We Don’t Sign Off Anymore

The Internet is everywhere.

There was a time, not too long ago, when that wasn’t the case. “Going online” used to mean double-clicking the little AOL icon on your desktop and listening to what sounded like the complete Looney Toons anthology being run through a saw mill. After that, you were free to tear down the Internet Superhighway at a blazing 56 kilobits per second.

The world was your oyster. Anything was possible. There were dozens, maybe even hundreds of websites out there, and—oh. Your mom needs to make a call.

Ah well. Better shut it all down. So much for a world of possibilities. Maybe you can finish downloading that song sometime tomorrow.

Turn the clock back a few more decades—back to a time when “the Worldwide Web” sounded more like the work of giant apocalyptic spiders—and you’d find TV sets with only three stations. What’s more, you’d find that after a certain hour every night, all three of those stations would stop broadcasting. You could reposition the rabbit ears and turn the dials* to your heart’s content, but it wouldn’t change a thing. There was nothing to watch, and it would stay that way until things started back up in the morning.

And then there’s today.

I still remember when my parents upgraded to DSL. It was so strange, having a modem that never shut off. The Internet I knew had a cost per minute, and we were just going to just… leave it on? All day? All night? It felt wrong.

I got used to it, of course—just like I got used to faster and faster speeds, and WiFi, and smartphones, and LTE, and all the millions of things that would have sounded impossible just twenty years ago. Each new innovation was a step forward, an improvement, a technologic miracle. This was progress—no one would ever have to sign off ever again.

I never thought I’d say it, but I miss that.

* * *

At the end of last year, I wrote about how I noticed I was stuffing the silence with technology. It’s a habitual reflex for me now to grab my phone and just scroll through vast swaths of time-wasting nothingness. Maybe it is for you, too. And it occurred to me recently that part of the reason why is that it’s just so easy. It’s always there. Always connected. I don’t have to go through the trouble of signing on to anything, because I never have to sign off.

So I made it harder. I started intentionally turn off my phone’s WiFi and data when I’m done using it for something. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the closest I’ve come to having to sign on in a long time. Now I can’t just grab my phone and scroll—before I connect, I have to ask myself, “Do I really have something worth doing right now, or am I just killing time?”

It’s still too early to talk about results or impact, but I have noticed that adding in that extra hurdle has made it easier for me to leave my phone aside and stay in the moment. Will I keep this up forever? I don’t know. But I think I like the direction it’s heading.

* * *

Passover will be here in a little over three weeks. Three weeks. Are you ready for it? Have you been studying? Praying? Preparing?

Or have you been distracted?

I know I have been. That’s why I’m making a concerted effort to sign off when I can. To disconnect from the distractions. Passover is important—whether this is your first time or your forty-first time, God intended for the time leading up to the Passover season to be poignant and filled with reflection.

How easy and how dangerous it is to bypass that.

As Paul writes, “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

* * *

I don’t miss my dial-up modem. I don’t miss waiting ten minutes for a .jpg to load. I doubt anyone who remembers the three TV stations of yesteryear is genuinely longing to revert to that system. But I think there was something to gain from having to sign off—something we miss out on today if we don’t make a special effort to emulate it.

We weren’t meant to be connected to everything all the time. Our brains can’t process everything technology has to offer. It keeps us distracted, with our focus flitting from stimuli to stimuli, never leaving time for stopping, for pausing, for reflecting.

Self-examination takes time—time we can rob ourselves of if we’re not careful. In three weeks’ time, we’ll be eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. The manner in which we’ll do that depends on how we’re using the time leading up to it.

If something’s distracting us from what matters—whether that something has a power button or not—now’s the time to figure out how to start being intentional about signing off. It’ll be there when we get back—there are more important things at hand.

Until next time,

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