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Unplugged: Email looked better before I opened it

With apologies to my friends and family, here are a few of the dumb “news feeds” I missed while off Facebook for a week.

A young relative: “just locked up their man for a day in Sorority Life.
Must be a hottie!”

A friend from high school: “found a secret stash of Luxury Yachts in Mafia Wars!”

A friend and former colleague, along with posting a disgusting picture of a swept-up hairball: “Why you shouldn't get a husky.”

But I didn't see any of this until I logged on. For the 75 hours I couldn’t use the Internet during our Unplugged experiment, I imagined my friends and relatives posting brilliant and life-changing status updates. In my mind, they were funny and revealing – and I was missing them!

That’s the thing about giving up the Internet. It’s much like when a person dies. We tend to remember only the good, and in our minds that good is sometimes amplified as great.

For the few days we were offline, I felt as if I was missing everything. I was sure someone was emailing me a brilliant story idea, or a friend was sending me some insightful confession, or my relatives were posting photos that were either so incredible I needed to see them or so awful I needed to de-tag myself from them.

Here is an except from a diary I kept while we were logged off. This is from the first day.

7:30 a.m. My morning routine is generally the same: Wake up, stumble to the living room, check my blackberries. On both phones, the red lights are blinking, beckoning me to check my email. I ignore them. My only thought: This sucks.

2:30 p.m. My personal phone chirps, telling me someone just sent me a text message. Anxiety nags me. Our team decided that text messaging was off limits despite my argument that it is a function of the phone, not the Internet. Now, I can’t stop thinking about who might have texted me – and whether it’s important. I have a friend in New York who texts me every few weeks. It’s how I found out his wife was going to have a baby and saw what the sonogram looked like and learned how nervous and excited he was about fatherhood. It’s how he found out I was getting married and kept tabs on the planning and dispensed advice, even when it was unwanted. He never calls. It would be weird if he called. He only texts. I wonder if that was him. And if it wasn’t – who was it? My mind runs through a mental Rolodex. Ugh!

5:45 p.m. “Why didn’t you respond to my text message?” the husband asks.
“I haven’t read it. What did it say?
“Just read it and call me back.”
“I can’t”
“Why?”
“Just can’t.”
“I don’t understand what’s going on? It’s not like you work for the CIA.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll explain later.”
“Ok,” he concedes, laughing.

Home. Tell the husband about the experiment. He laughs and tells me my sister posted a great video of my niece singing on Facebook. She has a beautiful voice. He knows I’ll want to see it. He then reminds me about the email I could be missing. Did so and so write you back? What about so and so? He is mostly joking. We’re both laughing when he asks the one question I’ve been wondering but have tried to push out of my mind: “What’s the point?”

I’m not sure, I confess. I guess to gauge our dependence on the Internet and see how long we can function without it.

In the end, I held out until Day Four, when I faced an assignment that was too tied to the Internet to ignore it: a cyberstalking case. As expected, the freedom to log on came with a rush of excitement followed mostly by disappointment.

In the emails I missed – 152 on my work account and 38 on my personal account – there were no brilliant story ideas or great confessions tucked away. I had given up Twitter months earlier, so didn’t even check it. And as far as Facebook, well, you know what I missed.

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By Theresa Vargas  | May 27, 2010; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Journalism  | Tags:  Facebook, Internet, Offline, Social network, Unplugged  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Pick of the day: Thinking of Memorial Day
Next: Unplugging from The Matrix

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