• Christian Hall

An internet deprived millennial’s reflections: Life is fuller with missed notifications

Updated: Jun 16


I have always taken in pride in the fact that my generation (the millennials) was the last to experience life without the World Wide Web, ubiquitous cable TV, and cell phones. The pride comes from the sense of flexibility and elasticity that we all share stemming from how we’ve kept up with the blistering pace of technology and the internet since it’s birth in 1995. We are juxtaposed between two extremes; our parents’ generation who are constantly asking us to help them troubleshoot, and our younger siblings’ generation whom we love to lambast for their inability to exist without their precious phones. But, I wonder how honest we are being with ourselves about our independence. How many of us could live up to the Instagram “$5 million to live in solitude with no internet for a year” post that is shared so frequently? It hasn’t been a year, but I’ve been living a technologically simpler life for 3 weeks now and here is what I’ve observed.  


No Service


How inconvenient it can be when you’re trying to send that meme, respond in your group text, or pull up google maps, random internet searches, and those two little words pop up. “No Service”, “Safari cannot connect because the network is not responding”. *Sigh* For most of us, this is normally a very temporary inconvenience, if we can’t find cell signal, there is usually Wi-Fi nearby to end our momentary woes of disconnection. And that’s exactly how most people feel without signal: disconnected. We have been tied to our phones, tablets, and laptops since the mid 2000’s and at this point they feel like they are a part of us – not a mere accessory. On the other hand, it seems like we are all searching for a way to unplug and claim our independence. Yet, this voluntary disconnection has to be on our terms, otherwise it creates nervous energy and FOMO from an unscheduled break from the distractions. 

For the last three weeks, Gizem and I have been in the rural mountains of North Carolina, and in that time we may have had cell signal for a total of six hours. Six dreadful, text and social media notification filled hours where we felt the “scroll hole” clawing its way back into our lives. *Feed me Seymour*  Without service we have grown accustomed to leaving our phones in the house while we work, only bringing them out when we want music or audiobooks while we mow, till, or weed the fields. Every now and then, when we know there will be some great photo opportunities, we bring them down to the field with us. 


One thing I know for sure is that app and platform designers did a lot of research into how our dopaminergic pathways work, and how they could best exploit them, because it’s taken the entire three weeks to start detaching from our technology habits.Thankfully now when a notification does pop up, if my phone finds service, I don’t feel the same immediate urge to look, touch, or engage. Prior to this experience, just the sound of someone else’s phone going off would entice me to look through my own. And what was I even really looking at? The same media posted on various platforms to be re-digested over and over like a cow chewing cud. Reddit, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Apple News, Yahoo Finance, Robinhood, rinse and repeat. “Your screen time was 3 hours per day down 5% from last week” *SCORE! I AM KILLING THIS* I was not killing this, in fact, after I left my job I became even more tied to my phone while attempting to fill the boredom void. This is not an uncommon occurrence today, as everywhere you go; bars, concerts, gyms, restaurants, parks, sidewalks and even the driver seats of vehicles on the highway, you will find people living through their devices. 


There is a phenomenon called Phantom Vibration Syndrome, when you have become so hyper aware and anxious about potential incoming notifications that you can no longer tell the difference between your phone buzzing, your clothes moving or your muscles twitching. Don’t worry, this isn’t a serious issue, humans are naturally obsessive and this is something we have all experienced. The truth is we’ve become so distracted from the present moment by the supercomputer in our pocket, and we rely on that distraction to keep us, well...distracted. I thought that not having service would be a real pain, that my experience of life would actually diminish, because it had become the apparatus through which I was viewing the world. Now, as a result of not having service, I no longer feel the phantom text messages or impulsively check my phone. Initially it was because I knew I wouldn’t have any notifications, but more and more it feels like the old habit is dying, and I am realizing my goal of becoming independent again. 


Wi-Fi(xation)


The first two days after arriving on the farm, there was this sense of urgency to get the Wi-Fi, or lack thereof, fixed so we could post, finish building our website and other excuses. After manipulating and troubleshooting, using network range extenders and so on, we finally got it! A solid 1-2 bars of Wi-Fi, bounced twice through different routers, that allows us to sometimes stream music without buffering and if we are lucky, maybe we can send an email. Success!! As a result, Gizem and I finally released our expectations of a wireless bounty and began to truly experience the disconnection for what it was, a blessing.

This new abundance, which to some would seem as a “lack”, has helped Gizem and I realize how much time in the day there actually is, and now if we want to be distracted we have to actually seek distraction. We are learning more and more about ourselves, our relationship, and one another. It has brought us closer by uncovering cracks in the damn, ones that had been spackled over with half present, distractedly uncomfortable and unresolved articulations. Without Wi-Fi, we have been actually able to settle into a life that had no distractions, nowhere for our little monsters and demons to hide, a whole new type of discomfort. Hard conversations that normally could have been covered up or delayed by social gatherings, social media, and other various forms of digestible media. We now have time to think about our words, choose them wisely, and explore their underlying meaning. When a disagreement arises, we are able to take time to sit and talk (or be silent) until we find a resolution and closure that benefits us both. Without distraction, our ability to explore and challenge one another has increased tenfold.


We have also been able to develop new rituals, all of which are centered around being disconnected. In the mornings, rather than scrolling the news or previous nights Insta-posts, we have morning meditations time for reflection, followed by stretching/yoga and a quiet breakfast. At night, rather than bingeing Netflix, we sit side by side on the bed and talk about the days past or days ahead, our to-do list, and articles to be written. Sometimes we listen to our favorite spiritual and intellectual teachers, and our own interpretations come to life through immersive and uninterrupted conversations. It seems what we had labeled as inconvenient or frustrating was actually abundance disguised, and until we were able to remove our desire and expectations, it remained veiled. 


The 2:1 Ratio


This new level of connection is manifesting in my other relationships as well. I am finding deeper connections through shorter but more condensed interactions. I have noticed a new found sincerity in my friends voices, stories, and questions. While I can say that my friends are already extremely loving and considerate, it feels as though they are reflecting my new found intention in kind. What is even more likely is that I am truly noticing their intentions and presence which has always existed. I think it is because I am not able to communicate constantly or instantly, so I am putting much more consideration into words that I use and listening even more intently. 


I have often heard that “Man has two ears and one mouth because he should listen twice as much as he speaks.” While this idiom was usually thrown around by my fire academy instructors as a way to “politely” ask for silence, it rings true to me now more than ever. Because I have to set aside time to connect to the internet or find cell service, I have become much more interested in the thoughts of others. It is the same feeling as biting tiny chunks off the last piece of chocolate in the house, trying to savor every bit of it, that I now hear the voices and ideas of my friends and family members. In the past I would often find myself surfing or scrolling while on a call with my friends, and that lended itself to distraction. Don’t get me wrong, in this time of quarantine it is purely acceptable and even encouraged for you to virtually hang out. But there is also beauty in comfortable silence between friends/partners/family members, silence that isn’t interrupted by thumbs and fingers tapping phone screens. 


Even when the phones aren’t out, too often are we all guilty of listening with the intent of responding rather than understanding. We constantly “top” others’ stories by offering up “that reminds me of” or “this one time” statements that literally add zero value to a conversation, eating up the quiet spaces between, and for me, not having cell service or in home wifi has helped me to deepen my understanding and practice of active listening. 


Figuratively speaking, before leaving home to work on this farm, I was the guy holding up his phone at a concert, watching the band play through the camera, rather than actually seeing them. And that was how I was living my life; viewed through a lense, cropped for aesthetics and filtered for color. What I’ve come to realize is that the technology we are so dependent upon is amoral, it has no notions or intentions, and that I am the actual cause of my dependence. It is said that it takes 21 days to create a habit, but I’m beginning to wonder how many days it takes to break one. Here I am 21 days into an alternate reality, one that does not match the plan that I had laid out. Right now, Gizem and I would be headed to Cordoba, Argentina then off to Foz do Iguacu, Brazil. We would be living the (perceived) high life of travel and personal growth, but what we are actually living, is the life that brought the challenges to us. I have no doubt that I would still be held hostage to my need for distraction, and would most likely have missed out on the true experiences, and with that realization I become more and more thankful that I am being forced to do the work now.