Unplugged: Only on vacation can she relax without her BlackBerrys

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010

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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