Living Life Offline

Before I packed up my whole life, the boy wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into.  He lived in a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere.  He said it wasn’t for the faint-hearted.  And being from the city he was worried I would struggle with the isolation.  Not someone who is fazed by much, I was sure it would be fine.  But to put his mind at rest I flew over to visit, a month before I was due to move.

It was a ninety minute drive from the airport to his house.  We passed through four small towns.  Towns that if you blinked at the wrong time you'd miss them.  It was very different from New Zealand.  A lot of the houses were run down.  No-one seemed to mow their lawn.  And the countryside was dry and nondescript.  At this point I did begin to wonder, just a little bit, what I'd gotten myself into.

An hour into the drive we came to the bottom of a steep range.  As we wound our way up to the top waterfalls flowed down the side of the rock face.  The scenery started to change to a beautiful rainforest.  And the view back down to the valley was stunning.  

We stopped at the top.  This was Eungella.  It was our closest town.  Or our closest pub and tiny shop, because that’s all that was there.  There were a few houses scattered about, but I didn’t see any people.  

“We’ve got about 20 minutes to go before we get home”, he said.  

Outside of Eungella the road turned from asphalt to dirt.  If felt like we were driving for miles, dodging potholes and kicking up a cloud of dust behind us.  You could see the odd house, but they were few and far between.  I remember looking at the boy and thinking, ‘I hope I know you well enough that I’m not going to end up dead in your backyard’.  It was the sort of place you could disappear and no-one would realise for days.

I have to admit he had me worried about this ‘shack’ he kept talking about.  I had visions of a run-down shed, lived in by a bachelor who slept on the floor and showered under a dribble of cold water.

We finally arrived at the bottom of the driveway.  It rose up and around a corner so you couldn’t see the house.  

‘Well this is it’ I thought to myself.  My do or die moment.

As we rounded the top of the driveway I let go of the breath I didn’t know I was holding.

‘Oh thank goodness’! 

In the middle of a clearing, surrounded by rainforest, stood a lovely little shouse. A shouse is what we call a converted shed turned into a house.  As I entered the front door I let out the next breath.  It was beautiful inside.  Apparently my shaven-headed, tattooed builder could have doubled as an interior designer.  Who knew! 

The next few days were spent exploring the area.  It was going to be different, but I had a feeling I would love it there.  And I wasn’t wrong.

Living where we did had it’s drawbacks.  It was a three hour round trip to the supermarket. With no mobile coverage or internet connection the only communication with the outside world was via a landline (remember those things!).  Which wasn’t a problem unless the power went out.  Which it did quite often.  And when we lost power we also lost water.  And it would either bucket down with rain so the water tanks overflowed and ran down the driveway. Or it would be so dry for months we had to truck water up to the house when the tanks ran out.  Then there were the snakes, leeches, wild boar and wild dogs to deal with.  Thankfully they didn’t bother us too much.

But it was also beautiful.  You could walk out the front gate and meander for miles.  The dogs loved it.  And it was so nice to see them enjoying themselves. They spent their days wandering around the 14 acres, chasing the dirt bike and swimming in the dam.  On the weekends we’d head to the gorge and float along the river. Or go kayaking, fishing or mountain biking.  

What I enjoyed most was the time spent without technology invading our days.  Until I didn’t have mobile coverage or internet access, I hadn’t realised how connected we are to each other. All.  The. Time!  

There was something nice about not hearing the beep of the phone, letting you know you’d received a text.  Or the ding to say another email was sitting in your inbox.  Or the constant scrolling through social media, reacting to other people’s lives.

It was something that had frustrated me for a long time.  When I was back in New Zealand I once received a text from a friend at 5.30 in the morning.  He’d finished reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and couldn’t understand what all the hype was about.  He was wondering what my opinion on the book was?  

I felt like I had no downtime.  No quiet time.  The constant dinging of my phone would drive me nuts.  As did the people who thought I must be dead, or pissed off with them, if I didn’t respond within five minutes.

Yes, I could have turned my phone off.  Or not worried about the emails piling up in my inbox.  But when you run a business it’s not so easy.  I was ‘on’ twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  And I didn’t realise how much stress it had been causing, until I no longer had to deal with it.  

When we moved to Tasmania we could have gotten sucked straight back into the abyss of social media.  And for a short time we did.  It was a novelty having access to the outside world again.  But it wasn’t long before the negative effects started to kick in.

These days I have strong boundaries around social media and how I use it.  The online world has many positive benefits.  I’ve met many of my closest friends through Facebook groups. And I have a wonderful community of people I love engaging with on Instagram.  It’s also the best way to keep up with what my friends and family are up to, and for me to share photos of our life in Tasmania.

But I am also very aware that what is shared is the highlights reel of our lives.  To be honest I don’t have a problem with that. I would rather see a beautiful photo of someone's garden, than the dirty dishes in their sink. I have also never been someone who compares myself to others, so social media doesn’t affect me as much as some.

I do worry though when I meet people who let the online world consume them, their days and their lives. I'm sure there will come a time when there is a need for social media therapists!

Setting boundaries around how and when I use social media has been a big part of simplifying my life.  I log onto Facebook once a day.  I check my notifications and then hop onto my news feed.  If the top three posts aren’t something I want to stop and read, I log off straight away.  

The only other platform I'm on is Instagram, which I do enjoy.  I love looking at the beautiful photos that people post.  There’s something nice about finding a community of like-minded people.  And it’s a great way to discover new interests.  

It would be easy to get lost in the Instagram world for hours, which is why I've set boundaries around when and how I use it.  I usually jump on twice a day, and limit myself to 10 minutes at a time.  When that time is up I log off.  No exceptions.  If I’m busy then there may be days I don’t check it at all.  

I just don’t want to miss out on living my life.  As much as I enjoy watching other people's Instagram stories, I’d much rather be creating my own.  

During the three years we didn’t have mobile coverage or internet connection at home I didn’t miss it at all.  And do you know what?  We lived to tell the tale.  You should try it sometime.  Even for a day.

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