After suffering a devastating blow in her marriage, Esther Emery decided to do something radical to regain her equilibrium. She gave up the Internet for a full year. No email, no social media, no professor Google. Without the distractions of the world wide web, Esther began to connect with life in a way she never had before and her long-dormant faith came back to life. What Falls from the Sky is a memoir about her year in analogue and it is one of my top five Christian books of 2016.
I asked Esther a few questions about her experiment and here is what she had to say…
Unless you’re a Luddite, unplugging for a full year is a pretty radical step. What made you decide to go all in?
I was desperate. It’s funny to me now, how I thought I could solve my great big spiritual unrest with a great big, dramatic move, preferably one that would also be impressive. It turned out I needed rest much more than I needed drama, but it took a long time for me to pick those threads apart.
In the book you talk about how people in different age brackets responded differently to your Internet fast. Older people asked “why” and younger people asked “how.” I am of the younger set, so I have to ask, how did you manage to live for a full year without online banking, credit cards, and Amazon delivery? Was it harder or easier than you thought it would be?
Well, it isn’t practical. Ultimately I couldn’t solve certain things like how to get plane tickets, or for that matter how to work a job and support myself. But I found it quite manageable to live without online banking, credit cards and Amazon delivery. In fact, those are all great skills and lessons I’m glad I learned, especially for a future direction towards a more sustainable life.
I imagine that unplugging would free up an enormous amount of time. Was it easy to fill the vacant hours or did you find yourself battling boredom?
It wasn’t that hard to fill the time, as a motivated person in a busy season of life. But with limited entertainment options I found I couldn’t escape from myself. Everywhere I went–no matter how busy I was–I was still hanging out with me. That’s worse than boredom.
How did your experiment impact your relationships with your family? What about your friends who were still online?
I spent a lot of quality time with my nuclear family and a few close siblings. That was amazing. I have memories from that time that are extremely precious. I did lose some relationships with friends online, but they were mostly relationships that had minimal contact in the first place. Basically my circle went deep where it had been wide.
Social media is often a huge source of validation for people. What was it like living without that validation? Was it freeing or difficult for you?
Living without validation was horribly difficult. It was the hardest thing of all. But I’m so grateful I went through that because once I realized I could live without it that was the strongest I’ve ever felt. Now I try to get that feeling back on purpose because it really is another level of authenticity and confidence.Q&A with @EstherEmery about Her New Book + Living without Internet for a YearClick To Tweet
During your year without Internet you found your way back to the Christian faith. What drove you to leave it to begin with and what was it that drew you back?
This is a big question! I left the Christian faith because of Christian culture. I was too liberal, too feminist. I didn’t fit. But in my year without Internet fitting some kind of identity profile just wasn’t even a question anymore. It was between me and my own spiritual hunger, and the hunger won.
Since your year without Internet, you and your family moved from an apartment in Boston to a yurt in the wilds of Idaho. That decision makes unplugging for a year seem tame by comparison. What drove you to pursue such a radical lifestyle change?
It’s all the same lifestyle change. Living in a yurt in the wilds of Idaho is more my husband’s version of going unplugged than it is mine. But it’s all the same set of values. We’re looking for ways to live a contemplative, wise, responsible life in a completely whacked out world.
I have to ask this as a fellow introvert–doesn’t living in a yurt with your entire family get a little…crowded? How do you find time to recharge in that environment? (Also, did you write your book in the aforementioned yurt or was that completed while you were still in Boston?)
The yurt is a tiny room, but our whole house is this wild mountainside. If you’re not afraid of a little weather you can get your alone time anytime, with the good effect doubled by the peace of these hills. I wrote my book in both places. I’m a very slow writer, and I needed both the wonderful speed and anonymity of Boston and the more natural quiet of the wild.
Would you ever repeat your experiment and disconnect for another year (or more)?
Nah. I don’t think I would want to disconnect for another year. But I do a partial Internet fast every October, to remember what it was like and remember what I learned from it.
Readers want to know: what are some of your favorite books?
I love The Dirty Life, by Kristen Kimball. I love Found by Micha Boyett and Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. I never get tired of Annie Dillard, and I like to be challenged by Simone Weil. And I love Harry Potter as much as any Muggle can.