Blacking out, tuning in

I went on a media diet. Results were mixed.

Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

For the record, I didn’t need a media diet.

Are you reading this on the internet? Am I bumming you out right now? A media diet’s a lot like a real diet. First tenet: It’s a bummer. Second tenet: Denial is everything. There are so many places to stand in a house that are not bathroom scales. There are so many leggings to wear in place of actual pants with zippers.

But I wasn’t in denial. I know so because I did a test on the internet and it told me I wasn’t. I need the internet, just like a person needs an essential consumption of calories. What I am is modern, but I haven’t left the non-internet-scrounging part of my brain to rot. I read real books. (I eat vegetables.) I have meaningful conversations. (One time, for a science experiment, I spoke daily to tomatoes.)

If all this sounds like it’s heading around a big, obvious, wobbly loop back to revelation, you can congratulate yourself on being much smarter than any one of those tomatoes, who never did learn a thing.

I was in denial. What I decided not to do for my media diet was look up what I should do for it on the internet. So I came up with my own plan, which was to put in place one new rule per day, each piggybacking off the previous rules. At least I could have carbs, which I’ll go on record as saying I do like, to try and make myself seem less sanctimonious than everyone else who’s ever done this.

Day One: No Social Media

This turned out to not be very difficult. It helps if you forget your phone at home though I felt nervous not knowing how many of my friends were at Wolf Trap’s B-52’s concert that Saturday. No, I didn’t. I did more than an average amount of sudoku that day. I put a little extra effort into my kids’ Cheerios art. It wasn’t bad, and it may have been a little bit good. But not mind-blowingly good. I didn’t hand-make vegan tortellini after a day of being off social media. I didn’t accidentally levitate.

Full disclosure: I get the feeling the world’s hipper communities have left me behind on social media in favor of websites that are invisible or require a passcode wherein you stare into your smartphone and dance. It’s possible I, a 33-year-old stay-at-home mother, don’t have the most up-to-date information on what’s cool on the internet. I will say I have one Dutch cousin who’s 14 and on Snapchat, and her posts there autopost to her Instagram. Hallo, Freke! I am on Instagram. I see your snaps. They’re not compelling me to make an account. I do like the puppy dog’s face superimposed over your face.

Day Two: No News

After this challenge was over, I looked back on this day’s news to find out what I’d missed. The top three stories were something like, “Nobody’s Buying Your Crap, Jeff Sessions,” “Hockey Hockey Basketball” and “Seriously, Jeff Sessions, Just Stop It.” As an environmentalist, a columnist, an American, had I let anyone down not getting the headlines the day of? I felt not. But remember: In addition to regular old media, I also couldn’t check social media, and because of that I missed somebody’s birthday and somebody else’s pictures of their feet, which was a loss. Medium-level sudoku times did improve.

At this point in the game, my kids started to notice because they like to check for pictures of my mom’s dog on my mom’s Facebook account. I reasoned with them that if I could stick it out three days, so could they. They disagreed. I further reasoned that this was always meant to be a learning experience and what I’d learned so far is how I stack up in my kids’ eyes next to a relative’s aging dog who spends 90 percent of her time asleep in her own drool.

Day Three: No Phones or Computers

Does a media diet require giving up your phone and computer? It does not. But what is the point of a media diet? I think most people would say it’s to feel better, somehow, and I wasn’t feeling much better. Not yet. So I stuck my whole phone in a drawer. (Somebody who’s fought in a war zone is reading this column and slowly applauding me here.) I double-checked emergency contact information with my son’s school. (He has a severe food allergy, so a walk around the block’s a roll of the dice for us, anyway.)

Putting away the computer was harder, but mostly I was missing the second half of the “Modern Love” column I couldn’t finish reading the day prior. Would they? Wouldn’t they? And what the hell is breadcrumbing as it pertains to a thing people may do to each other in a “Modern Love” column? I didn’t even have a way to ask Freke without some access to the internet.

On social media, I had missed photo documentation of someone drinking alcohol with their friends at a bar. At first I thought, no biggie, but then the caption—“best night EVER”—proved me wrong. Way wrong. Please heed it here: June 13, 2017. Best night ever. And because of this STUPID MEDIA DIET, I’d missed it.

Day Four: No Electricity

None of this was going according to plan, was it? I didn’t have clearer headspace. My kids were ticked off about their lack of access to my mom’s dog. I had missed “best night ever.” Somewhere along the way, I’d messed up. I thought back to the beginning and considered the possibility I hadn’t set the bar high enough.

Enough metaphorical pulling of plugs. Literally, physically—I pulled the plug. (In the Northern hemisphere, in the month of June. In a first-world country. It wasn’t crazy hot that day.)

And at last! With electricity out of the picture, I noticed a big difference right away, in that our coffeemaker requires electricity and I’d forgotten to buy grounds for the French press the night before. Also, I couldn’t Google how to use a French press. Also, we don’t own a French press. I don’t drink a lot of coffee, but I very much like the one-and-a-half cups I am in the routine of drinking, courtesy of electricity, every morning. By 8 a.m., I could feel the tiny fronds of a caffeine headache unfurling through my brain. But I can say I was very in the moment with that headache. It felt like I was finally getting somewhere.
I missed toasted bagels. Missed my hair dryer. Missed little of loading the dishwasher and washing machine. Missed media, social or otherwise, exactly zero parts.

Would I tell you to go on a media diet? Never ever would I tell you to go on a media diet. Would it be good for both of us? Probably, but remember—I love carbs. Do what you want, short of posting pictures of your feet to your Facebook page.

Nor do I recommend cutting back on coffee. The Dutch, you know, drink it by the truckful. Freke posted as much one time, and I’ll say this for the media: It’s not perfect. But a cartoon dog with curly blonde hair and blue eyes? Come on. We can all at least trust that.

(August 2017)