I decided to ignore the National Day of Unplugging a 24-hour break from the Internet, TV, iPods, GPS and phones on March 19 largely because I thought it was stupid. I hate those acts of righteous self-denial that people do just so they can brag about them: health cleanses, bow hunting, reclaiming your virginity. So when the organizers called me the following week and asked if I would participate as the first in a series of celebrity unpluggers, I immediately thought, This is a fantastic idea. If it went well, I'd be trading 24 hours offline for hundreds of hours of new self-Google results.
When I told my lovely wife Cassandra I'd be electronically disappearing, she liked the idea so much, she decided to do it too. "We'll make love by candlelight," she said. I was already changing my mind about this idea's being stupid.
Arranging my one day of not using e-mail with the National Day of Unplugging people required 24 e-mails, two phone calls and one Facebook friendship acceptance. The day before I turned off, I talked to the guy behind the idea, Dan Rollman, who is also the founder of the Universal Record Data Base, the online competitor to Guinness World Records. He came up with unplugging as a way of respecting the Sabbath, without all the praying and not going to parties. Rollman, apparently, is working on a record for the most new ways to piss off the Creator. About 20 minutes into our conversation about the joys of jumping off the grid, I admitted to Rollman that not only had I been checking my e-mail during our talk, but I also looked at Twitter, Facebook and the New York Times. "I did too," he said. "I saw my phone beep, and I said, 'I wonder what that's all about.'" When I asked him what it was about, he said he couldn't even remember. I had been outdueled in a game of phone ADD.
Right before sundown on Friday, I used my printer more than I had the rest of the time I've owned it. I printed directions, calendars, phone numbers and notes for the book I'm writing, in case I needed to work on it. I clearly have lost all understanding of how long 24 hours is. And of the fact that I would never write anything longer than my name with a pen. A few minutes later, our babysitter showed up, and Cassandra and I headed off to dinner. We were 11 minutes into our experiment when, sitting in traffic, Cassandra suggested we call the restaurant to tell them we'd be late. Then she started singing Lady Gaga songs a cappella. Then she came up with a Twitter joke she wanted me to memorize so she could send it out the next day. Still, it was nice to talk, or sit quietly with the option of talking, without the other person typing. Or listening to Lady Gaga.
At dinner, when Cassandra went to the bathroom, I had no clue what to do without a phone to pretend to be busy with. So I stared at people at nearby tables, which, while normal in 2000, is totally creepy now. But the real problem was trying to get to a party afterward. We got lost without the GPS, and by the time we got there, Cassandra's friends had already left. "Joel, this is your fault," Cassandra said many, many times. At 11:22 p.m., just four hours into our experiment, she turned on her phone and started mad texting. I could tell that we were not going to light even one candle.
But by the next morning, Cassandra had come around. The idea of unplugging was good, she'd decided. It just had to be done without driving to parties, which, it turns out, is actually the way the Bible suggests. So I decided to tack on a second 24 hours. And other than a few urges to hit the computer to add a movie to my Netflix queue and find out if Switzerland uses the euro, I didn't miss it. Sure, it's a little boring to drive without texting, but I got to focus on driving really fast. And the day felt longer, with that slow, easy laziness you get only on vacation or Vicodin.
When Sunday night arrived, I dreaded turning my computer back on. I knew it meant I'd have to do work or respond to e-mails from friends and family, i.e., more work. And while the main lesson I took away from my two days is that technology is a gift from God and should never be turned off one simple text would have kept Cassandra's friends at the party, which would have led to more drinking and Liberace-level candle lighting I did learn that I'd rather hang out with my wife and son than find out every time someone retweets me. I don't want to feel the need to respond to everything as soon as I can. But I do, of course, need everyone else to respond to my e-mails, texts and calls right away. That's why I need to become a much, much bigger celebrity. So for now, my priority is spending all my time on Facebook and Twitter.