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Unplugged: A week without Internet and the irresistible urge to sneak a peek

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By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010

On the first morning, I woke up and immediately felt my brain neurons sending orders to my hands: Grab the BlackBerry. Check e-mail. Check Post instant-message system, Post e-mail, Gmail e-mail, Yahoo e-mail, Facebook news feed, Facebook messages, Twitter and e-mail at American University, where I'm a master's student in interactive journalism.

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But I was not allowed. Just minutes into a week without the Internet, I was miserable. By week's end, I learned something: My name is Ian Shapira, and I'm addicted to the need to be constantly busy.

On Day One, I suppressed my cravings. I figured that my story about the collapse of the Maryland horse industry -- would keep me busy enough. I drove out to a farm and strolled around horse paddocks, watching mares and newborns nuzzle and eat grass. I was lost in the beauty.

But on my drive home, relaxation crashed into a rising sense of deprivation. My instinct to pick up the BlackBerry resurfaced. Cheating would be quick . . .

But I didn't want to go down as the first to cave.

I pressed on. I felt this scary emptiness -- a cerebral vat into which information is supposed to stream constantly. I missed belonging to the day's running conversation, scanning pithy tweets and Facebook updates. I wanted to read e-mails at traffic lights, or worse, while driving.

I finished that first day Internet-free. I thought I'd feel pride. I felt nothing.

Before going to bed, I picked up an essay by New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton, who wrote about our addiction to sugar and salt, citing a recent study showing how a diet of high-fat, high-sugar food led "rats to pursue obesity with passion."

Suddenly, I felt weak. I vowed that my resistance would last the week.

But after three days, I told myself that the only way I could obtain wagering figures for my horse story was to go online. It was a handy excuse to justify my unkickable habit. I caved.


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