It was about 11 am on August 29 when, as always happens in the movies but rarely happens in real life, my wife's water broke, and she went into labor.
Then it was today, November 1, and I returned to work.
For the intervening two months, I stopped being a full-time information consumer and producer. I didn't "unplug." I deprofessionalized my use of the Internet.
The videogame world has a useful analogy: There people talk about "core" gamers versus other types. Core gamers overwhelmingly come from certain demographics and their behaviors and interests are distinct from the much larger group of people who play games sometimes. They have dedicated gaming hardware and try out lots of games. They care a lot about graphics and don't mind mastering complex control systems. Casual gamers are different. They like easy-to-play games where the learning curve is not steep. And they don't spend a ton of time or money on games.
In my normal life, like many other journalists, I am a core Internet user. But in the baby bubble, I became a casual user, just someone looking to read the news and keep up with friends and family.
It felt good. It felt right.
I would lose track of my computer. I'd find it in weird places, buried under stacks of books, under chairs, or creeping toward the appliance garage where the food processor lives.
It's not that I completely eschewed the Internet. It's just that my phone was good enough for what I was doing: emailing sometimes, texting, Instagramming, timing feedings, reading books on the Kindle app, listening to music, Netflix, banking, setting the DVR. I could do all that right in the flow of my day with one hand.
As the days went by, I began to notice some of the things that were deeply important to the core Internet user in me began to seem very strange. Chief among them: Twitter.
When you're plugged in all day, Twitter is fun. Whatever happens in the world, other people on Twitter are talking about it, turning it over, composting it, growing new things in the substrate of the day. If you're following along, each successive layer of jokes and elucidations make sense, but if you come in at 4pm just to check in, it's like starting The Wire in season 4 ("Wait, who is McNulty again?"). Twitter can add blue lines to connect conversations and inline images to spice up the timeline, but it's the very things that make Twitter fun for the core user that make it daunting for the casually interested. And what's interesting is that this phenomenon is horizontally scaled: the same problems crop up whether you're talking New Yorker literary circles, biochemists, comedians, or Black Twitter.
None of which is to speak ill of Twitter, exactly. It's great for what it is. But if you're not a professional information gatherer, you don't need it. Which might say something about its potential for growth, ahead of its IPO.
On the other hand, Instagram was paced perfectly for me as a casual user. I only follow people that I know personally, so I can reasonably expect to see most of the photographs people post. Because of the way I've designed my network (private, small) and the way the Instagram works (few people have incentive to post a lot), it felt manageable. Instagram also felt cozy: The day's news rarely makes an appearance. It's all about private life, family and friends, cooking and parties and sleeping in late. I enjoyed it immensely, especially after I got my parents on board to see pictures of their grandson.