Connecting by disconnecting

Last Call


The words on the screen mocked me: “Trying to connect.”

First they taunted me from my laptop, and then the derision continued from my phone. All connections were lost.

The internet was out.

The experience of losing connection is instantly jarring. Work stops. Streaming stops. Scrolling stops.

Frustration sets in. Life seemingly comes to a standstill.

But in many ways, it’s an unexpected benefit.

An outage offers an opportunity to connect by being disconnected.

Certainly there are inopportune times when an outage can severely disrupt work or a long-planned Zoom call with relatives, but often it is just a blip.

No internet, no problem.

We spend a lot of time in front of screens. According to research (Digital 2022–Global Overview) from We Are Social and Hootsuite, the average internet user from ages 16 to 64 spends six hours and 58 minutes online per day.

And we spend an average of 4.8 hours a day on our mobile phones, says app monitoring firm App Annie.

This information inspired me to check the average activity on my phone: An average of eight hours a day at one point. Whoa!

Sure, that includes podcasts or streaming music when the apps are featured on my screen, but it’s still a good indicator that my phone usage could use a break. Did I really average 36 minutes of texting a day?

Harvard Health Publishing said the long screen hours can be unhealthy and can lead to computer vision syndrome. Dry eyes, blurry eyes, eye strain and having difficulty falling asleep are consequences of too much screen time.

Smartphones also aren’t the best for staying focused. It’s difficult sometimes to write that perfect, witty sentence when there’s an impulse to check the phone for a message or if a new podcast has been uploaded.

The phone rests unassumingly, but is stealthily alluring.

My weekdays are usually spent inside, while I’m hunched over a laptop — the outside world an abstract thought. The obnoxious noise of a leaf blower or the spirited chirps from birds provide a soundtrack to what goes on beyond the walls. Sometimes sirens call out en route to an accident. Someone is always hammering something down the block.

The leaf blower persists.

But this day was different. When the outage hit our area, fortunately my work was relatively caught up for the day. I decided to take advantage of the disconnection.

My wife and I enjoyed a rare mid-week dinner out. Phones were set aside as we enjoyed an early evening meal. Instead of checking texts or the latest scores, we spoke to the bartender and waitress and shared connections about favorite drinks and places to visit.

Our conversations were not dictated by breaking news, but instead were focused on hometowns and new local places of interest.

Digital distractions were on hold. We paid in cash.

Stepping away from the immediacy of technology — even though it was close by— was refreshing, if only temporary. The outage didn’t last long (restored in a few hours), and later the usual nightly rhythms of streaming a show and watching a tense playoff game returned.

But it was a welcomed respite from the impulsive need for a digital connection. It was a reminder of the joys of a human connection — something worth the devotion of an average of several hours per day.