Almost two years ago, I moved from my hometown of Miami to Tampa. In Miami, my entire family lives within a few blocks of each other; I can’t go to the grocery store without running into someone I know. In Tampa, I was unnervingly alone in a way I’d never been before. I wondered who I would call if I had car trouble on the highway, or what would happen if I had a medical emergency. I imagined waiting in the hospital room by myself, without a friend or cousin to accompany me.
I didn’t have much of a social life, either. I found myself spending late nights scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, peering into the lives of others. Every time I binged on social media, I felt an emptiness: Where had all those hours gone? What did I have to show for them, and why was I wasting time this way? It took me a while to realize that this online voyeurism was giving me a false sense of human connection.
When my roommate moved out last summer, she took with her the WiFi connection that was in her name. And I decided not to sign up for service on my own. My devotion to my trusty flip phone meant that I would have no Internet capabilities at home.
I work at an office where I have access to all the high-speed Internet I want. But when the workday is done, my online options are coffee shops, the library or a friend’s house. So I use my time online more wisely, keeping track of all the Internet “errands” I need to run the next time I am connected.
I’ve been living without a home Internet connection for nearly a year, and I can’t imagine going back. Don’t get me wrong — I love Facebook as much as the next person. I maintain a blog; I use online dating sites; I fall for clickbait and silly YouTube videos. I’m addicted to checking my email. But unlike many Americans, I no longer do these things from the comfort of my home.
Living without the Internet has changed how I relate to both the online and offline worlds. When I am home, I don’t have the option of filling my spare time with mindless web-surfing. I can’t hide from the fact that I am truly alone, and I am happier because of it. Not being constantly connected to the Internet has given me more time and space to stay organized and think about my goals for the future. I’ve found that my feelings of stress and anxiety have diminished significantly.
When I get bored, I turn to other activities such as reading, taking a walk around my neighborhood or listening to podcasts I’ve downloaded onto my iPod. The quality of my alone time has deepened, and my home has become an intimate space where I can seek sanctuary from the outside world. I indulge my creative side more often by painting, using Photoshop and writing poetry.
If I feel lonely, I call a friend or leave my house. I’ve also sought out more connections with people who are physically close, rather than relying on faraway friends. I find myself reaching out to strangers more often — asking the woman in my Zumba class if she wants to grab a drink, for example, or chatting with the barista at my local coffee shop. I’ve made some friends in my neighborhood, and I’ve hosted a few bonfires and potlucks in my back yard. Slowly but surely, I am making connections and building up a social network in a city where I started with few friends or connections.
Being alone can be uncomfortable. That’s why we see so many people staring at their smartphones while waiting in line at the grocery store or even at a stoplight. At a time of excess stimulation and connectivity, it has become increasingly hard to find solitude. Social networks and the vast expense of the Internet allow us to feel close to people even when we were are physically far away, which is great in moderation. We need still need time and space to ourselves.
In a new city, it was easier for me to hide away at home with my cat and my computer than it was to reach out to the world around me. Cutting off the Internet has allowed me to foster new connections with the people around me, while also deepening my relationship with myself.