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Switching off: Why taking a break from the internet is so difficult

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 | By Linnet Hunter

I took a four-day writer’s retreat recently and made a decision to switch off all my devices. Note that I didn’t actually leave them behind (how could I write anything without my laptop?) but I did disconnect the internet from everything, close down my email and go for a walk on the beach without my phone.


Ah, the freedom! The autumn sunlight pierced the clouds and lit the waves with a pearly green. I reached for my phone to take a photograph and post it on Facebook…but no phone! And I had neglected to pack my dust-covered camera.




Leaving that frustration behind me, I sauntered on and found a marker for a shore bird walk. Excellent! I am very interested to know more about the birds along this stretch of ocean. Access to the information was via a QR code nailed to each marker. I reached for my phone… Damn.


Breathe. Walk. There’s a lot to enjoy without knowing about birds. Look, a feather!


Inspired, I write a word on the sand and watch the waves wash it away. It takes the pain of the word with it. I want to share this experience – I will video it and use it in my blog. I reach for my ph…


So, you get the picture. Switching off takes more than actually holding down the off button, or locking the phone in a box. It takes a whole different approach and perhaps I tried to do too much too soon.


What I did notice was that I got a great deal of writing done with no email distractions, a fact that helps me put into action advice I have been reading (and giving) about restricting email reading and answering to specific times of the day.


I also noticed that although I was wondering if anything important was waiting in my inbox, the declaration I had made to focus only on my own stuff for the four days freed me from much of this concern.


By day two I was getting a little antsy and anxious about what might be going on in the world, but this passed by day three. After day four I noticed a building reluctance to turn the internet back on again – a feeling that has stayed with me in the fortnight since my return. From this experience, I have learned a few things and offer it here in case it is helpful to others.


  • I am in charge of when and where and what I access, not the other way round.
  • A complete break is good for the soul and the creative flow.
  • Discipline and flexibility on this issue can co-exist.


Happy surfing!