Rich says I spend far too much time online because I told him I Googled ‘internet detox’. If that’s his attitude, then I’m glad I didn’t tell him about the hour I spent reading the results.
‘You can just not go on it for a few days,’ he said. ‘See how you feel.’
That’s easy for him to say. He’s ten years older than me and doesn’t even have a Twitter account. Our friendship is a weird one. We met at work and I left, a year ago now, and we meet up most weeks to have a pint or two in this dingy pub he likes. The windows are dirty and the chairs need replacing. It’s not very Instagram-able. But I keep coming here anyway. He’s different to my other friends.
I rip on him for not being very technical. He rips on me for being too focused on screens. He only arranges meeting up on the phone and he doesn’t have a mobile so I can’t be late. He gets really arsey if I’m late, like he did last week. I told him that this Twitter storm was going down and kept refreshing my feed. I was involving him – showing him the funnier Tweets and reading them out. I’d have thought he’d like that. But he got really annoyed.
‘Can’t we have an actual conversation without you playing on that thing?’
Normally it’s good-natured between us. But he was scowling and looked huffy. He almost downed his pint. So I told him not to worry, mate! I wondered if maybe things were bad with his wife because he’s not normally like that. He was chatting. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my phone, burning in my pocket with all the things I was missing. I didn’t say anything about it then, but did what he asked me to at the time. He’d said thanks for listening and that he felt better. On the tram home I ate up all of the Tweets, but the storm was over. There were just slow people discovering it and people were going to sleep. I kept scrolling for more and more.
It was then that I thought I might have a problem.
But only a few days later I realised it was more serious than that because, for the life of me I couldn’t remember what that Twitter storm was about. There have been a few more since then, I guess. I didn’t even post anything about it, I was just reading it then so I can’t check back. So I decided to Google ‘internet detox.’ I honestly thought he’d be proud of me.
‘Well done, mate,’ I imagined him saying.
But he reacted to my words with indifference, said I should just not go on it.
‘You can’t just not go on it!’ I said, incredulous. ‘I’ll lose followers. I have to make an announcement – say I’m doing a month-long detox, or week, whatever. Then you have to write about it and then you get back on as normal.’
Rich groaned and drunk his pint. Rich is a simple man, he likes pints and the quiet life. He doesn’t understand my generation. I think that he would have been better off living in an earlier century, that he’d be really happy in an era that hadn’t discovered electricity. I sometimes wonder if he’s a bit racist or sexist because of this; he’s not as enlightened as people of my generation. We’re changing the world. He doesn’t like it when I start talking about privilege. No straight white men do though, do they?
‘Just don’t go on it for the next week,’ he said. ‘Try it. You always say you like trying something new.’
I’d had a few pints at this point and, honestly, he was annoying me, being all smug like that. A week without the internet, that’s fine.
‘You know what?’ he said. ‘Give me your phone. I’ll give it back to you next Thursday.’
My heart lurched, I felt panicky, but I wanted to prove the smug git wrong. I could live without my phone for a week. ‘Fine,’ I said.
‘Got any numbers you want to keep?’ he asked.
Numbers? Oh, he was talking about the phone bit of my phone.
‘I’ll be fine, mate,’ I said, downing my glass. I gestured towards his pint. ‘Want another one?’
‘Nah,’ he shook his head. ‘Should be getting back.’ He picked up my phone. ‘You sure you’re okay with me taking this?’ he asked.
‘I’m more than okay with it,’ I said. I’d show him.
‘I’m a bit worried that it’s too much for you. Maybe you should start smaller.’ He looked genuinely concerned. ‘You should go on the internet at home, maybe. Easier rules.’
‘No, mate,’ I said. ‘I won’t go on the internet – apart from if I have to for work – for a week. They’re the rules.’
‘Do you remember that time at work when you left this at home and you were anxious the whole day? You got Jane to send you home, sick, at 2pm because you couldn’t handle it.’
‘That was just an emergency. I needed it,’ I said. It had been an emergency. I’d had my hair done and wanted to see what my social media friends thought about it. I’d posted the picture before work. I must have been coming down with something, too, I think. Because I did feel ill. ‘And, anyway, that wasn’t this phone, that was years ago, that was the iPhone 5.’
‘Oh,’ said Rich, ‘I wouldn’t know.’ He tuned out whenever I mentioned any Apple product. ‘Same time next week?’
‘Uh huh,’ I said. I put my coat on and felt in the pocket for my phone. I felt panicked but remembered that Rich had just taken it. Force of habit, I thought. It’s only a week.
On the bus, I realised that I had no way of getting in contact with Rich to ask for my phone back. His number (landline, obviously) was on that phone. I vaguely knew where he lived but wouldn’t be able to find his house. I felt a bit like a mother who had left her new-born with a stranger for a week. Was that a bit much? That was how I felt. And how well did I really trust Rich? I’d only got this phone about six months ago, it was still the newest model. I kept wanting to reach for my pocket. The journey seemed amazingly long. I looked around and almost everybody else had their headphones in or they were tapping away on their phones, scrolling through Facebook, texting, listening to some music. I felt so bored. I looked out of the window. All of the people outside seemed to be on their phones too. They looked so into their phones. They looked happy. Well, not happy exactly, but blissfully unaware of everything around them, like time passing. I’d never been more jealous.
I got home and didn’t know what to do. The urge to keep checking my phone was there. I kept forgetting that I didn’t have it with me. I pulled the Wi-Fi out of the phone socket because everything was fine and I was going to win. It was just that I wasn’t used to it anyway. Rich was being smug and annoying. I didn’t spend too much time on my phone or the internet and I would prove that to him. I liked doing things full-hog. That was what one of my blog commenters said about me a few months ago.
I sat down on the sofa for a few minutes, fidgeting. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my evening. It stretched out, a long expanse. I wasn’t even sure what time it was without my phone and computer. I didn’t have an old-fashioned clock. I live alone and, this rarely bothered me before, but now I wanted somebody to talk to. Usually when I got home I would edit a video for YouTube or write a blog post at the same time as watching Netflix and playing on other social media. Dual-screening and multiple-tabbing. It was my happy place. I’d fork a ready meal into my mouth without really tasting it and connect with people. Some from around the world! My blog is really popular in Denmark and I chat with people there. I bet Rich has never spoken to anyone from Denmark! He’s so shut in on himself. The internet has really widened our awareness of other people.
I decided to put the telly on. I bet that’s something that Rich would do. Slump in front of the TV with his wife until it was time to sleep. Boring. I don’t know if I could ever commit to one person, you know? How do you know that they’re the right person for you and you’re not just missing out? I admit, though, I haven’t had sex in a while. Hmm. It has been a while. But it hasn’t felt like that long. And that was only a one-off at Sam’s birthday. FOMO is real, you know.
There wasn’t anything good on the telly, oh God. That’s what my dad used to say. I’m turning into my dad! All because Rich had to take my phone away. He had me when I was low, two pints in when I think I can achieve anything. I felt low. I had no way of getting in touch with other people – I don’t have a landline phone! – and I felt so bad, shut off, missing out on everything. Shit, what was I going to do at the weekend? I hadn’t planned anything yet but I think one of my mates was going to plan something. He would upload it on Facebook, maybe. The TV was still on. I felt so old-fashioned and old, a pensioner. What even was I without the internet? I decided to go over the road to buy more beer and I didn’t even switch the TV off when I left. I drank the beer, watching an awful scripted drama thing, and felt very sorry for myself. I switch the TV off and the silence and lack of distractions are deafening. They are defeating me.
Only six more days to go.