1. The internet is Mandatory for us now. For many, it has been for a long time. Even offline, I relied on it. It’s not essential in all the ways we might believe, but there are certain things we need it for. Especially with Covid, there aren’t always other options – even for someone willing and able to go through a lot of hassles. Yet, lots of communities who are expected to be online still lack access to adequate connections or digital devices. And there are situations where people can’t use screens (i.e. concussions or parole conditions). If the internet’s essential, we have to ensure everyone can access it and that our online lives don’t negatively impact others.


  2. Despite feeling like I don’t have a choice over whether I use the internet, I do have some choice in how I use and relate to online spaces. We have Agency and can support systemic changes if we’re intentional, frictional, and working collectively. As things become more automated, computers don’t gain agency, but we lose some. It’s harder to navigate the increasingly complex technical coordination of our internet experiences. We can begin to reclaim agency though as we learn about how we fit into the techno-economic systems mediating and managing our lives.


  3. The internet can let us feel independent even when we depend on it if we forget all the people behind the screen, generating and supporting the tech and the content. The internet doesn’t exist without others and internet dependence is a kind of Interdependence. Without a screen in the way this year, I became more aware of how I rely on others. This made me more appreciative of the people I am interdependent with personally. However, I also realized how often internet interdependence is imbalanced when we consider a more global context.


  4. We all know that Lots of Data is being gathered on us as we use the internet, but many of us appreciate the personalized experience this facilitates. However, we don’t get something for nothing, and the affordances and costs of the internet are unevenly distributed amongst users. The data being gathered on us becomes part of giant data sets used to coordinate people – by big companies or the government. This works well for some people, but at the expense of many others. Advertisers, insurance companies, and state agencies have more opportunities for organizing or orienting the most vulnerable of us in potentially exploitative ways.


  5. From conflict minerals to sweatshops to planned obsolescence to e-scraps, the virtual is very real. Much of the Materiality of the internet is out of sight in outsourced labour or remote servers, but what we do online has massive impacts. We rely on exploitative labour practices and industrial processes – often outsourced to the Global South – that make our digital technologies possible by causing irreversible damage to the environment. This year, instead of Google searches, I talked to friends. Instead of shared cloud storage, I shared USB sticks. Instead of social media, I sent mail. Being offline reminded me that though we need the internet for certain things, it’s still possible to avoid using it for everything. By taking on some of the work we often displace digitally, I didn’t make much of a difference. Together, I think we can.


  6. We need and often lack Alternatives to big tech options for our digital devices and the online platforms or services we use. Many of the issues associated with digital technologies are only possible because five or so big tech companies have a monopoly-like share of the market.


  7. Inconvenience this year has helped me understand the value of time, of taking time, and of connecting to the processes that organize my life. As I stumbled around without online conveniences, sometimes I discovered things I appreciated and sometimes I got frustrated. However, I felt less like I had to conform to a preconceived notion of myself curated in an online profile or to the terms set for me by the mediators of my internet experiences.


  8. This year has helped me rethink my Life Pace. I had more downtime and felt less distracted, less like I was always anticipating something. This made it easier to be present with others and content with myself. Developing offline practices this year included rethinking how I prioritize things; I tried to schedule my time based on what I value and not just what was urgent. I realize this is tied to the privilege I have that made it possible for me to spend a year offline, but the importance of rethinking life pace shouldn’t be restricted to grad students who are gaming the system to take a holiday from the internet for a year. We’d all benefit from a bit more time.


  1. I discovered the pleasures of sending and receiving Mail this year. In the future, I’m going to Mail things instead of emailing them when I can. There’s something about sharing a physical object, even if it’s just a piece of paper. I also found the pace of letters much more gentle and forgiving than email. Before this year, I always thought of sending things in the mail as a bit of a hassle. I was surprised to discover that if you have envelopes and stamps at home, sending a letter is just as easy as sending an email, maybe easier. And you get to go for a walk!


December 2020