For a long time I considered myself a technophobe. At 27 years of age I had dial-up internet, a hand-me-down PC and a pay-as-you-go phone. Then, a career change resulted in a better income and a need to be contactable. Almost overnight I gained a smartphone, a netbook and broadband... And I loved it! The internet at my fingertips - all the time! And I could check work emails and pay bills - All the time! And people could get in contact with me - All the time!?!
In truth, just six months after connecting myself to the world wide web I felt completely overwhelmed by it. I was talking to friends over the internet instead of seeing them in real life. I felt like I wasn't thinking for myself - who needs to when you can just Google things? The nail in the coffin came when one morning the alarm went off and both my husband and I reached straight for our phones to make sure we hadn't missed anything in the six hours we had been asleep. We looked at each other, ashamed. We needed to unplug.
After much research we managed to find a little cottage in Wales, the advert for which included warnings about lack of internet coverage in the area - both agreeing this was the only way we'd actually manage to 'get clean'. No internet meant no danger of notifications or emails pulling us back in. We packed up and went.
Although we were obviously aware of our over-reliance on the internet, the full severity of the situation didn't strike us until we were actually cut off from our supply. Worryingly, our first port-of-call for any activity or task was the internet; even feeding ourselves..
Husband: Let's get something to eat
Me: Alright, I'll just search for pubs in the area... Nope.
H: Don't worry, we'll cook... frittata?
M: Sure, I'll just find the recipe... Damn it!
H: Fine, let's just get a takeaway
M: I'll use that App that... ?!@%$
H: Beans on toast it is!
The social isolation was noticeable too. With Facebook and Twitter, we had become used to almost hourly updates about what friends and family were doing, thinking and which videos of cats they were most enjoying. For the first couple of days we found ourselves wondering constantly about what was going on at home - our focus miles away from our pretty cottage and the holiday we had paid for.
Most alarming though, was the effect on our relationship. My husband and I struggled to find anything to say to each other. So much of our day-to-day interactions had been based around news stories, or friends' updates or favourite blogs that we found, without that input, we were stumped. There was nothing to report. We had forgotten how to make conversation.
As the days passed, things started to change. Our smartphones sat, gathering dust in the corner of the cottage, as we remembered how much we loved venturing out without a map, finding a hidden gem of a cafe, having time to think and to listen, just sitting together and musing on life. For 10 whole days I didn't worry about the number of people following me on Twitter or reading my blog. Online Scrabble games went unplayed, Facebook event invitations sat unanswered. We bought actual newspapers. Glorious.
As we started driving home, we discussed the experience. It is impossible to deny that the internet makes life easier in lots of ways, but there need to be limits. Many of my friends check email accounts and social networking sites before they get out of bed in the mornings and last thing at night. I often find myself talking to people, only to look up and find they are scrolling through their phones (perhaps also a statement on my conversational abilities). The internet asks for our attention and it is hard to say no, but we must (at least every so often) in order to spend real time with real people in the real world.
We rounded a corner out of the valley. Things would be different now, we vowed. We would take charge of our relationship with the internet; not spending all of our time dazzled by its notifications and tweets... An ominous beeping started in the back of the car; our smartphones stirring back into life. We were back on the grid. And yes, despite all we had learnt, we pulled over and spent 20 minutes checking and responding to messages. But fear not; the lesson wasn't lost. Before we drove off, the phones went back into the boot so we could enjoy the beautiful drive home and each others company without interruption. Wonderful.
Follow Alis McWhirter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tedmcwhirter