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Woman swears off Internet for six months

Photo illustration of a phone in a mousetrap signifies being trapped by technology.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: As much fun as it is to be constantly hounded by e-mails and text messages and always-on Internet connections, for this next story we're going to dial things back a little bit -- to the way things were, say, in the 1970s, before blogs and browsers. Turns out there's actually a movement for people who feel like their lives are being taken over by technology. It's called Slow Media.

Sally Herships has more.


Sally Herships: Last fall, Jennifer Rauch's boyfriend was shopping for a melon baller. You know, one of those little metal devices that scoops out perfectly round balls of melon.

Jennifer Rauch: And he spent hours online at Amazon reading all of the customer reviews of all these different melon ballers. He did a get a melon baller that he was really happy with for $6, but on the other hand, he probably could have just walked to the local grocery store and bought whatever they had there and been just as happy with it.

Rauch is 41. She's a journalism professor and lives in Brooklyn. She says she wanted to free up her time from the online melon-baller searches in life, to spend less time using new media and to think about how she uses it. So she decided to spend six months offline.

Herships: What does that mean exactly, offline -- completely?

Rauch: It means that, I have not been using the Internet for e-mail, for Facebook, for sharing photos. Anything like that, for doing research. I have also not been using a cellphone.

And for the first four months, Rauch says she felt fantastic. She knew she'd be without digital resources, so she'd stockpiled the more traditional kind: Dictionary, thesaurus, phone books. She even installed a landline. But she says her friends are trained to interact online.

Rauch: Some of my friends have even accused me of abandoning them because I'm no longer on Facebook or in touch about their lives. And I remind them that they can call me anytime they want and tell me about it in person.

But they didn't. So some of her relationships suffered. And even with all her printed resources, Rauch couldn't find everything she was looking for, like phone numbers and addresses.

Herships: Can you just call information, 411?

Rauch: Yeah, you can call 411.

If you want to pay and you know exactly what you're looking for. Rauch says it was hard to find things by category, like restaurants.

But it turns out she gave herself a tiny loophole. She got engaged and she needed to start planning her wedding.

Herships: Wait a second, wait a second. So you actually have been going online?

Rauch: Yeah, for one hour a month.

Sound of timer ticking

She kept a timer next to her desk. But even with her one-hour wild card, when the last month of her experiment hit, she was in trouble. The hour went really quickly.

Herships: How fast?

Rauch: Well, the first day.

Rauch was searching, without any luck, for a wedding dress she'd seen in a magazine. Finally, she went online to find the phone number of the dress manufacturer.

Herships: And this was during your allotted time?

Rauch: No. This was after I ran out of allotted time.

Herships: You cracked.

Rauch: I did, I did.

But that was last month. Now the six months are up. It's a Saturday afternoon and Rauch is ready to log on.

Herships: All right, are we going to do it?

Rauch: Sure.

Sound of computer booting up

But she says she won't check her e-mail till Monday. It is the weekend. Part of what she's learned offline is to set limits when on.

Rauch: Don't read your e-mail in the morning. And when you do read your e-mail, don't read every single one of them.

Reading e-mail in the morning lets other people set your schedule. Rauch did log on to Facebook. She hadn't been on the site in six months.

Rauch: I have my fiance who has posted at least two different cute cat videos.

Herships: So this is what you've been missing?

Rauch: Yeah, this is what I've been missing.

Herships: Do we watch a kitten video?

Rauch: If you want. I love kittens.

Who doesn't? But Rauch says it would be nicer to play with a real cat. She says she's learned she doesn't need to be online. Unfortunately her friends, family and work need her to be.

I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.


Ryssdal: Sally's been covering people trying to unplug their lives for a while. Her earlier stories are -- funnily enough -- online.

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