Could you spend 6 months without the internet? Nastja Säde Rönkkö did.
Last year the internet blew out the candles on its 30th birthday. In this short time, it’s flipped reality on its head. How we consume the morning news, order and devour a pizza, hail a late-night cab, and above all; communicate with one another. It‘s challenged what it means to be human.
Now, try to imagine these past few weeks without being online. It’s almost incomprehensible.
Well, Nastja Säde Rönkkö — a performance artist based out of Helsinki — spent 6 months switched off from all online activity. Not just social media and emails, everything. Tucked away in Somerset House, a few skips back from the throb of central London, this was more than an exercise in time-travel, it was an experiment in mindful living, more thoughtful communication, and a re-acquaintance with the simple life.
The goal of the project was “to think about how profoundly the mode of being available 24/7 has changed our society,” and the beating heart of 6 months without was a space where Nastja could be reached via pen and paper, phone calls or a swing by her studio. Of course, she ventured out — but without the warming assurance of a phone in her pocket. This meant a lot more down time. More reading, more writing.
We caught up with her recently to discuss the process, its effect on her well-being throughout, how it changed her media habits, and of course, how letters and postcards kept her connected to the outside world.
Has it changed your media habits in the time since?
It did at the beginning. It took me 2 months to get back into social media. When I was first opening emails for work I would be thinking, “oh my god, this is so weird,” but then there was a period after a few months where I felt I went back to normal. There are some habits that I’ve mindfully tried to instill in myself, though. For example, I try not to look at my phone when I’m working, resist the urge to take out my phone when I’m waiting for the bus, things like that. It’s interesting to revisit the project now since I’ve been back online. Since the project, I regularly consider taking breaks for the benefit of my mental health and happiness.
How did your mood improve/change over the course of the 6 months? What was the biggest challenge you faced?
At first it was really exciting, after all the preparation, the realisation that it was actually happening was great. Soon after that, naturally, I started to feel a little anxious. I was wondering what will I do now?, my mind was still functioning as if I was still online. I would reach for my phone in my pocket without realising, things like that. Then, after a month or two I felt super peaceful and it got easier as it went on. 4 months in was the happiest time I think, when I was fully in the rhythm of it all. Towards the end, knowing that it will end, that brought back some feelings of anxiety. It’s a big change.
How do you feel a letter is different to other forms of communication?
The difference between receiving letters or a text message, is that a letter is a surprise. You don’t know when it’ll arrive and it’s exciting when one does. With regular exchanges like text messages, that element of surprise can be lost. I received a lot of letters from strangers, which was even more exciting. The element of waiting was quite nice. Taking the time to sit down and reply, take some time out to focus on it, devote my whole attention to it. Because of this, you want to write something a little more special and meaningful.
Did you find it more personal?
Definitely. Social media posts give me a feeling of almost being naked in public, and it stays there for everyone to see. With a letter, it’s a personal moment between you and one other person. It always feels more personal and I trust that it’s more private. It’s definitely a more personal way of communicating.
What do you first think of when you think back to those 6 months. A feeling, a connection you had with someone, a particular letter you wrote or received?
I read a lot, which made me feel really peaceful. That feeling of being in the moment and not feeling the need to fill up every gap of time. It sounds a bit cliche, but I felt more present in the moment. When I was having a conversation with someone I was fully focused, when I would go for a walk I wouldn’t be checking my phone, very simple stuff, but it has a real impact. As it was 6 months, quite a long time, I really noticed the difference it made to my mental state.
And last one, are you still sending letters?
I wanted to keep those 6 months as a contained experience. Keep it within that context. People have continued to write letters to me, but I felt that after those 6 months were up, I wanted it to end. During the 6 months I could reply really fast, as you can imagine, I would reply the same or next day and it felt easy. Now, with the overload of emails and Facebook messages, life is just crazy again.
(Images credit to Nastja Sade Ronkko)