COLUMN: Digital detox

Recently I returned from a trip to South East Asia. I spent two weeks overseas doing some teaching, encouraging and visiting with friends and new acquaintances alike. It was a good trip, but a very soggy one. Now I know what they mean by “rainy season”, and let me tell you, they aren’t kidding around with the rain over there.

I spent most of the second week in a town in the far north of Myanmar called Putao. This is pronounced poo-ta-OH, with the emphasis on the oh. Putao is as far north as you can fly in Myanmar. I’d call it a little town surrounded by, and connected to, many villages around it. It’s the gateway to the foothills of the Himalayas that you can see in the distance.

Well, sometimes you can see them. It was so rainy and cloudy that we rarely saw much of anything, including the sun. We saw the sun only three times, if that gives you any idea of what the weather was like. The only way you could get more humid is to live underwater, which at times I was pretty sure we were doing anyway!

But none of that is what I want to talk about. When we arrived there, we found no wifi, which wasn’t a surprise at all really. I didn’t expect much, but I thought the hotel we were staying at, which caters to westerners, would probably have internet access. Boy, was I wrong. They didn’t have any at all, and neither did anyone else in the whole area.

So there we were, pretty much off the grid. We did have some cell service, so you could get texts, etc. that way if you wanted to pay for the overseas roaming. I opted out of that, and so spent most of six days with no online connection at all.

This is what I want to explore a bit with you in this month’s column. It’s not like this is the first time I’ve been unable to connect to the net. Remember, I’ve spent most of my life off the grid since the grid hadn’t been invented yet. Yes, I really am that old.

So there I was, a 65 year old guy, in the far north of Myanmar, and I found myself actually missing my internet. This came as somewhat of a surprise to me since I don’t think of myself as an internet addict. I do use the internet a lot for both work and personal things, but I had never thought of myself as an internet junkie or anything.

But now I’m not so sure. Well okay, junkie is probably a bit much, but I have to admit that I felt really odd not to have any internet access at all. I hadn’t told anyone that I might be offline for a whole week and so wondered if my sudden absence would alarm anyone. And, of course, I missed the news and updates I usually get online.

As things turned out, no-one missed me at all, so no worries there! It’s wonderful being loved isn’t it?

Seriously, though, it has given me pause to ponder all this. I think that our reliance upon the internet creeps up on us and, until something like this happens, we don’t even realize how much we are using and relying on it. Take right now, for example. As I’m writing this I’m listening to a discussion on a topic of interest which – you guessed it – I’m streaming off the internet.

I’m left with the thought that I need to pay attention to all this. I think I also need to make myself take breaks from the net, or at least parts of it. Social media comes to mind on this one. Either slowing it down or just not using it for a few days on a regular basis would probably be good for me.

After all, life is meant to be lived, not just watched or commented upon. I’m looking forward to October when I’ll be gone and will have some internet access, but will be too busy walking to use it anywhere near as much as usual.

And that will be a good thing.

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Louie Marsh is pastor of Christ’s Church on the River on the Parker Strip. Visit his website HERE.

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