Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

“Kicking the squid,” or, How I learned to spend less time online


For the second time in three days, our power went off yesterday, and we’re not even perched in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. We live in beautiful downtown Cool, Cal., where men are men, women all ride horses, and rain, apparently, shorts out the electrical grid on contact.

But for the second time in three days I experienced what it’s like to be offline for more than a few minutes. Not just offline, but completely off the grid. With an electric stove, I couldn’t make a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. We couldn’t keep up with Trump’s sexploits on MSNBC. There was no light, no heat, and no phone (we’re perma-retro landline holders with only one flip phone between us).

It was pretty awesome.

Since my laptop was available with a full charge, I did some editing of a novel someone hired me for, I learned how to play “Julia” on the guitar, my wife and I took a nap with our dog and one of the neighbor’s cats, and I wrote a blog post or two. I had to postpone cooking a minestrone for dinner because the power hadn’t come back up in time, but we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by candlelight, and that was fun.

I definitely did not miss social media.

Often lately I’ve wondered whether I should back away from the ‘Net. Sure, there’s feedback, conversation, interaction, joking. Other stuff too, like information on demand. But all of this takes time, and when the power goes off you realize there are other things you could be doing, like riding a bicycle, hiking, playing pickleball, and generally enjoying life as a human. The internet and social media have a stranglehold on our time.

You might say, “But I do social media while I’m out hiking, etc.” Well, if you do do that (and we all know you do!), then you’re not fully experiencing the hike, etc. The ‘Net’s got its tentacles around part of your consciousness.

More and more I’m wanting to “kick the squid,” to coin a phrase. Free up my brain for stuff that’s, I have to think, realer. For instance, we’re off now for walk in the warm, misty fog that settled in after the storm. No phones on board.

The trees are weeping. How can we not give them our full attention?

When the power came back on around 8:30 last night, we were a little bummed. Out went the candles, and we immediately ran to our computers.

It’s going to be a process, kicking the squid.

22 comments on ““Kicking the squid,” or, How I learned to spend less time online

  1. Phillip McCollum
    October 15, 2016

    Though I can’t say endorse squid-kicking (prefer to eat them), I’m all about getting comfortable again with being bored. It never ceases to amaze me what we can come up with to amuse ourselves. Only problem is you usually need someone, or in your case, something, to knock you into that boredom.

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 15, 2016

      Oddly enough, it’s not boredom. There’s plenty to do that doesn’t involve a phone or laptop, turns out!

      Excuse me now. I’m off to make a fanciful Jell-O salad …

  2. 1WriteWay
    October 15, 2016

    When we lost power during Hurricane Hermine, we both still had our iPhones (which was good since our landline was down and I could at least call my mom) and my Boy-Scout ready husband even had a charger we could use when our phone batteries were low. Still, we spent most of our time reading, walking around the neighborhood, playing with our cats, and cooking our perishable foods on a gas grill. It was nice and a great excuse to stay off the computers since we didn’t want to wear down their batteries plus the charger. When the power came back on about 36 hours later, we were excited and then kind of disappointed. Life was going to return to “normal” a little too fast. Most of my social media stuff (Facebook page, Twitter) is on auto-pilot. If I post something to my blog, it goes directly to Facebook, etc. If I post something on my Facebook page, it also goes to Twitter. I belong to a couple of groups on Triberr and I can set up automatic shares from there. So my engagement with social media is not so engaging as it may appear to others. Yet, I often wonder what the point is. I have some positive relationships in social media, some occasional friendly exchanges, but so much of it is just endless, mindless “sharing.” I’m guilty of this too: sharing without reading what I’ve just shared just for the sake of sharing and being “active.” Kind of like “goal displacement” unless your goal is to garner X thousands of followers and X number of tweets/posts/whatever. And if that is your goal … well, how empty is that, and yet that is what social media often boils down to.
    I’m probably not making much sense. (Actually, my husband has the TV on and so I can’t concentrate.) Maybe it’s the political climate right now. I feel like whenever I set foot on Facebook or just news surf, I’m entering a minefield. Drama in my virtual world is something I don’t need ;(

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 15, 2016

      I think we’re on the same page. I totally forgot I even signed up on Triberr, though. Guess I haven’t used it to my full advantage. The thing I keep coming away with is that social media doesn’t really help me. It sometimes amuses me, but other than that, it’s something that doesn’t deliver mental nutrition. It’s like a funny fortune cookie. I don’t even bother to check out my new Twitter followers because they’re almost all fake.

      I wish I could turn off the WordPress feature that sends me an email every time someone likes my comments! That’s nice, but I don’t care all that much. Sheesh.

      I think there’s gonna be a backlash pretty soon. Maybe after the election, when we all shower off the muck.

    • cinthiaritchie
      October 20, 2016

      I totally agree, Marie! I also often wonder about the point of social media. I’ve met some truly great people, and mostly through blogging (which I love). But Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, etc.–what is the purpose, the reason? More and more I think that people are simply trying to be heard in a world that doesn’t really listen.

      • 1WriteWay
        October 30, 2016

        I think you’ve nailed it, Cinthia. Often social media (in particular, Twitter and Facebook) just seem like so many people shouting to be heard; but with all of us shouting, who is there to listen? Even though I haven’t been blogging hardly at all, it’s still my preferred method of connecting. I feel more of a one-on-one connection with people through blogging than I ever do with the social media.

  3. 1WriteWay
    October 15, 2016

    After writing such a long post, I went to my Triberr account and deleted it. Well, I’m trying to … see, this is the other thing about social media that gets on my nerves. Sometimes they won’t let you leave!

  4. pinklightsabre
    October 15, 2016

    I love this, as you know, I relate. In fact, I made a minestrone myself yesterday, to use up some vegetables I feared we’d lose w/o power. Right now we’re rounding up lamps and oil and yes, I’m thinking about writing a blog post. Bill

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 15, 2016

      I’m making my zuppa today. With any luck, the lights’ll stay on!

      • pinklightsabre
        October 15, 2016

        Cooking pork vindaloo now, glad we have gas, put all the leftover soup in the freezer: the left ovaries, as my mom calls it.

      • Kevin Brennan
        October 15, 2016

        Ha! Not sure I want to eat your mom’s cookin’ after hearing that …

  5. John W. Howell
    October 15, 2016

    I say if you don’t need us, go to black.

  6. kingmidget
    October 15, 2016

    Right there with you, sir. Something “realer” as you say. I find myself drowning in the internet and social media and various blogs and websites I tell myself I have to visit regularly. What it is, however, is a bunch of make believe that’s easier to deal with, is more like crack, than the “realer” stuff. Kicking the squid. It’s time to do that.

    Here’s to kicking the squid.

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 15, 2016

      Yes, it does seem like an alternate universe in many ways, where it seems like people are validating you. But if the validation is make believe, then it’s not really validation, right? You’re back to square one.

      How’d you like the storm? Wet n’ wild, eh?

      • kingmidget
        October 15, 2016

        Yes. I love my blogging friends but I’d much rather have real conversations, real interactions, real experiences. Twitter isn’t real. Facebook isn’t real. I think blogging is a little more real — I think of it as interactive journaling. But still, at the end of the day, our blogging relationships aren’t quite there. I live in the midst of Sacramento suburbia. Which means two things. One, I don’t live in a place where the natural world is easily accessible unlike for somebody living in beautiful downtown Cool. Two, we just got some rain yesterday. The storm was all yours. 😉

  7. Audrey Driscoll
    October 15, 2016

    While I agree with getting back to real, I hope you won’t vanish from the blogosphere, Kevin. Yours is definitely one of the better blogs I follow, not least because of the comments it attracts.
    Our storm up here was the remnants of Typhoon Songda. Not quite as fierce as advertised. Didn’t lose power, although we were all prepared, with kerosene lanterns, propane stove, etc.

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 16, 2016

      Thank you, Audrey! It’s nice to hear that. But I don’t think I’m inclined to drift away from the blogosphere, since where else could I deposit my brain droppings? My wife can take only so much …

  8. cinthiaritchie
    October 20, 2016

    I love this post! And you know how people who are trying to eat healthier adopt a vegan or vegetarian Monday? We should get together and have a No Social Media Monday, wouldn’t that be cool? (Except we’d have to monitor it through social media, lol.)

    I’ve met some really good friends through blogging, and when I’ve eventually met some of them in person, I still liked (adored!) them, so yes, I believe that good and solid relationships can be built through social media. But I also think that that’s not the norm, that most of our relationships are false and are more of a pat-on-the-back to stroke egos than real, authentic communication. Which is why I like blogging. It’s wordier, and thicker and richer, and I think people are more apt to let down their guard and be real, be themselves. Facebook and Twitter, etc. are more on-the-surface and more I’m-putting-out-a-false-picture-of-what-I’d-like-my-life-to-be-and-not-what-it’s-really-like mentality. Which is why I just can’t embrace them the way I embrace the blogging world.

    Okay, I am going to shut up now. Thanks for making me think, and have a great weekend.

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 20, 2016

      Thanks, Cinthia! And I agree completely. There’s some meat on the bones with blogging, whereas the other forms of SM are more like bumper stickers and ads. I’m not averse to posting a quick joke on Twitter, but it’s hard to get much substance going there.

      You’d have loved the hike I just got back from today! A beautiful spot so far from everything there was no sound but the wind. A little bit of snow on the ground and in the peaks too. Sweeeeeet!

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