Cold Turkey

centrality of the computer

For a while now I’ve had an idea brewing. As time passes, the more it firms up in my mind, and the more real (and scary!) it seems.

So here it is: for a period of one year I will give up computers and mobile phones.

This idea presented itself while I was working on the Bon Scott Blog. At first, it emerged as a sort of bodily need – I was spending way too much time on the computer, and I needed to stop.

I am, to a degree, addicted to email and electronic communication.

It is noticeable to those around me – sometimes they are bombarded with emails from me, which they can’t keep up with. And it often means that although I am present to you, online, I am simultaneously absent to those who are physically near me. This can be very annoying to them.

The main reason I want to do this, as a project, is to make myself available to the myriad of diverse artmaking processes and tools which are not mediated by computers. Before I started blogging-as-art, I used to work in different ways: screenprinting, sculpture, rubber-stamping, performance, carpentry… The problem is, the computer became such an incredible tool for focussing my creative energies, that all these other ways began to drop away. I crave a more physical interface with the world, but the computer does not like that idea. Like HAL, my computer just keeps coming up with reasons why I need never leave.

When I first began to use blogs as an art-making tool (in Bilateral Kellerberrin, 2005) I was fascinated to have the ability to “capture” experience in the real world, and “feed back” stories about experiences into encounters in physical places. This created a kind of mutually productive loop.

But that was three years ago. I remember, while working in Kellerberrin, I first opened a Flickr account. Access and uploads were slow. I rarely included pictures on my blogs, and when I did, I would shrink them to 30kb and apologise to my readers! Blogging was a sustainable (so I then thought) way to document experience without getting too heavy, a great way to publish without the need for paper and printing and deadlines and editors…

But now, with broadband, just plain text on the screen seems boring. Everything has to have multiple pictures and videos and sound files. And I have about 8 blogs which I maintain, they all need regular weeding and preening. Before you know it, a mere minute’s worth of interaction in the real world results in an hour’s processing of material online. The balance has tipped in favour of the virtual, and I find myself sitting in front of my screen for much longer periods of time.

It’s not good on my back, it’s not good on my eyes. The worse my eyes get, the more I have to lean in to read the screen, the worse my posture becomes.

Recently, I read an article which compared compulsive email-checking (I am a victim of this repulsive trend) to poker-machine use. Both have a regular chance of a small payoff. With email, if you keep checking regularly, there is a chance that sooner or later you will win a “prize” – an email will pop into your inbox, as a sort of reward for your gamble. This keeps you hooked.

[Actually, while writing this, I googled “email addiction” – over three million pages came up. Crikey, this is no small phenomenon! And I’m not even experiencing the worst of it – I don’t have a PDA. God help those who do…]

When will I start this project? Well, let’s say, mid-late 2009, when I’ve finished my big computer-based writing project currently underway…

29 thoughts on “Cold Turkey

  1. mayhem

    Woh….. that’s hardcore, and kind of admirable… I gave up having email at home for 6 months, and actually it was pretty scary… I realised that I’d forgotten how to communicate with people around me…..I mean I started writing snail mails again, but I felt pretty cutoff from the casual social access that the web provides… contact when you’re not really having contact…. but yeah….. worthwhile having a break from…..

  2. Lucas Post author

    mayhem! great to hear from you. yeah, KIND OF admirable. Lizzie points out that it would be far more admirable to just “cut down” rather than go cold turkey. But I dunno – I am attracted to the idea of going back to, say, 1993, that blissful time in the past before I got my first email account… yeah, no doubt social and job opportunities will be lost… but what might emerge in their place?

  3. Mel Curtiss

    Funny, I’m right now reading City of Bits: space, place and the infobahn. Published in ’95, it reminds me of the hyperreal hyperbola that was so prevalent then – oooh! full immersion baby! I myself suffer terribly because of my computer – but – would find your experiment a bit too daunting! I wonder what you will find out about space, in terms of the way it is altered by ‘new’ technologies. You wont be able to keep us cyborgs updated though will you!

  4. Lucas Post author

    “You wont be able to keep us cyborgs updated though will you!”

    …precisely, Mel! My hunch is that there is indeed another world out there beyond the online! (My grandma is living proof!)

    You cyborgs will (or won’t) find out what I’m up to. It’s my mission to accept that fact and let it go (it’s hard!). It’s hard to give up on the idea of “everything is always accessible” which I now take for granted (and which causes emotional meltdown when the umbilical cord is unexpectedly cut).

    Thanks for the link to City of Bits! I’ll check it out. Yeah, back in 95, folks were dreaming of the kind of immersion we now “couldn’t do without”.

  5. mayhem

    I just told my annual review panel that I thought that FACEBOOK was really helping me to feel connected to my department……

    am I seriously traj or what?

    why isn’t your nanna on the internet? I thought it was made for OAP’s

  6. Bridget

    i think you should post a PO box or some other contact point – just so that you don’t fall into the abyss. when i was in japan i didn’thave a phone – just the internet – and that was my umbilical cord definately. Maybe, the computer is just tv, a bit more interactive maybe – but essentially an ‘infotainment’ tool. I did go to Tokyo (via ferry 36 hrs) with no phone or computer and only a small journal with dates, times and home phone numbers in. i managed in that massive metropolis for a week just fine.i have a theory that the internet is primarily about loneliness.

    I could not do it – houses without internet seem unutterably primative to me. even though i am a recreational user – not a hard core junkie like your bloggy self.

  7. Lucas Post author

    Bridget: “i have a theory that the internet is primarily about loneliness” – interesting! can you elaborate on that?

    Yes, I agree – I will make a postal address where people can get in touch. I think I will send a lot of postcards that year, and make some nice long landline calls.

    Regarding the “rules” of the whole thing – I am thinking to convene a committee of representatives to help me work them out. Like, what about all the computers that are embedded in the world around us (ATMs etc)? Should I relinquish them too, and go back to the passbook? What sort of support will there be for my girlfriend, who is going to forever be fielding calls and messages for me? How should I manage that? And so on…

    Amanda – thanks for the link to Binary, I’ll check it out!

  8. Lucas Post author

    Oh, as is often the case when you start planning something silly like this, things keep popping out of the woodwork. Like this excellent episode of South Park entitled “The Day the Internet Stood Still”. It is very funny, and rings true for me! The internet is a “good”, like fruit or vegetables, and it’s scarcity sends people out onto the streets in a quasi riot. They all pack up their cars and drive to “Californie” where they have heard there is some internet to be had. It’s the Grapes of Wrath all over. Great stuff.

  9. raquel

    hi All,

    Lucas I think you have come to an interesting realisation about what it is to be a artist and maker.

    But i am not sure whether I agree that the internet is about connecting and/or communicating but more about feedback and need for affirmation. E.g. your declaration that you are going to give up internet and mobiles starts a flurry of comments on the issue affirming your decision. But wasn’t part of the motivation for the decision that you are not really in the emotional centre of your lived world? Isn’t the only feedback you really need is that from the person who you don’t need to blog for, AND the potential internal space you might gain from the letting go of external feedback.

    What would happen if you just put a sign up one day on your blogs- “Thanks folks taking a year off” and then switch off not hanging around for us to tell you our option?

  10. Lucas Post author

    Thanks Raq – you’re right! Switching off is about the “potential internal space I might gain from the letting go” – but I don’t think it’s about relinquishing external feedback altogether. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of external feedback, in other forms – but it just won’t be “all my eggs in one online basket”…

    I have also considered the option you propose in your final paragraph – just wake up one day, put up a sign and switch the damn thing off. But you know – I AM actually really interested in what people think about it!

    I’m not after validation from my social network about whether to do this project or not. The challenge is my own. But I do acknowledge that my actions have an impact on the world around me (and vice versa) so I am interested in taking a sort of “negotiated autonomous action”, if you know what I mean. It’s an impure way to operate, in terms of avant-garde practice, but it grows from the impurity of the medium we’re communicating with right now…

    Something about even announcing the suggestion of doing this kind of thing (even if I never actually do it) draws out feelings from within people. I’m interested in those feelings, I want to be a part of that discussion. And I I don’t reckon bouncing around these ideas and reactions will make the experience any less intense/difficult/interesting/frustrating/enlightening when it comes around.

  11. annap

    i would like to know your po box before you go off line; i am co-curating an exhibition / exploration of analog modes of art- making, writing and distribution next year and a missive from your offline status would be great!

    and i think cold-turkey is way more admirable that cutting back!

    send me some news from the offline world – good luck!
    po box 1354
    wagga wagga
    nsw 2650

  12. teddlesruss

    Interesting. I’ve never regarded blogging as something I can use for art, but now I’m thinking about it all, it makes me want to test a few project ideas… Are there any artists who are looking for a cross-medium project? I’ve been getting some inspirations for projects that would probably take more skills than I have… Collaborations sound like a fun way to get them made. I’ll be posting details on my blog when the ideas shape up a bit more.

    The synchronicity with Dilbert is interesting – I worked at a software house for a few years here in Perth and for one year at least, it felt like Scott was drawing his inspirations direct from our workplace as incidents happened. (Yes, sadly it was a place like that… %)

  13. the weed one

    so, with total respect for your decision, admirable or less, i think you should add another point to reflect upon while turning your decision into resolution:
    hard to acknowledge but, stuff who’s next to you! (sorry lizzie, nothing personal)..
    as an online persona, you are as real and present in people lives as the person sitting next to you..
    wouldn’t it be plausible to compare your departure from a ‘contactable form’ to an overseas departure.. to an isolated island?


  14. Big Sister Bec

    Sister rant:
    I’m reading your post here thinking, well, that SUCKS. (And then I see I have another year before you pull the plug.)

    For us, you having internet means little snippets of what’s going on with you. Do you REALLY think you will ring and send postcards? Maybe. You didn’t much before you got internet … (and neither did we, but we like the emails now!!)

    P & J would be disappointed. Photos will not get sent because I never get round to printing them.

    So, I’ve decided it will work for us if you move back to Perth for that year! 🙂

    Maybe you could invest in a parental control thing (give Lizzie the password control if you’re really weak) and only set it to allow you 10 mins of internet time each day before you’re cut off.

  15. Lucas Post author

    Bec. Yikes. Your email draws me towards some of the wider implications of this whole thing. I see your point – it’s not just that the net has forced a withdrawal from the real world – but that it has created a whole lot of opportunities for staying in touch that were never there before. And this is not just a theory – it is totally the case when it comes to communication between us – siblings (and uncles nieces and nephews) who live a couple thousand km away from each other.

    But, with all the spare time I will have away from this infernal screen (and my compulsive desire to communicate) I am sure that there will be an obsessive postcard sending equivalent in the place of emails. And I don’t mind the idea of coming back to Perth for a while. Why not?

    Diego, I’ll miss you too! We’re gonna have to make more time for face-to-face socialising. Which, if I can be honest, has actually been a bit of a lack in our friendship in the last few years. Which is a shame. You know, the old Sydney phenomenon: “we don’t have time to meet up, let’s just form an e-group”…

    AnnaP, it’s funny how you describe those “old” ways as “analogue”. They are now defined in relation to the “norm” ie digital. Before, we never called them analogue. We never used the term “landline” before mobiles came along. etc etc. But yes, let’s do Post Office Box! What fun.

    Lauren, I dunno about perpetuating this meme. I will think about it… It seems pretty daggy. But maybe that’s why I should do it…

    Teddlesruss, what kind of cross-media projects are you thinking of?

  16. Mel Curtiss

    Bridget’s comment hit me smack in the solar plexus: “i have a theory that the internet is primarily about loneliness.”

    Noticing that you’re ears pricked up too, I did some snipping from everyone’s comments:

    “But wasn’t part of the motivation for the decision that you are not really in the emotional centre of your lived world?”

    “validation from my social network”

    “draws out feelings from within people. I’m interested in those feelings, I want to be a part of that discussion.”

    “as an online persona, you are as real and present in people lives as the person sitting next to you..”

    “wouldn’t it be plausible to compare your departure from a ‘contactable form’ to an overseas departure.. to an isolated island”

    “For us, you having internet means little snippets of what’s going on with you. Do you REALLY think you will ring and send postcards?”

    “it has created a whole lot of opportunities for staying in touch that were never there before.”

    “We’re gonna have to make more time for face-to-face socialising. Which, if I can be honest, has actually been a bit of a lack in our friendship in the last few years. Which is a shame. You know, the old Sydney phenomenon: “we don’t have time to meet up, let’s just form an e-group”

    Teddlesruss, I second Lucas’ question to you and add that the link under your name (where you commented) does not lead anyhere – so how do we find your blog?

  17. lauren

    lucas, of course it’s daggy! which is why i sent it your way. not that i’m implying that you’re at all uncool, or daggy, but ultimately it’s a reminder that while intense social, theoretical and amazing political outcomes are as a result of online social-ness. so is the awfully daggy, like memes, emoticons, flashing glitter text and random photos of cats with funny impact text. oh, and porn.

    and you don’t get any of that quirky stuff in real life either. well, except porn of course. in fact, we generally shy away from that really lame stuff in real life and perhaps we all get a bit too cool for school.

    i’m just sayin’… 🙂

  18. Lucas Post author

    Mel: there was a typo in teddlesruss’ URL – I’ve fixed it now – his blog is

    Lauren: OK, OK, you’ve got me! I’ll do it. Actually, I was thinking about the whole “chain letter” nature of this yesterday while I was standing in the shower. I would like to see a diagram, like a family tree, of who tagged who and what they led to. I think it would be an enormous job, and the diagram would be huge. Each site tagging 5 others, each of these tagging five in turn etc. Holy Exponential Growth, Batman! How would you even represent that graphically? It would begin to look like an enormous crystalline molecular map.

  19. Lucas Post author

    My friend Anne W just emailed me this link to an offline blogging project by someone else! (of course, it would have been better if Anne’s message arrived as a postcard, but nevertheless):

    That (by-now offline) blogger writes:

    The overarching scenario is that I’ll adopt the media technologies of 1990, just before the Internet and cellphones began their ascent — which holds some rhetorical and romantic appeal (for me, at least) in being a tidy 20 years ago, at the dawn of my adulthood. Forgive me any accidental anachronisms but hey, I’m not a historian… yet. I’ll be living largely in the less-connected spirit of that time.

    So… it seems that I’m being overtaken by others who have seized the moment before me! What a failure I am… I can’t even keep up with those who are not keeping up!

    I’m going to sift thru that blog and see if there’s an offline contact address. Why not find out how someone else who had the same idea as me is coping with it all?

    – – –

    …i am presuming that Anne got the tip off about all this from here...

  20. Lucas Post author

    Ok, I tracked her down! And here’s the correspondence, delightful! (I have erased the actual contact details, but anyone who has a mild detective spirit can find out for themselves…) I’m going to send her a letter…

    – – – –
    greetings from lucas ihlein in australia

    Dear SlowMedia Person

    I am hoping you won’t reply to this, as i noticed on your blog that you are having time away from the internet.

    I guess my email here is a bit of an experiment – do you have somebody checking your email? Do you have an automated reply?

    I would like to send you a letter in the old fashioned post, so I am hoping a reply will tell me where to send it.
    Lucas Ihlein
    Sydney, Australia

    – – –

    > From: Slow Media Person
    > To: Lucas
    > Sent: Thu, 2 September, 2010 17:11:53
    > Subject: Out of Office AutoReply: greetings from lucas ihlein in australia
    > Hello! As part of my Slow Media Project, I’ll be offline and on sabbatical until 2011.
    > For urgent assistance, please contact [name] in the Journalism Department at [phone number] or [email address].
    > Otherwise, you can reach me by these alternate methods:
    > – Phone or fax at: [number]
    > – Mail to: P.O. Box [number], Brooklyn, NY 11238
    > Please note: If you print out a hard copy of the e-mail you’ve written and send it to me by fax or snail mail, I will not think it’s weird in the slightest. Thank you.

  21. jennifer rauch

    Hey, Lucas! I never received your letter but would love to get one 🙂 How did your offline project go? I’ve back online now and have posted some updates on my Slow Media blog, if you want to find out more about mine… Back online now but still carving out regular time away from devices. Maybe you can explain to me why Slow Media is so popular in Australia? Cheers!


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