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How a Month Without Computers Changed Me (dev.to)
117 points by bhalp1 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

Really nice read. Honest, detailed, introspective.

I once did a 10-day silent meditation retreat (Vipassana) that has some similarities to the author's journey. The lack of communication and interaction was even more extreme than just cutting off technology. I found myself bored quite often. But the focused meditation practice helped me find a new state of mental focus that was remarkable. I don't practice meditation anymore so I don't see this benefit daily but I at least know what my mind is capable of.


As someone who struggles with basic meditation, but believe in it for the long haul, I'm curious why you stopped meditate after seeing such insight? Do you have ambition or hope to take it up again? Or do you feel that you don't need to?

Not the poster that you're replying to, but my story is similar. I did my first 10-day Vipassana retreat while on an extended vacation.

Every word GP said feels like it describes my first experience. I had some pretty profound realizations while there and expected that it would be pretty life altering. However I took no care in how I re-entered life and the combination of immediately going back to using phone/computer and traveling around in a third-world country was almost more than I could handle. I felt like I was going crazy adapting back to a stressful world from one where my mind was so calm. I did try to continue meditating, but I found I had nowhere near the concentration I needed to get value from the practice.

But I resolved to try again, so I attended another 10-day retreat trying to apply lessons learned from my first attempt. The second time, I planned in advance to slowly re-integrate myself into my normal life. I booked a hotel room for a few days after the retreat to lock myself away and start adding back distractions one at a time. This worked better and I was able to keep up my meditation routine (1hr in the mornings, 1hr in the evenings) for 2 months after that. But I found that 2hrs/day mediation is pretty qualitatively different from the kind you get at the retreats (more than 8hrs /day). I still think daily meditation is valuable, but given its lesser impact and the distractions and stresses of everyday life, I just sort of fell out of practice and haven't restarted.

I am hopeful to do more retreats and do better at integrating meditation practice into my everyday life. But, suffice it to say, my first two attempts at that didn't succeed in a way that lasted more than the two months following my second retreat.

Do you have any meditation practice whatsoever? Did you find value in meditating for shorter periods (less time commitment) like 10-20 minutes a day and notice any benefit?

There's lots of shorter meditation apps offering similar times and tout a whole host of benefits.

Sorry for my delayed response. curun1r's reply is also pretty good but my two-cents:

I wanted to see how focused my mind could get so that's why I did Vipassana. The improvement was noticeable but I'm not such a scatter-brain normally that the benefit is worth 2 hrs/day investment.

There are other benefits beyond focus, such as calmness of mind, and likely a higher happiness baseline from realizing you need little to be at peace. I'm fortunate to not have mental health issues and an amazing family so again the benefits to me were not as profound.

I do hope to take it up again, but likely after retirement, or (heaven forbid) there's a dramatic event in my life that increases the value of this technique.

I had a boss once who attended a 10-day silent retreat. He spent about 2-3 hours a day texting and emailing me. I chalked this up to him adhering to the letter of the law but not the spirit.

I spent a week on vacation in Chile without an internet connection earlier this year (to be clear, there is internet in Chile, I just chose not to connect). It was a wonderful experience – highly recommended. Biggest personal benefit was that I could sit alone with my thoughts for long periods without getting impatient or feeling like I was "wasting" my time.

I agree — I spend about a week every quarter with the wife at a rural AirBNB without access to internet or cell phone. There are a lot of positives (to me, anyway).

We actually cook pretty much every meal so we’re eating healthier and spending that time together instead of taking turns cooking while the other works. All of the time we spend on reading short articles on the internet is shifted to things like reading full length books. Instead of watching TV, movies, or playing online games we end up indulging in arts & crafts.

I also get to do a lot more conceptual / big picture thinking whereas normally I’m just thinking about how to execute my current and upcoming tasks; I keep a notebook and it’s pretty easy to tell if I was at the AirBNB or not depending on the types of notes I was taking.

I end up feeling less harried after a week there. And my experience has not been the same for “normal” vacations (I.e. sight-seeing, visiting family/friends, etc.). Those types of breaks are important for other reasons, but they don’t have the same type of clarifying effect for me. Maybe if I were better at resisting the siren call of the internet.

Oh boy. I'm the kind of person who very well might push a "permanently un-invent the Internet" button if you put one in front of me, but electric toothbrushes are so ZOMGWTF better than the manual kind. Seeing one on the "can't use" pile made me twitch. I'd pay $500 for one if that's what a base model cost (it isn't, fortunately). Even if they broke after a couple years (they don't, mostly). Solidly in the list of stuff I can't believe I haven't been using my whole life, and that is so good I can't believe they're not nigh-universal, at least in places with reliable electricity.

Weird. I have an electric toothbrush (the exact same one as the author of the article-- funnily enough I also have the exact same Zenbook as his) and a manual one.

I use the electric toothbrush if I've had a significant amount of sugar that day (not often), and otherwise use the manual one. The manual one is some sensodyne super-soft-bristle shit. If I use the electric toothbrush every day my gums hurt. I once went to the dentist as a kid and he told me I'd brushed off a lot of my enamel. Maybe I don't know how to brush my teeth or my enamel is just really soft. In any case, the manual one helps me get everywhere without fear of hurting myself.

Well the good news is you can go ahead an push that button and still keep your electric toothbrush!

Okay so you love it, got that part, but why, exactly? What does it do that is so awesome?

Never have used an "electric" toothbrush, but the Japanese super-toilet is not bad.

Yeah, but that is for cleaning the other end.

This is a pretty big endorsement - is there one in particular you like?

Not OP, but I got one of these for free from a colleague 5 years ago and it's still going strong: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002HWS9FW/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awdb_t1_...

Paired with a good charger and an extra set of rechargeable batteries it's a joy to use. Best health "investment" I've done in recent years.

I think mine's Braun? Its only extra feature is that it buzzes a bit when you should switch quadrants, then several times when you've done enough (just a simple timer). I'm usually lazy/rushed and only do half a "cycle" and my teeth feel like I've just had a dentist's cleaning, just about all the time. They make Bluetooth enabled ones and all kinds of other BS, but I don't care about any of that. Wasn't expensive, I think $40-50 and I've had it a couple years. Little wireless charging base you place it on, batteries last enough for a few days though if you're taking a short trip and don't want to take the base, and the failure mode if they die is that you still have a normal toothbrush. You do have to replace the brush part every so often, Costco carries big packs of them and I think there are third party ones available cheaper.

I'm sure it was an interesting experience for the author, and it probably doesn't make much difference that he's describing the month of 2013-11, but comes with an abundance of false dichotomies along with forced and uncomfortable parallels to various religions (weirdly no mention of the Amish, who are perhaps most famous for eschewing all technology all the time).

> weirdly no mention of the Amish, who are perhaps most famous for eschewing all technology all the time

The Amish do not eschew all technology all the time.


Okay ... neat story, but actually emphasises even more the arbitrary parallels with TFA, and the idea that some technology, up to some vintage, is kosher. f.e. the old camera, the soviet era mechanical watch, etc. I understand it's 'a month without computers' rather than 'a month without technology', but nonetheless the claimed parallels to religious abstinence are pretty dubious.

The Amish are far from arbitrary with what technology they allow. When new tech arrives they experiment with it, and then see what affects it causes on the community based on a few metrics they value highly.

When the car came, they saw that cars made families and communities live further apart. They didn’t like that, so they went back to horses.

When the phone came they liked the ability to connect and the ability to call for emergency services, but they didn’t like the gossip factor. So they installed their phones in separate booths outside their homes, so everyone can see who is using the phone too much.

Well this has gotten weird.

The various Amish sects use differing oral guidelines based on myriad interpretations of a dubious collection of contradictory historical anecdotes in order to come up with the rules for their particular outpost at that particular time.

This leads to situations where cars are used, but not owned, as distinct from your 'so they went back to horses' summary. (I'm sure the car thing varies between sects.)

Similarly, some sects realise phones are important for business and ensuring a viable lifestyle for their offspring, so they may be installed in some business locations, but not in homes. Unless that home is where the dairy farmer lives, and it's deemed important they have quick access to call a veterinarian. (etc)

Rules around button usage based on gender, day of week, visibility of the button itself, and village you're in at the time?

There may be post hoc explanations and fascinating (mis)interpretations of some short stories published around and after the 2nd century, but I think it's safe to call it arbitrary.

The fact that there are rules which have reasons makes them not arbitrary, by definition

> The fact that there are rules which have reasons makes them not arbitrary, by definition

Well, perhaps.

But two things:

1. rules with alleged reasons (for someone) doesn't mean they're reasonable rules for everyone else, and

2. I initially bemoaned arbitrary parallels with TFA -- not that Amish made arbitrary rulings -- so, as noted, I'm now in the weird position where I'm defending something I didn't claim. (Anyway, you may be assuming arbitrary has a single meaning, that of being a synonym for 'random', which isn't entirely accurate. No two words are 100% synonyms, after all.)

EDIT: Actually, 3 things. Amish rules are not consistent amongst all amish, as I noted above -- there's a lot of disparity between different communities, which suggests that the reasons are not especially objective (otherwise they'd all reach the same conclusion), which in turn leads to a conclusion there's some arbitrary (in the personal whim sense) aspects to them.

True. When I lived in Maryland I often went to an Amish market and they seemed pretty tech-savvy.

They are very selective with technology.

I really liked _The Thoughts_ section.

Before _The Thoughts_, this paragraph in _The Notepad_ caught my eye:

> Honestly, I don’t consider the bad memory the younger generations have to be that big of a problem. True, we have to search for information all over again, but it might be a good thing. Information is so quick to change now. What you learned yesterday might have already become all wrong today, while bad memory has you find the latest, most accurate data every time.

I think this person _should_ worry a bit about this lack of memory, if it is a real phenomenon. If you're not updating the knowledge in your head, then how do you develop instincts about what to trust? There is a certain rate of change you should learn from experience, which you never notice if you have no memory. Some things you should expect to be different every day, and some things should not change very often, and if they do (or don't) change, they deserve more scrutiny. If you don't know the answer from yesterday or last week, you're stuck in a kind of neverending present and you're easy to deceive (a la _Memento_)

Interesting experiment, however I wonder how strictly the author was able to stick to not using anything that stores a program. Strictly speaking, this disqualifies mundane things such as riding an elevator or driving a car that was made in the last 30 years, or even going up an escalator or riding a train. Virtually anything runs a program.

I remember when that guy from the Emgadget podcast took a year off the internet and basically lost all relevance when he came back.

One would have to walk into that expecting to "lose relevance". I can't think of a 12 month period, save 2001, where checking out for a year would put one much behind on relevance. FB is still FB, Twitter is still Twitter, still arguing about the same shit we argued about thirty years ago on usenet.

You will, however, have to learn all new javascript frameworks before you go back to work.

Wasn't he from The Verge?

Sorry for the late reply. Yeah, when AOL bought Huffington Post the guys from Engadget left to make "This is my next podcast" and then "The Verge".

I miss my Palm Pre, Oreo effect and all.

What do you mean by relevance here, could you elaborate?

Sorry for the late reply. I don't remember any specific details, but after he returned he was just no longer interesting when he chimed in on the podcast.

I can easily imagine no computers after I retire. After an adult lifetime of using them 40+ hours a week it sounds nice.

There is nothing wrong with computers. It's the current commercial internet landscape that's broken behind repair -- mostly the attention/advertisement economy.

I've had so much fun with my first Apple IIc about 25 years ago -- and I'm looking forward to a calmer future when I can tinker with whatever I feel like again.

At least no email. Imagine that.

A month isn't long enough. He barely got to the start of the withdrawal pangs.

Are you speaking from personal experience?

Just seeing this belatedly. I did have a similar experience, although it was long enough ago that it's arguably not the same (i.e. not as bad, because the general level of tech dependence then wasn't as high as now). But I found that I started to have similar feelings to what this author describes, after a similar amount of time. But I interpreted those as signs that I hadn't yet adapted to the new (old) ways yet, and kept going until it basically didn't matter any more. That's the point at which I finally went back. It was of course, surprisingly easy to go back.

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