The Case for Going Off the Grid

Written with an appreciation for the irony of a blog post about going off-grid.

I recently spent time with a friend who lives most of his life almost entirely off-grid. When he’s at home, he lives in a modest home in the rural hills of Ireland. (I’ve never been there- he says it’s a small town. I assume it has hills?) There is no wifi, and electricity use is minimal. He has a smart phone without data as his “computer” when he’s around wifi, and a burner phone for calls and texts. As paranoid as this sounds, given the current debate and changes regarding America’s own policies towards net neutrality, and the variation in these rules in other countries, sometimes it is necessary to take extra measures in order to maintain privacy and secure identity. In addition to being exposed for identity theft, there also lies a risk of being exposed at a point in your life where it makes your career vulnerable. Consider the Hillary Clinton email scandals. The emails contained nothing incriminating, beyond their existence. Because she did not use the government-protect server exclusively, she was exposed to have been emailing the way our Mom’s do: gossiping about people using abbreviations and lots of emojis. Granted, the issue is more nuanced than that, but it only takes that much of personal behavior being exposed to affect the public’s perception of you as a professional.

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I am really fascinated by a lifestyle where you can withdraw from the appeal of media and engage with reality. It’s a little crazy that we live in a world where we have to work to engage with reality. I accidentally disconnect all the time. I forget to charge my phone or pack an external battery, and I am off the grid for 3 days straight. When I have absolutely nothing to do. I will temporarily lose my phone and not think about it until… well, until I know I have something to do. A lot of times these device vacations leave me with a new sense of “shoot, I should’ve read that email two days ago,” or “I should have confirmed this event yesterday,” but the time away from the device brings me a deep sense of calm.

Let’s talk about FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. FOMO IS REAL. If you aren’t online, you might miss the next big thing that everyone is talking about, or miss an invite to a new place, or miss a friend’s big announcement.  …So what? So what if you miss the moment the news happens?? It will trickle down to you eventually, anyway, if it is even worth knowing. Something that I never hear talked about is the fear of missing out on the here and now. Right? How many meaningful conversations with our parents have we mm-hmmd scrolled through and can’t remember? How many opportunities have been missed to keep eye contact and make nuanced jokes during dinner with friends? I want to instill a little real life FOMO in my daily routine. As I catch myself scrolling while on my couch I should think… what if I was outside on a walk right now? I might make small talk with that nice lady, or see flowers blooming in the park. I should turn off my phone and go outside.

What in the world does my friend do in his free time? He said, “Since I don’t have a tv, or computer, I’ll often sip a drink while I play my instrument, or write (offline!), or read a book.” Brilliant. When he said this, I instantly thought of the thousands of hours I have spent with me, myself, and Netflix. I thought of the hours in that week alone that I was offline and in person, maybe 20 usually wasted hours were spent establishing deep and personal connections with wonderful musicians and artists from all over the world. Is there a way to make every day that purposeful?

Maybe. But there is merit to this technological plague, too. Room for personal growth within each career field. Towards the end of the week, I was hard at work on my computer, establishing an online community for watching concerts and supporting the musical organization for which we were working through digital viewerships and donations. The friend who lives off-grid came up and commented that it looked like important business was happening in this coffee shop, with my tech set-up and focused expression. I explained what I was doing, and made a (joking) comment that he wouldn’t know anything about this stuff, since he is off grid. He responded in a somber way, saying that he did recognize the merit of an online presence, and that by making the choices he makes to stay offline, he is also choosing to be disconnected from people he could otherwise be in touch with, and his once large following of musicians may lose touch with his work as he remains inactive on the world wide web. Like anything, being on-grid/ off-grid is all about striking a balance, and that balance is different for anyone. I do dream of a quiet, offline cabin-in-the-woods experience some day… but full time? I don’t think that’s for me. (Says the girl who spent an hour in front of the computer to bring you this post.)

Do you have a technology balance, or a goal to remediate your regular usage or lack there of?

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