Prior to stay at home orders, I had no WiFi in my apartment. Tomorrow is the day I'm calling my provider to drop back off, so I thought I'd celebrate with a post convincing you to consider following me into the unknown.
For seven months between my most recent move and the stay-at-home orders, I had no WiFi in my apartment. I was experimenting to see if I could eliminate time-wasting, both when I wanted to Deep Work and when I wanted to have more meaningful leisure time. It was an unmitigated success on both dimensions. Because I don't hear about many people doing this, I figured its worth documenting as a possibility.
I've been very convinced by Cal Newport's work that connectivity is overrated (see Deep Work, Digital Minimalism, etc). I've tried most of the recommended tricks for my phone (deleted social media apps, have it set in black and white, all notifications silenced, etc), and I've found that they've increased my quality of life. In fact, when I dropped my phone and shattered the screen just last week, I immediately recognized it as a good thing: it requires me to awkwardly squint and maneuver pictures or large blocks of text to view them. Keeping myself from wasting time on my laptop was a harder challenge (especially email; especially when I should be working). As for leisure time, I'm not a huge streamer when I'm alone, but I do it more than my minimalist tastes would prefer and I definitely spent too much time on my fantasy baseball team.
During my PhD I had a routine of going to the local community college where I did not have access to their internet password. Most days I left my phone home too, or at least had the discipline to put it on airplane mode if I wanted to listen to downloaded music while working. I was able to get much more done when the option to be distracted was entirely removed.
While I was preparing to move to my current apartment, I thought it'd be fun to delay having internet installed as long as possible, taking my detox attempts to a new level. So I did. And I liked it enough that it became permanent (until the pandemic required connectivity).
I must admit, one big perk of living without WiFi is telling people you live without WiFi and observing their reactions. I'll bet at least some of you are perplexed at how someone could find this desirable (or even possible depending on how hooked you are).
Before giving the details of my situation, I'll note that I live by myself. It's easier to build weird environments when you don't need consensus.
Even so, it was much less extreme than you might imagine. I only feel obligated to describe it as any degree of 'extreme' because I know no one else who has tried this, and anyone I tell seems to think I'm a bit crazy (especially family members).
Here's how it worked in practice:
- I had enough data on my phone to get me on the internet at short intervals at home if I needed to check anything, send a quick email, etc. I was not 'off the grid' in any real sense.
- I went to my office most days. When I was going home for the day, I would download things I wanted to look at/use at home (academic papers, recipes, music/podcasts).
- When I was at home (most mornings before I wanted distraction, after work, or on weekends) if something came up that required the internet there were 3 ways it would go:
- If it was genuinely urgent, I would get on my bicycle and ride to my office or the public library.
- If it was only somewhat important, I would work around it until I was going to go to WiFi.
- If it was not at all important, I would high-five myself as I realized that I would have wasted time if there was no barrier to doing whatever useless thing my brain pretended was urgent (like looking at my fantasy baseball team, or reading Mr Money Mustache posts).
That's really all there was to it.
I've already hinted at the work-related perks: I find it astronomically easier to get things done when I don't even need to fight the urge to browse some website or check my email. I sometimes turn my WiFi off at home, but it's really hard to keep that habit up. Eliminating the option made me way more productive.
This is why I want to encourage you to take the idea of going WiFi-less seriously. If you're reading this Forum, you want to do important work with your life, and I want you to have the brainpower to do so. Yes, I realize my situation and preferences are unique, and I realize most productivity advice doesn't export well. But I think more people should at least consider being much less connected. If this sounds like an exciting idea, I encourage you to experiment; you can reverse the decision easily if you aren't benefitting.
The thing that was less obvious before I tried this was how it would affect my leisure time. There's lots of fun stuff on the internet! And who doesn't, at least occasionally, enjoy streaming shows/movies. On the other hand, if I had to list my ideal-self's hobbies they would include reading, exercising, cooking, learning skills like automotive repair, meditating, sleeping enough, etc. For almost all of us, doing challenging, engaging, and/or healthy things is much more fulfilling than scrolling and streaming. When I took away the option to scroll and stream, I predictably did way more of the things listed above.
One exception is socializing, an often overlooked human necessity. Blocking out the noise of the internet and social media does mean blocking out the good stuff, like group chats with old friends, family Facebook posts, etc. This is a real drawback that needs to be compensated for, sometimes annoyingly: when I want to hop on a social Zoom or Facetime with friends I need to go to my office. In my opinion, the additional noise and poor substitute for real socializing that happens on the internet does not make this a decisive reason to stick around.
Also, sometimes its raining when a real internet emergency comes up. This is a Perk disguised as a Con. When this happens, I put my rain pants and jacket on, get on my bicycle, and pedal to the library or my office. We should all bike more, especially in the elements; the commitment mechanism to do this is why I say this is a disguised-Perk, but it should be mentioned. I suppose if you really wanted to, you could instead drive somewhere with WiFi, but I can't personally endorse that strategy given the aforementioned Mr. Money Mustache posts I've obsessively read.
The singular regrettable instance over 7 months of no WiFi involved needing to send an email with a pdf attachment (so it couldn't be done from my phone) on a day I was leaving for a leisure trip. I didn't manage my time well, and because I couldn't get to the library to send this before leaving, I had to lug my laptop on a non-work trip to send one email when I got to my hotel. This could've been avoided with even a cellular Hotspot, but I worry about getting weak and this only happened once, so I'm diving in without that crutch again this go 'round.
There you have it: consider canceling your WiFi.