, from 12:01 am on Friday, January 24th to 11:59 pm on Friday, February 7th. During that period I won’t be using SMS, phones of any kind (including friends’ phones and pay phones), or any Internet-connected technologies, my own or others’. I’ll be going, in other words, off the grid, three very appealing little words that have meant different things to me at different points in my life but that now represent an appropriate way of honoring my past while preparing for my future. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be seeing people—just that any plans I haven’t already made will be much more logistically challenging to put together after midnight tonight.

The idea started as just not checking Facebook, Twitter, email, etc for 15 days, but then it grew to include the Internet altogether; I waffled on giving up the phone for at least a month or two, but on the flight to New York this past weekend I realized that the only reason I could find for keeping my phone was that part of me was afraid of what it would feel like to be totally cut off from modern technology in the heart of the city…and coincident with that realization was my acceptance that this meant I had to give it up, because this exercise won’t be worthwhile unless it’s hard for me.

And it will be hard—my immediate impulse, and one that may not go away until the morning of February 8th, will be to check my stats and see how many of you read this post, like it on Facebook, email me about it, etc. When I actually sit down and contemplate how many individual sub-processes of my brain are devoted solely to waiting for little electronic notifications at any given time (Did I get that email I’ve been waiting for? Did she text me back? Is my digital presence, generally speaking, a thing that people engage with or ignore?), it’s downright shocking. 2012 was about refining and optimizing my system of information consumption; 2013 was about spending less time consuming and more time creating and playing; and now I’m cuing up 2014 to be about really sitting down and thinking more deeply about the role that both play in constructing my identity and my view of the world and influencing my happiness and the general quality of my life—being more mindful of my inputs and outputs, in other words, and starting to meditate again has been an important part of that (I’ve found this to be a great secular guide thus far).

There are a lot of things that I’m looking forward to about the next 15 days—the new experience of navigating the contours of my daily life without the aid of a prosthetic on which I’ve come to rely pretty heavily, like losing one of my senses almost; the challenge of being surrounded by the grid without being able to connect to it; the delicious reward of successfully delayed gratification waiting for me on the other side; rediscovering the pre-Internet mindset that I had when I was younger and seeing how it fits these days; spending a lot more time reading books, writing, and going on walks than I do now; finishing the rough draft of my first play and putting together my “All I Really Need to Know I Learned as a Car Salesman” talk for Ignite Seattle 23–but more than anything else I’m looking forward to seeing what I miss from this world of always-on communication vs. what doesn’t, as it turns out, actually provide any value to my life, and adjusting accordingly.

Enjoy the next 15 days…and if you need to reach me before February 8th, send me a postcard :)

3 thoughts on “Off the grid

  1. I guess we will not be having coffee this evening as planned. Contact me when you get on the grid for a reschedule. Sounds like a incredible adventure!!!


  2. Congratulations, Sol. I myself lived for 13 years in Sri Lanka (including Nigeria and Papua New Guinea for 3-1/2 years of that time) and learned so much by having to rely on my own inner resources. This was before the internet but in my case it meant having no radio or television and being around people who noticed the world around them, did not read at every available moment, and in other ways lived more in the present than I had done since childhood. Now, alas, I have become a typical Westerner again, an academic no less, but I recognize the desire and need to live a much more authentic life than is possible in our modern world. I suspect that since I lived there, many Sri Lankans have come to be more like us.
    I noticed from my Madame LaFarge position at the window looking into the courtyard that there was a get-together at your place the other night, perhaps a send-off into your quest. I just want to wave you on your way. Fifteen days is not very long, however, but anything is better than being always plugged in, I think.

  3. Pingback: Reflections on my Jesus Year | Solarlemur

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