On day one the tremors took hold, my body sending a signal to my mind that it was in poor taste to quit the Internet. Then came the night sweats. Potential status updates and pithy tweets scrolled through my head, no outlet for them to come to life. Stuck in end-to-end fever dreams, pawing at the air, muscle memory reminded me how much I needed the companionship of this glowing, gas-filled screen. It’s like blood and skin and oxygen, so vital its absence set an ache in my bones. When I woke, my index finger yearned for the satisfying click of a mouse. The calloused skin on the outside edge of my palm softened from lack of use. Already I longed to minimize a pop-up ad.
At holiday parties and family gatherings I feigned sanity. But under my breath, and between gulps of alcohol, I chanted a subliminal mantra: Without the Internet, I’m nothing. Living without that incandescent glow on my face was not living at all. But it was not death either. It was nothing. Or more aptly, nothingness.
In those initial days, the state of my digital life weighed heavy on my mind. While I wandered among the living, had my email account devolved into blight, littered with nothing but desperate pleas from Monster.com and coupons for free appetizers at Houlihan’s? (“Try Our World Famous Hot Wings, Our Treat!”) Untended, I fretted that my Facebook profile would be transformed into a Geocities-like abomination, a graveyard of tagged photos showing me living life in the daylight, talking to people using words devoid of hash tags and time stamps. As I neglected my writing projects, I wondered what volume of “How To” stories had been posted on Thought Catalog in my absence; how much more Arabic spam had been infused in the comment fields over at cpluv.com; what had become of the story pitches I sent out before the holidays; and how many terribly unreadable manuscripts had been submitted to the journal where I work (to survive).
As I contemplated the growing distance between myself and my computer, terror welled in my thoughts. How will I inform The World about the latest articles I’ve written? What will I do if I log in to Facebook and there are no red flags waiting for me? How can I monitor everyone’s daily activities when the only tool at my disposal is a fucking telephone? How long can I neglect my Twitter? Without Google Analytics at my disposal, how will I be able to gauge blog traffic? Or worse yet, relevance? How will anybody know I’m still here?
At breakfast one morning, I attempted to key in the status update: What have I done?!?! But when I looked down at my hands I was squeezing scrambled eggs between my fingers. My wife looked concerned. I laughed nervously, licking the eggs from my palm. “Everything will be fine,” I told her. “Why wouldn’t it?” she said, now scared.
But nothing was fine. I briefly relapsed, checked email. When I logged in it looked wild and unkempt, like someone else’s account. My stomach dropped. I began to furiously type responses, but had to stop. What did it matter? Nobody was around. It was the holidays. Why did I care? I neglected looking at my RSS feeds. When I checked Facebook it was dotted with red flags, and Twitter still showed traces of my existence. Did that mean everything would be okay? Fuck.
My frustration with myself had grown intolerable. I walked outside. It was freezing but sunny. The cold air filled my skull with each draw of breath. When I looked back my four-year-old son was waving at me from the dining room window. It reminded me of all the times he’s tugged at my sleeve while I’ve sat with eyes fixated on this computer screen. I walked back inside and we got lost in an an epic battle between knights and dragons. In that moment, however fleeting, I forgot the Internet existed, and everything was okay.