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Online or Off?

I spend a lot of time online. We talked about that here recently, and I confessed that I am often overwhelmed by the number of memberships I have: Facebook, Myspace, etc. I'm not very organized at the best of times. Though I always start out with the best of intentions, I invariably fall far short of my organizational goals, and the proliferation of online contacts leaves me... overwhelmed.

But I don't know what I would do now without the internet. In a relatively short time it has affected every single area of my life. Apart from medical science and its advancements, I think the most amazing inventions of the last century are the combustion engine (cars), television and the personal computer and internet.

So... what did I used to do before going to my computer first thing in the morning to check my email, etcetera, etcetera and spend the rest of the day there?

Well, I used to drink a cup of morning coffee while reading the newspaper, the newspaper to which I no longer subscribe because I get my news online. I would check the mailbox and get the mail to see if I had received any cards or letters - or rejection letters - and I no longer do that anymore because almost all my mail comes as email. I would then perhaps set out to the library to get some books out to do research for a novel, but I no longer do that anymore; virtually all my research is done online. Or, if I already had all my research done, I would sit down with a clipboard and begin to write longhand, since I went directly from longhand to computer with no stop at a typewriter along the way. Now, of course, I do all my writing at my computer with the internet humming in the background. I check my email often, and have a search engine up at all times to check word origins, historical details and the like. I can write and research more quickly and with much less trouble. Fact checking is a breeze.

And yet, and yet... I sometimes long for that feeling of isolation, that sense that I had time enough for whatever I wanted to do without a thousand online 'duties' tugging at my shirt tail demanding attention. I would go all day without contact from anyone; for a natural born introvert that's a 'peaceful easy feeling'.

Oh, don't get me wrong. The internet has given me far more than it has taken away. With one press of a button I can send my manuscript winging through cyberspace instead of laboriously printing out the whole shooting match and having to package it and take it to the postal station. With one little typed word in a search engine I can raise a thousand pages dealing with Gothic architecture, or German history, or a database of English surnames.

I'm grateful and yet... ah, the blissful serenity of that old isolation.

In the absence of any way - or even desire, because I am a realist - to go back to that time of pre-internet isolation, I take Sundays away from the computer. I don't even turn it on, don't check my email, don't do anything. I visit, read, watch movies and cook.

Maybe I'm just in a melancholy mood today; summer is over, and as much as I love autumn - I do love it more than any other season - it still represents the end of summer relaxation and potential, just as the internet, to me, symbolizes the end of isolation.

So... does anyone else feel constricted occasionally, or is the internet and all of its hyper-connectivity an unalloyed blessing? I wouldn't turn back the clock - can't imagine turning back the clock - to pre-internet, but does anyone else remember what they did before running to the computer first thing in the morning? What would your life be like without the internet?

Tell me, do! Inquiring minds want to know!


  1. I honestly don't know how people wrote books before the internet. I imagine it must have taken a lot longer, what with the research and all. Heck, FINDING the research--I have no idea how I would have found out some of what I found out for my Mer series if not for Google Earth. Ditto the Sahara in my genie series.

    But I do give myself a time limit when it's a writing day. Like today for instance. I'm turning off the internet in 12 minutes. Whatever doesn't get done, will have to get done later. On my lunch break or after dinner. I have to be that disciplined or I can lose an entire day doing online stuff which doesn't move my story forward at all.

    The Internet - can't write with it; can't write without it. LOL

  2. You must be a mind reader, Donna. You summed up so many of my thoughts about the internet, email, etc. I'm at the computer most of the day--writing and editing jobs, freelance work, etc.--and I keep my email open the entire time. I think it's caused a slight nervous tic as I regularly glance at the menu bar to see if a new email's popped in. :-)

    We went away for a weekend at the beach recently, and I didn't think I'd have internet access. I approached that aspect of the vacation with both joy and fear. I wanted a break from the constant communication, but I was afraid I'd miss it.

    Turned out that the beach house had internet access, and I had my laptop, so....

  3. Judi, actually writing books pre-internet was freeing in a way. I didn't have access to all the information, but neither did most readers! LOL. Still, I got some things wrong that I can easily check on now.

    Libby, when I went away for a few days last summer - didn't manage that this year - it was lovely. I took a walk down to the beach in the morning with my coffee. Maybe that's why the autumnal melancholia... I didn't get to the beach at all this summer, and now it's gone. Boo-hoo! LOL.

  4. I always went to the barn to feed the horses. It is now 9:30 AM here in Indiana, and I haven't gotten out there yet. Not that anyone is starving, but I think they miss the regular feeding times!

    As it stands now, the only place I can truly get away from my computer is going to Dale Hollow lake in Tennessee. My phone doesn't work there and the house we stay in doesn't have Internet or cable TV. The rest of the time when I'm on vacation, my computer is with me and I blog every day.

    I love having the research ability right at my fingertips, though. Where I live, it's a long way to a library.....

  5. I try to turn things off around 10pm every night. That way, I get in at least an hour of reading or writing in each night.

    I think sometimes it's great-I feel like I know a lot more about my friends and their lives, but sometimes it's startling how many times a day I say "well, I read her facebook update and now I know this..." it's weird. Or how a lot of news is spread quickly through twitter--it's insane how things can go "viral."

    BUt there are time when I jsut need to not have a million things going on at once, and by turning off my computer or putting my phone in my purse and not looking for a text message is my way of shutting down. :)

  6. Donna, you hit my hot button! I admit that I have a love/hate relationship with the internet, e-mail, blogs, etc. I love all the things they give me--instant research, instant messages, etc., and I hate the time they rob from me when I feel like I must look at one more thing before I get back to writing!

  7. I tended to get to work a lot earlier in the day.

    As for Judi's comment, yes, research took longer. I remember all the books I checked out of the library for my Harlequin American, O'Malley's Quest, but it was fun to cruise the stacks and choose what worked for my archeologist heroine. Plus the librarians were only too happy to help.

    So I was writing for close to 20 years before the net made things easier for me. But sometimes I'm not sure it makes it as fun.


  8. I don't think I could imagine life without the internet now I love it, but it is time consuming before the internet I used to have a coffee and read some of the book I was reading and yes I did get more housework done then LOL.

    I love it because it has brought me in touch with so many authors and my TBR pile is huge and my must get list is just a big but yes I love it.

    Have Fun

  9. I'm not entirely sure where my internet time comes from, especially blog time. But I'm still reading lots of books, and writing, and doing housework. Maybe it's just that whatever I'm doing will always fill the space available, so internet just slots into the list.

  10. The biggest benefit of the internet indeed is that connection, for writers, with readers. It's wonderful!

    Thanks, all, for the great comments!


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