What Would You Do If The Internet Went Away?
Chris Colin Asks Poets and Writers to Contemplate a Simpler Existence
I was feeling—what’s the word where you used to be human but now your soul is a husk of hearts and likes and Zooms and only marginally funny tweets about Ted Cruz? I was feeling that. Maybe you’ve felt some version of that, too. Maybe a year of needing the Internet more than ever left you grateful for it, sure, duh, but also a little hollowed out? I spent the last little while attempting, as unstudiously as possible, to rectify that.
I knew I didn’t want to become a break-up-with-your-phone guy. Putting aside what it does to our sense of self, our memory, our free time, our democracy, the state of discourse and the very pace of existence, I consider the Internet pretty fun. (That darn lawyer cat!) What I wanted was to remember an alternative. So I began reaching out to fellow writers, asking them to describe one specific improvement that would come if their screens went away. Something valuable happens, I think, when you put a vague longing into words.
So far I’ve pulled together some two dozen recordings of these offline fantasies. They’re by turns funny and poignant. (I’m including a small sample below.) My own fantasy is for everyone to record their own. Imagine a vast oral history of the lives we’re not currently leading.
That same impulse led me to write my first picture book, too. Off: The Day the Internet Died is not what you’d call a serious manifesto. It costs $14 and features the words fart and pee. But my hope is that it starts conversations, and not just about farting and peeing. Far from the binary (COMPUTER HUMOR) arguments about whether online life is Good or Bad, there’s a simpler and bigger question: Who would we be if it simply went away?
The poet Matthew Zapruder misses the quiet of an earlier era—a time of newspaper boxes and blinking answering machine lights.
Author Ayelet Waldman imagines a Twitter-free reality in which she becomes a less horrible, more decent human being.
Writer Mallika Rao imagines a foundational shift in her relationship with the planet, toward a more sensory and tactile way of being.
Author Rachel Khong would do a lot more shopping through the Home Shopping Network, and her house would become filled with useless, joyful things. Rotisserie chicken and tennis bracelets.
Historian and author Alexis Coe would have more time for letter writing, and for the relationships that only form through written correspondence.
Off: The Day the Internet Died is available from Prestel Publishing. Copyright © 2021 by Chris Colin.