In 2013, I went camping for three nights in a remote area of Oman at the invitation of some Arab friends who live in Dubai. They overestimated my hiking abilities, but made sure I didn’t fall off any cliffs.
We slept next to a creek about five hours away from where we left my friends’ cars. There was no cell phone reception, and the only other human being we encountered during our stay was the only Omani shepherd. I spent the days stream watching, wandering around some small rocks and caves, and eating loads of nuts and canned tuna.
With no digital triggers keeping me unnaturally awake at night, I slept an unprecedented 10 hours under the stars. The state of agitation that seemed eternal dissipated, and life became magically surreal in its simplicity. Then we run out of nuts and tuna, and it’s time to go back to Dubai and the internet and everything wrong with the world.
In the decade since, a camping trip in Oman has acquired near-mythical status in my mind, the stream symbolizing a kind of pre-tech Eden where it’s possible to log an impressive 10 hours of sleep on three nights in a row – a feat I’ve never been able to replicate. Absolutely after the Sultanate of Oman.
While my dream is to have a good night’s sleep forever, those dreams are hard to reconcile with capitalism’s insistence on continued productivity. Of course, capitalism endorses such “recreational” activities as undermining half of one’s life on Facebook and other social media platforms which are harmful to mental health but beneficial to corporate profits.
In September of this year, it occurred to me that I could simply disconnect from the internet in an attempt to recreate the Omani lockdown scenario. However, I didn’t find the time until December. And so, from December 20-23, my phone stayed in airplane mode where I was reacquainted with the world outside the screen.
After spending much of the night of December 19th wide awake and fighting the impulse to click on another amen post on Facebook announcing the impending internet outage, I officially hung up at 5.45am on December 20th. Dream about trying to open a website that is not working.
I timed my offline experience to coincide with Christmas in Mexico City with my parents, so they wouldn’t worry about me and vice versa. And while the Mexican capital and its population of more than 20 million certainly offered a very different landscape than remote Oman, the whole experience was still beautiful.
Almost immediately, I felt my shoulders begin to drop from their normal position and bunched around my ears, as they waited in constant anticipation for the next ding or buzz to indicate the arrival of a new email or Facebook comment. Over the coming internet-free days, my breathing would become less shallow and prone to hyperventilation, as I felt personality gradually seeping into my existence: an earlier version of the internet that I didn’t recognize anymore.
Offline, I was noticeably less angry, and my blood pressure undoubtedly benefited from the lack of annoying spam from men, which has been known to spark disproportionate ire online. By disengaging, I resumed control of my own borders, no longer just a digital presence scattered across virtual spaces. I freed myself from my dependence on digital devices – if only for three days.
I started reading a couple of books and was able to focus on the books themselves instead of asking if I needed to post a selfie to read them. I talked to my parents and fed the squirrels in the park. I remembered what it was like to do things and think about things without the distraction of announcing every idea and action to one’s social media audience. I remembered when excitement didn’t have to be turned into a series of party face emojis.
And when I made that one old-fashioned non-WhatsApp phone call, it actually felt very special.
Only one out of three nights did I hit the 10-hour goal, but the other two nights weren’t bad either. In the morning, instead of reaching for my phone, I lay in bed staring happily at the ceiling.
Apparently, three days is hardly enough to recover from a lifetime online — and there were plenty of moments when I felt the urge to Google something completely unnecessary. At one point, I almost had to sabotage my experience when a Mexico City taxi driver whose cellphone sputtered spontaneously asked me if I could look up driving directions to our destination. When his phone mercifully resumed cooperating, I was saved.
At 5.45am on December 23rd, I exited Airplane mode and reconnected to Dystopia to send an article I had written offline to my editors. Of the nearly 150 new emails in my inbox, exactly one was relevant to my existence. Twitter was convinced I was anti-white, and Facebook was Facebook.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I definitely dream of a more detached 2023 — and a lot of ceiling staring.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.