hg: Libraries and Hobnobs

Naomi and I recently moved to Newcastle and, being utter dipsticks, didn’t organise the broadband in advance. Our new home was stuck in the 1980’s for two weeks, sans internet, complete with Paul Simon’s Graceland booming out in the living room. My trusty flip-phone didn’t even provide data to burn through.

Nowadays, it’s never a good time to be without internet. During a house move is an especially bad time. We had direct debits and paperless billing preferences to negotiate.

Our solution was frequent bike rides to the local library to scrounge some WiFi. Yes, this was a pain-in-the-arse sometimes (my saddle is not designed for comfort), and yet it felt wholesome and efficient to use a neglected public institution when we needed a quick burst of online time. Productive hour-long instalments of connectivity, getting to dos done, with a bit of time left over for YouTube. No aimless browsing at home.

When Plusnet finally got in touch to say they would commence piping unlimited data into our home, I felt nervous.

Would life change dramatically?

Would we stop our jolly bike rides to the library?

Would we resume positions of old - prone on the sofa, laptop on lap, endless realms of the internet to explore?

To answer those specific questions: no, no, and… well, sometimes.

The internet doesn’t have to control our lives if we can keep it at arm's length and minimise our exposure. This is, of course, easier said than done. The internet is like a black hole, sucking us in to devour our time and brainpower.

I employ a two-part plan to keep The Web at bay, with variable success. Firstly, I decrease my reliance on the internet. And secondly, I make it easy to escape.

By deleting online accounts, unsubscribing from mailing lists, shopping at real-life shops, quitting social media, ignoring the news, and sometimes writing letters, I reduce the internet’s presence in my life. The point is to need it less, only using it for the essentials and a smidge of mindless gawping.

When this technique inevitably fails, I simply run away. I wriggle free from those digital tentacles and enjoy a brief stint of freedom.

I’ve made escape easier by ditching my smartphone for a dumb phone and I try to get in the habit of putting my laptop away. Better still, I leave the house without any technology. You might say, “That’s just avoiding the problem, not mastering self-discipline.” But hey, it works well-enough for me.

I didn’t trust myself to leave a smartphone in my pocket when it went BING, so I simply removed my smartphone from said pocket and overarmed it into the river. (It wasn’t quite that dramatic, but I did drop an iPhone in the toilet once.)

If this approach sounds unappealing (perhaps you’re more of an underarm thrower), I’d recommend a tentative trial period. Try leaving your smartphone at home every now and again.

Returning to my second question, it turns out libraries are fantastic places. Who knew?! I now use them to print documents (sparing me from ink cartridges and paper jams - the flashbacks to office life were too much) and I can read thousands of books FOR FREE. They’re also great spaces to work in, no expensive beverage required. Long may our jolly rides to the library continue.

And what about slobbing on the sofa with a laptop, mug of tea, and many Hobnobs? Personally, I don’t think unproductive activities like this should be frowned upon. They’re important for letting our minds zone out from time to time.

I’m sure neurologists would tell me websites like YouTube don’t let our minds relax. On the contrary, they make our brains work hard in unhelpful ways. But if, one rainy afternoon, I fancy lying on the sofa and watching clips of The Office, then I should just do it.

With one rule: Don’t do it to an extent that inhibits other parts of my life I value more. If chuckling through hilarious outtakes of my favourite TV show leaves me short of time to write, or read books, or ride my bike, or see friends, then I probably need to cut back.

Now, I imagine all this talk of libraries and Hobnobs is putting you to sleep. So get off the internet and go play with a frisbee! Or whatever it is you kids do these days.