I’m walking to the subway right now. It’s 7:13, sprinkling lightly. I can see little rainbow-colored droplets on my screen. I know my route by heart, just like I know the iPhone keyboard, so I’ve started taking my hour-long commute as time to write first thing in the morning, when my imagination works the best.

Isn’t that insane?

So much of my life takes place online that I’ve lost touch with the boundaries. I no longer know where my obligations lie, with my “real” life or my “virtual” life. What’s real and what’s virtual? Is someone only real to you if you can smell them? Or are the realest people the ones you can relate to the most – no matter where they’re located?

If these questions bore you, I beg you to listen a little bit longer with an open mind. If nothing else, try to see this as a cautionary tale about what happens if you plug your spinal column into the Internet before either the Internet or your nervous system is ready.

I have this Evernote list called “Spirit Errands.” It’s for things I’ve promised to do for myself to live a healthier life. Meditate every day, learn Spanish, eat meat only once per day, listen to one album per day while disconnected from the Internet, et cetera. None of the boxes are checked yet. I add a new item every week or so, whenever I think of one.

I tell myself the reason I haven’t completed any Spirit Errands is that I don’t have time.

Life After Work

After I’m done working on the Internet all day, I’ve saved about 30 things to Pocket to read, and I’ve got a couple new podcasts. So my commute back home is spent listening to podcasts, although those tend to provoke lots of interesting thoughts, so I’m posting to Twitter or App.net throughout, and while I’m there, I might as well read the feed, too. That might draw me into a conversation, which could go on for an hour, so I have to answer all the replies right away.

When I get home around 7:30, the podcast is over (but I don’t remember it), and I bring my ongoing conversations with me as I take out the iPad to read, which sparks more conversations. Then I look up, and it’s 11:48 p.m., and I can’t focus my eyes anymore, so I roll over, fall immediately to sleep, and dream about the Internet.

Yes, I eat food. I’ve picked out places on my route that I can get into and out of as fast as I can.

Oh, I didn’t mention Facebook. I guess that’s because I check it constantly, like a background process. That’s where my “real” friends are, so I guess it matters more.

My roommates get home later than I do, but I leave way before they do, so I usually see them for just a few minutes at night. But I’m so worn out from interacting with thousands of invisible people all day that I barely have anything left for them except bitterness. If they bring company, I can’t handle it. I retreat to my room, snark with the other people on Twitter in bed, and try to squeeze in a couple more Pocket articles before I pass out.

Weekends have become pretty special, since they don’t have to be like this, but they’re really short. And by Sunday night, I’m morose and lethargic, unable to stop visualizing the walk to BART in the morning.

First-World Problems

I know. First-world problems. Everybody get your hashtags out.

What I hope is that you didn’t just think that before I said it. I hope your reflex is not to think about broadcasting to the social Web whenever you feel snarky. But if it is, then maybe you feel me.

“Maybe we should both get lives,” one of my Twitter friends said to me last night after I’d blurred the real/virtual line too much. Maybe we should. If we were all out having real fun, or running our Spirit Errands, there’d be nothing to do online. If there was nothing to do, all these gamified, data mining, “like”-button oxytocin factories would have to shut down.

My train’s pulling in to West Oakland now. 7:41. We’re about to cross the Bay. I’m hanging from a strap in my right hand, pecking out letters with my left. Six people around me are on their phones. I note the makes and models. Three of them have earbuds in. I don’t today.

Spirit Errands

You know, I think I’ve come up with some more Spirit Errands, and these are ones I can check off right now. This is a blog post, right? It should contain a round number of helpful tips. Here goes:

  1. Take your addictive social app(s) off the front screen of your phone.
  2. Unfriend and unfollow everyone and everything that isn’t necessary. Be strict.
  3. Turn off push notifications (except for DMs, if you’re desperate).
  4. Only check social things during short, dedicated bursts of time.
  5. Go offline an hour before bedthree hours before bedbefore dinner(screw it) the instant you’re done with work.

That’s a start. I’m starting right now. Long live email. Now, what will I do with all this free time? 

And what about you? Are you willing to confess how deeply plugged into the matrix you are? And are you doing anything about it?

Photos by Jon Mitchell.