Late last week my Internet connection started to slow down. I did the usual reboot thing and it helped for a few minutes, but then it started to run again like a 78 rpm record playing on 45 and then 33. And then it stopped altogether. It appeared something was wrong with my cable modem. On Friday evening I called Time Warner and – I am pleased to say – the cable company agreed to send a repair man on Sunday morning of Presidents’ Day Weekend.
Still, I – the perpetually wired CEO of an online media company – was looking at about 36 hours without the Internet. Yes, I could have run down to Best Buy and purchased a spare cable modem of my own and tried to fire it up before Time Warner arrived, but I decided to conduct an experiment and do something I hadn’t done for about a decade whether in Venice, California or Venice, Italy: live without the Internet. I’m not even away from it on planes anymore.
What did I do? Well, I played some tennis on Saturday, but I almost always do that. The difference in my behavior was that I came home, sat down and read two books back-to-back without interruption. This was something I often did in my twenties and thirties, but hadn’t since the advent of the Internet. Since being “connected,” books have filled a function at the end of a long day. There is usually a pile by my bed, but I take a good deal of time to get through them, half awake as I am. Many are left unfinished. I don’t just get up in the morning, as I once did, crack a book or three and keep reading until I go to sleep. Instead, I go online – for business and for fear the world is passing me by, that I would miss out.
Of course, something indeed has been missing. The two books I read – Andre Agassi’s memoir Open and Michael Novak’s meditation on atheists and believers No One Sees God – were obviously radically different in difficulty and pace, but both engrossed me totally. I felt as if I were being fed every minute, if only with gossip about Brooke Shields. That was equalized in the second book by excerpts from Plato, Kepler and Aquinas, not that Agassi is a complete intellectual lightweight. He is a surprising man and his memoir deserves its huge popularity. Novak – if you haven’t read him, which I hadn’t – is a modern gentle giant in the endless debate about belief. I can’t say he changed my mind, but he gave me a philosophical and theological workout that will stay with me for some time to come.
When the Time Warner guy arrived today and installed my slick new Cisco 2100 cable modem, I was almost disappointed. I wanted to open a third book, not do what I’m doing now, running to the ‘net. (But why don’t you, you ask? I’m an addict. I’m sorry.) There’s something I liked in the old pace of life, and it’s not merely nostalgia. There is a certain speed in which the mind digests information. The Internet has revved things up to a degree that it has given us all a kind of self-induced ADD. In the face of this, one of the reasons I write so much is because the process of writing slows me down. It makes me think. I need that. And I need more time to read. In long bursts – with everything else shut off and out.