The strangest things happen when you find yourself without Internet connection for weeks on end. That is the situation I recently found myself in thanks to the incompetence of my broadband supplier, and the fact that our old farmhouse in west Cork is down in a valley, and has two-foot thick stone walls which serve as a sort of 18th Century Faraday cage, sealing out all mobile phone signal.
Perhaps my supplier is on a public health mission to give the Irish people a digital detox through the expedient of simply not turning up and installing broadband when they say they will. Then, they simply do not reply to complaints about said failure – and then they do not reply to complaints about said complaints. And so on.
In any event, I feel they’ve done me a favour. They have slowed down time. The past six weeks seem longer than the previous six months. I’ve had more space to think, to stare into space, and to chat with my wife long into the evening, instead of binging on Netflix.
For the first couple of weeks staying at our old rural house we also had no television, which amplified the digital detox effect. In the course of renovations, I also disconnected the power to the front room for a while. This room could then only be lit by candles. The kids quickly dubbed this “the olden days room” and it became their favourite place in the house – a magical room where they could travel back in time. With its old shutters and cornicing, it was easy to believe that we were back in the 18th or 19th Century for a few hours.
Each evening, we would light the fire, I would let the older kids light a few candles, and we would sit in the soft glow, chatting and listening to the fire gently crackle. This produced a remarkable calming effect on even our lively toddler. We found ourselves becoming sleepy earlier and sleeping better after these quiet fireside evenings.
I noticed the effects of disentanglement from the world wide web within days. With my newsfeed severed, the troubles of the world seemed distant, and pleasantly irrelevant. In a rare quiet moment, such as that first coffee of the morning before the kids arise, instead of reaching for my phone to check Facebook, or my emails, I instead had to check in with my own thoughts. This gave space to think of the kids, and where they were at in their little lives.
There is real scientific research which confirms my own empirical findings. According to scientists, our highly connected lives are actually speeding up our perceptions of time. Our time on Earth is the most valuable – and finite – commodity we have. Yet we are effectively paying to have it shortened. In becoming ever more connected, we also risk becoming ever more disconnected from time itself, and from peace, from our own souls, and from those closest to us.
Like Godot, the broadband man will perhaps arrive some day. If he does, I will not be giving up the technology which fascinates me, and which gives such convenience. However, I will be switching it off more – and I will be ever more mindful of the subtle disruption it can bring.
Given the benefits of being disconnected, there must be a market for it. Perhaps I can offer my own digital detox service, for say €49.99 per month – plus installation charge – I can go around to people’s houses, disconnect the electricity from a couple of rooms, give them a few candles, take away their broadband routers and disable their mobile phones – guaranteeing them a longer perceived life span and greater peace and happiness – or their money back. Alternatively, I could perhaps perform a similar public service by simply getting a job as a broadband installer.