Unplugged: Only on vacation can she relax without her BlackBerrys

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010; C08

My low came that first day, riding home on the Metro. It is normally four short stops, enough time to write a few e-mails, check headlines on my BlackBerrys and maybe text the husband.

That first day, it was four long, torturous stops.

I found myself staring jealously at people reading books, wishing I had brought one. I played mental games, checking out riders' shoes to guess what they did for a living. Ballet flats: nonprofit intern. Rubber-soled boots: construction worker. Peep toes with two-inch heel: political aide.

My eyes gravitated to a man with a newspaper. Before I could stop myself, I was reading over his shoulder. Until it occurred to me: "Oh, no -- I've become one of those people."

My hands felt idle. My mind, malnourished.

Now, to be clear, I have often wondered whether the Internet enhances life or wastes it. If I could, I've long thought, I'd abandon it altogether. Whenever I leave the country, I consciously pick hotels where computers aren't readily available and my BlackBerrys won't work. It is the only time I truly feel relaxed. Food tastes better. Sleep feels deeper. My thoughts feel smarter. I can finish a book.

But midway through our experiment, I realized that that feeling of total abandon is possible only on vacation. Working while unplugged produces the opposite effect. I was more stressed, thinking about the e-mails I was missing. I created an out-of-office message telling people to call me, but few did. I was more bored, wondering what family and friends were doing on Facebook.

As a reporter, I was paralyzed. On Wednesday, I was handed an assignment that would be difficult with the Internet but nearly impossible without it: a cyber-stalking case. My editor released me from the experiment.

Immediately, I reached for my BlackBerry and sent off a three-word text: "Free at last!"

Only later did I think: "Or am I?"

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