ALL ALONE OFFLINE:

Internet Deprivation Withdrawal

By Lisa Chow

November 17, 2019: Down Internet

            Where was everybody? Online, that’s where, a place I’ve been exiled from because of the stupid network. It all started on November 12, 2019, when every site I tried opening greeted me with “Unable to access the Internet because the server stopped responding.” I tried resetting the network. I tried restarting the computer. Both did not work. I called Verizon tech support, and they told me that the network was down in my area. The next day or two, I was back online and I thought my trouble was over. Wrong!

            Today, my internet plummeted again. Tech support told me that this time my device was the issue. Getting back online was going to be a challenge.

            Tech:   Ok, we just texted you a link.  Click on that link to verify your account.

            Lisa:    My internet is down. I won’t be able to access the link without internet.  

            Tech:   The link will work on your smartphone.

            Lisa:    I don’t have a smartphone.

            Tech:   What if I email it to you?  What’s your email address, please?

            Lisa:    I can’t access my email without the internet.[i]

            Tech:   You can use Wi-Fi.

            Lisa:    I don’t have Wi-Fi.

            Tech:   No Wi-Fi at home? Or work?

            Lisa:    Nope.

            Tech:   (surprised) No internet access on your desktop?

            Lisa:    I don’t even have a working desktop anymore.

I only made $12.25 an hour. Food came first. Rent came first. Electricity and water came first. Gas for the car came first.  Gas for the stove came first. I didn’t have the finances for the latest desktop, laptop, AND smartphone. I still had a flip phone. You know, the kind in which you tap “gh, de, jkl, jkl, mno,” just to text “hello”! I didn’t even have a GPS!

            “Unfortunately, we can’t help you if you can’t verify your account,” he announced.  “However, you could take your device to an Apple store, and have the technicians there take a look at it. He might be able to help get you back online.”

            I agreed to an appointment on the afternoon of December 2nd—that long because of demands from numerous others all wanting their devices repaired during the holiday season. But this would mean 14 more days of this isolation.

November 23, 2019: Isolated

            It has now been six days. I felt cut off from people, stranded on a deserted offline island, barred from a community where everyone else continued life—without me.  

            Funny that I have been feeling so lonely. As an introvert, I had been content going about my day without company. It wasn’t as if I needed people around all the time—except now I had no one all the time. No more email and Facebook conversations, no more receipt of important notifications, no more emotional support.

December 1, 2019: Thanksgiving Weekend

            In this season of togetherness, where was I? Alone inside a dental manufacturing facility. The entire building was vacated like an old western ghost town in the last four days. In fact, I couldn’t even hear motor vehicles rumbling or bees buzzing—or even crickets chirping. Not having access to email and the internet accentuated the isolation.       

Yes, I know there were many others who worked Thanksgiving, but they still spent time with another human being at least once in the last four days. I didn’t. I woke up and my roommates had left the house hours ago to be with their families. My own family was already done with the tradition and was returning home. With a clock out time at 2 AM and bedtime around 4 AM, I was not up to be up and about at 7 AM—or even 9 AM for a Thanksgiving get-together. One can say I could have prevented the painful isolation by pulling an all-nighter, but that would mean fighting intense exhaustion throughout my subsequent shift.             

December 2, 2019: From Bad to Worse

            I turned on my iPad and a white cord and charger stared brightly at me against a black background. Gone was the envelope icon. Gone was the camera icon. Gone was the cog icon. I restarted the computer. The charger refused to leave. 

            I carried my sickly iPad to the Apple store for my 2:00 appointment with Dr. Technician. He hooked the iPad on a defibrillator. Click, click, click, tap, tap, tap. He performed technological CPR on it, trying to bring it to life. Click, click, click, tap, tap, tap. “Come on!” He tried the second equipment. Click, click, click, tap, tap, tap. 

            Ten minutes later, he unplugged the defibrillator, took a deep breath, and exhaled a sigh. He declared brain death at 2:13 PM. “You’re going to have to buy a new iPad.”

            I browsed around. $599, $799, $1,100. That’s a lot money. Dejected, I left the store. My return to the community was not going to happen today. 

            My heart ached in agonizing pain: I wanted to reach out so badly. But who? Sharyn’s plate was already full with taking care of her ailing father. Ali has been busy chauffeuring her daughter to various auditions in Hollywood. Georgina had two autistic kids to care for. Whose life should I interrupt? Whomever I tell might feel obligated to do something, and I didn’t want to do that to them. 

December 5, 2019: Salvation, I Hope

            A $299.00 price display screamed at me from the electronic device section at Target. Above it laid a 10.2-inch black framed Apple iPad. A device in the high $200? I could afford that. I stopped and moved closer. I picked up the display and tested it: Safari launched. Google opened successfully. Facebook works. I clicked on the envelope icon. The iCloud email pulled up with the sidebar menu. Cool. I want it. Online community, I’m coming!

            After my salvation was bagged, the retailer mentioned the device only used Wi-Fi. My  shoulders dropped, causing the polyurethane bag to slap against my right calf to convey my disappointment. I explained how I had always been able to access the internet on my now-deceased iPad without having to make special trips to the library or purchase burgers at McDonald’s.

            “Sounds like you need a device that would enable an LTE,” she inferred as she credited my transaction,  “a system that’s like taking Wi-Fi with you.”

            “Yes!” I pointed my finger in recognition. “I do remember seeing those letters on my iPad. Can I see your LTE-enabled devices?”

            “We don’t sell those here. You’re going to have to go to a place like Best Buy for that, but those cost hundreds of dollars more.”

            “Do you know how much those run?”

            “About $700.”

            $700?! I was already still trying to pay off my $15,000 credit card bill, my $1,300 car repair bill, and my $1,500 Kaiser bill.  So, in order for me to get back online, I would have to go deeper in debt.

            I would have to stop shopping for good—maybe even for food. No more grocery shopping until my debt was paid off. I’d just have to go with whatever food I had in the house. If I was out and about and got hungry, then I would have to abstain from buying something to eat unless I got dizzy or was on the verge of passing out.  

            So, no, I couldn’t charge another $700. I would have to continue going without the internet.

December 6, 2019: Reaching Out

From: lschow***@icloud.com

To:       lbrwne*****@charter.net, pclarke***@outlook.com, tlynne***@verizon.net

RE:      Attempting to Reach Out & Touch Someone

I’m sorry for imposing. My internet has been down for the last three weeks, then my iPad died, and with it all came a feeling of painful isolation. I’m accessing this at the public library to reach out to all of you.

            I hated to bother them, but I was feeling desperate.

            Under the overt email was the covert message: Hey, here are words of pain I’ve been experiencing since last month. I share them with you because I trust you from your past experience of support, reassurance, and hope. Please, I ask for some of that now. I have been so lonely that it hurts. Please, connect with me. I am hurting so much. Please.  

December 8, 2019: Letdown #1

            My heart sank as I stared at the library computer screen. No one responded, not even Lynda—who always replied.  Her pudgy fingers typing reassuring words never happened!          She might have figured that I wouldn’t be able to read her reply anyways, so why write back? I could understand that.

            Still, this lack of response amplified the isolation: I have been stuck on an offline island for almost a month now, I called out, and no one answered. I was all alone.

            Couldn’t she have called? No, she didn’t have my number, having kept touch with me through email for decades.

December 9, 2019: Letdown #2

            “Nah, it’s all digital now,” BJ texted in response to my inquiry about whether his wife could use some transparency sheets I had cleaned out. 

            Hmmmm. Maybe I could share with BJ. He had always been compassionate towards hardships I had experienced when he and I worked together last year.

            Taking the cue, I texted back: “Digital, huh? Is that why I’ve been feeling so alone since I lost internet access three weeks ago? It was especially bad during the Thanksgiving weekend.”

            “Think of it as a vacation from all that,” came his blithe reply. I could just visualize his hazel eyes lighting up as he tapped those words on the keypad.

            But I felt stabbed instead. Here I have been going through non-stop emotional pain here for weeks, and he responded by being flippant? 

            “After I get through withdrawal. Lol,” I answered back. I didn’t want him to know that his response hurt. 

            How did my parents, my aunts, and my uncles do it? I felt so marooned from the world, but they weren’t online either—and they have been functioning just fine without it. Then again, they live as traditional immigrants in the US who have held onto their customs from the mid-20th century, whereas I was among the American people in an early 21st century technological society. We really lived in two different worlds.

December 10, 2019: Call to Close

            I called Verizon to cancel my account. No use continuing with an account in which the device died. 

            “Did you know you qualify for a replacement?” The customer service representative asked. As expected, she sounded like Verizon was going to cut her pay if a customer canceled an account.

            “Really?” I asked, nicely surprised.

            “Yeah, the insurance you’ve been paying on it entitles you for a replacement. You do have to pay the $149.00 deductible and send us your malfunctioned device, but—”

            “$149.00 beats $700,” I finished for her. “Yes, I would like to get the replacement.”   

December 12, 2019: Not Yet

            The replacement iPad came today. After opening the package and booting it up, I found there was no internet. Still?  Come on, Fate!  I called tech support—again. 

            “Click Settings, then About, what’s the IMEI?” the Verizon technician asked.

            “It’s not listed.”
            “Okay, what about the ICCID?”

            “Nope.”

            “Okay, do you have a paper clip or an earring stub?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Put the rod inside the hole on the side and retract the SIM card.”

            I did and read him the IMEI from there.

            Putting the SIM card back was a nightmare. When I had retracted it, the plate it was on had also popped out. I put the SIM card on the plate, but it wouldn’t snap into place. I tried other angles and sides. Still, it would not snap into place.

            “Don’t get your fingerprint on the silver thing,” he warned. “You’re going to create problems on your device with a fingerprint smudge.”

            “Oh great. Now what do I do?”

            “Wipe the smudges off your shirt.”

            I did and tried again. The various angles and sides still would not set the SIM in place. Then the card popped out of my hand and landed amid a horde of dust bunnies. Time to wipe it off my shirt again. Shoot! Now my fingernail scratched it. I wiped it across my shirt and tried inserting the SIM again. Shoot! Now my fingerprints smudged it again. Another wipe on my shirt. Then the SIM popped out of my hand, bounced off the bed cushion, and flew off to who knows where.

            I hollered. Trying to get back online has been such a relentless frustrating hassle. First ongoing lack of internet, then hassles without services via various websites, then death of device, then finances to pay for the new device, then still more troubleshooting crap, and now losing the SIM. I have had enough of the unrelenting obstacles! I got up to get my flashlight and tripped over a lamp cord that pulled the plug out of the socket. Now I was in complete darkness.

            I bellowed again. NOT ANOTHER OBSTACLE!!! SOMETHING WORK FOR A CHANGE!!!!! I patted my way in the darkness in search of the plug and then the socket. Okay, what about locating the flashlight so I can find the cord and outlet?   I sighed loudly in aggravation and frustration.  I’ve already been on the line with the technician for an hour already.

Maybe I would never get back on the grid. That would mean no more email or Facebook communications with my friends again, ever. No more being part of the community where my friends were. No more help with finding my way around to new places or during road closures. No more finding answers to questions. I had been struggling with to return online for 3 weeks now, and Fate had been throwing one obstacle after another. Offline might have to become my new normal after all. Besides, I might be close to being weaned off the internet anyways.

            But it was a new life I did not want. Why couldn’t I get back online? Many have it, why couldn’t I?

            Finally at around 6 in the morning, I got light, the SIM found and successfully inserted, activation, and an opened Google site.

            “Try to open the Verizon webpage,” the technician suggested.

            Success.

            “Cool beans.  Now try Facebook.”

            “Got it.”

            “Would it allow you to log in?”

            “Yes,” I answered with reserved excitement.

            “It looks like you are now finally back online,” he declared.

            Was it really all over now?

December 13, 2019: Glass Menagerie

            I’ve logged onto Facebook and looked around, but haven’t gotten around (or struggling psychologically) to post, read a post, or visit a page for longer than a glance. Internet accessibility had become a glass menagerie: I must handle it very carefully, or I was going to break it.

December 14, 2019: Letdown #3

            I sent Facebook messages to my closest friends that I was back online and disclosed that being off had been a lonely experience.

            Devin posted a laughing emoticon. 

            “Devin?!” I typed back.  “You’re laughing at me?!”

            “Oops,” he responded. “That was a laugh?”

            So, now Devin was gaslighting? As a Ph.D. graduate in psychology, I didn’t think he would pull something like that.  

            Lynda, BJ, Devin—all have disappointed me with their responses (or lack thereof) and all have psychology or counseling degrees. Interesting. Normally those with psychology or counseling backgrounds are the most encouraging, affirming, supportive, accepting people I know. Not this time. I know they did not mean to hurt me, though. Still. 

December 20, 2019: Hitting My Core

            “During this ‘most wonderful time of the year,’ it’s so easy to get really busy with Christmas shopping and holiday parties,” posted on Sharyn’s words of inspiration Facebook page. “However, let’s make some time to hug your loved ones extra tight, offer help to a struggling neighbor, or reach out to those who have no one.”

            What if I typed,“Can I redeem this last item on your coupon,” and the next thing I knew my knees buckled and I curled into a fetal position, sobbing profusely for about five minutes or so.  It was as if the lonely Lisa on Thanksgiving really got touched, Sharyn’s words hitting deep inside all the way to the core.  My severed link, having been ripped from the community of fellow human beings, now agonizingly painfully exposed raw and salted.

December 22, 2019: A Dark Pit

            Since the tearful outburst, I have been in heavy depression. I just wanted to stay in bed and sleep the day away—and the day after that and the day after that. Never wake up, how nice that would be. No more wrenching sorrow, no more—Wait a minute! No!  I could not go there. I must not give in to the temptation of suicide.

            It has been ten days since my return to my friends and family in the online community. Why was I still emotional over the lack? It was as if my psyche now felt safe to reveal a deep-seated emotion after the incident was over.

December 27, 2019: Online Research

            I shared with Jon the intense loneliness I experienced with the loss of the internet. Nodding his head in empathy, he explained that it was because I used the internet a lot. He was right. I hardly saw him on email, and it’s been years since he was on Facebook. He kept in touch with others through in-person interaction or telephone calls. I, on the other hand, corresponded through email or Facebook postings. So, was I addicted to the internet? Was that why I had a hard time without it? Sometimes understanding went a long way towards feeling better, so I googled “internet addiction”.

            According to verywellmind.com, no internet access results in withdrawal symptoms of depression, anger, tension, boredom, joylessness, moodiness, nervousness, and irritability.  

            Did I experience depression? Yes

            Anger, Tension, Irritability? Yes

            Boredom? No

            Joylessness? I don’t know

            Moodiness? Yes

            Nervousness?  No more than usual.

            However, on Psycom, internet addiction interferes with your relationships, work, and school. I had no problems getting to work and doing my job once I was there.

            On researchgate.net, internet addiction withdrawal consists not only of depression and anxiety, but also psychosis and a delusional sense of prosecution (which I didn’t have—unless I was in denial).  

            To be sure, I took a test that all the sources point to on Mind Diagnostics. The result said that I was a normal internet user, not an addictive one.

            Before turning in for the night, I found another concept that matched my experience much more closely: nomophobia [no mobile phobia]. 

            I scored 107 out of 140 points on its online assessment. However, my answers on the assessment were based more on what actually happened to me, not a feared outcome.

            What about actual, not feared, symptoms such as the following:

  1. Feeling severed from the world—at least from my community
  2. Painfully agonizing desire to connect with others that went unfulfilled, yet didn’t want to call someone or interact in person
  3. Guilt of intruding or imposing upon reaching out
  4. Fear of causing problems for others upon reaching out
  5. Disappointment after reaching out, not feeling understood or validated or heard
  6. Feeling alone, as if I was the only one who has experienced this
  7. Hesitation to re-engage on social media once internet access was restored

December 29, 2019: Internet Deprivation Withdrawal

            Finally found the answer I have been looking for! There was a study and paper done in 2011 that tested people’s reactions to not having internet access for 2 weeks. The subjects were from Europe and Asian—maybe even the Middle East. For some, the effects started as soon as 2 hours without an internet—and the results consisted of intense feelings of: disconnectedness, alienation, restlessness, and irritability. One even reported that it was akin to having a hand cut off. This phenomenon got to be termed “internet deprivation withdrawal,” and it did describe exactly what I experienced. 

            What a relief! There were others who have experienced what I went through, and it wasn’t because of an addiction or a phobia. My reaction WAS normal. 

            Consultation with a Riverside, California psychologist confirmed my normalcy. According to Dr. Jacqueline Mar, the internet was my “lifeline”. It was where I kept in touch with friends, received emotional support, and fulfilled my needs for human contact. I felt safe to be me while online. When I lost my means to connect with other human beings, I lost community. I had felt cut off because I was—socially and psychologically. The technical isolation led to a social, psychological, and emotional starvation

            However, just as I’d be reluctant to ask someone for food even if homeless and hungry for weeks, I also vehemently hesitated about calling people for interpersonal starvation. This was the reason why I wasn’t able to pick up the phone and strike a conversation. Internet discourse was conducted on each party’s most convenient or chosen time. That was not necessarily the case with telephone interactions. Dialogue could only occur when both the caller and the receiver agree to chat during a particular time. The time I chose to dial a friend’s number may not be the best time for my friend to talk. I couldn’t infringe on another’s busy life, no matter how desperately I was starving for human contact. I have this issue with being a bother to others that had struck so strongly that I chose to tackle the famine on my own. The result was a distressingly arduous road to come back to the online community for regular social nourishment.

About the Author:

With almost 15 years in tutoring and teaching writing, Lisa Chow aspires to break into professional writing with a published manuscript. She has a creative writing certification from California State University at Fullerton and successful course completion from Writer’s Digest University in article writing and copywriting. She has achieved small publication in universities’ Harvest and California Linguistics Notes and won honorable mention at Writer’s Digest competition.

REFERENCES

Cheng, J. (2001, April 6). Students face withdrawal, distress when cut off from internet: university students from around the globe reported feelings of isolation. https://www.arstechnica.com

Daily Mail Reporter (2008, September 1). Feel stressed if you can’t get online? You could have “discomgoogolation”. https://www.dailymail.co.uk

Flock, E. (2011, June 25). Internet deprivation feels “like having [a] hand chopped off,” study says. https://www.washingtonpost.com.

Gregory, C. (2019, May 22). Internet addiction disorder: signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments for those who may be addicted to the web on their PC or smart phone. RemedyHealth Media LLC. https://www.psycom.net.

Hartney, E. (2019, December 8). How to know if you have an internet addiction and what to do about it. https://www.verywellmind.com.

J. Mar, Psy.D. (personal communication, March 2, 2020).

Mind Diagnostics. (2019, December 27). Find out if you have internet addiction. https://www.mind-diagnostics.org

Moeller, S. D. (2019) Going 24 hours without media. The world unplugged. https://www.theworldunplugged.wordpress.com.

Paik, A. Y., Kim, D. H., & Oh, D. Y. (2014, April 9). A case of withdrawal psychosis from internet addiction disorder. Psychiatry Investigation. https://www.researchgate.net.

Pomeroy, R. (2012, June 6). Internet deprivation is no laughing matter. https://www.realclearscience.com.

Wagman, D. (2020, January 3). My month without the internet. https://www.latimes.com.

Weinstein, L. (interviewee, Internet Author), & Noory, G. R. (Host). (2020, May 14). Technology Update. Coast to Coast, KFI 640 AM. 

Yildirim, C. (2014, October 2). Exploring the dimensions of nomophobia: developing and validating a questionnaire using mixed methods research. Iowa State University Digital Repository. lib.dr.iaste.edu.


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