What Happened When My Computer Caught a Virus (or, a Pioneer Life Thrust Upon Me)

by | Apr 29, 2010 | Julie | 10 comments

My computer caught a virus a few weeks ago – a nasty one that pretended to be antivirus software, continually opened windows and pop-ups, and which directed any web browsing to discount Taiwanese shopping sites. I turned the computer off once it started loaded some kind of porn onto my desktop.

When I took it in to be fixed, the computer guy asked if there were any files I needed them to get me right away. There weren’t. If this had happened at a different time – if I was still in school, or if I hadn’t done our taxes – I would have been much more panicky. But, as Dave pointed out, the more you do on a computer, the more trouble it can cause you. I think I was ready for a break.

The virus had also corrupted my operating system, and so a week without a computer stretched into two. And I have to say, other than being out of the loop with all the people I only communicate with by email, it was great. Also at this same time one of our cars needed a bunch of work done to pass inspection, so while that was in the shop, Dave took the other car to work and I had no car and no computer. I felt like I should make my own bayberry candles and put up preserves. My world shrank around me, and rather than being claustrophobic, it was freeing.

On one of the first computer- and car-free days, I was making dinner early while Zuzu napped. I felt an incredible urge to call someone – anyone – to have someone jabbering in my ear while I peeled potatoes. I didn’t, though, and let my mind wander while I cooked. How much time do I spend surfing the internet to avoid thinking about my life? A lot.

Even on days where I didn’t get much done, I got a lot done. When there’s no internet to run to every 20 minutes, you can fold laundry, wipe down the bathroom, and make dinner early. You can clean your desk, on which you’ll find all manner of important buried paperwork.

When there’s no internet, you can also look your child in the eye. How long have I been talking to the kids while staring at a monitor? Eli, our spirited boy, was noticeably calmer. And, really, so was I. Having no computer meant that a huge chunk of my day – let’s be honest: hours of my day – was suddenly free. So I did the housework and the meals and everything else, but with that much more time to do it, I wasn’t rushed. So when Eli needed something, I could help him. Or I could get him to help me. He can help me cook and clean, but he can’t really help me cruise the internet.

I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to realize it: being on the internet is not “me” time. It’s time spent in a mildly frantic state searching for me time, but mostly just reading other peoples’ writing. Which is good a lot of the time, and interesting sometimes, but not particularly vital. I can read other peoples’ writing with those books and magazines and newspapers I have. And I could have more time to do writing of my own.

So, friends, I’m stepping back (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?). I’m soon to have a fourth baby, and while I need to focus on her, and the others, I also need to focus on me, and on Dave, and on grown-up, non-kid things. Idle surfing is focusing on other people, not on me. I also have gotten all in a tizzy with the idea of supplementarily homeschooling Henry and the others (that is, keeping him in public school, but adding to it more formally at home). There are so many subjects he wants to know more about that he’s not going to learn anytime soon at school, like biology, and Latin, and ancient history (and ok, yes, I was inspired by a blog, In Need of Chocolate, to do this, but still). So I’m excited to do the formal teaching and to really work on creating this little 4-pack of eggheads.

I’ve always wanted to meditate. I know it would be good for scattered, unfocused me. But I’ve never been able to make it work. There are just too many people and distractions in my house. The two weeks without a computer, though, I got a lot closer to meditative chunks of time, suddenly able to catch snippets of calm while doing dishes or folding laundry, or just sitting outside while the kids played in the yard. I was also able to let my mind wander in a way that makes me consider my life a lot more. This is something that doesn’t happen when the magnet pull of the computer calls me back every 20 minutes to see if anyone has emailed more, or if a new post has shown up on one of the many blogs I plugged into Google Reader.

My plan is to find a sweet spot during the day of uninterrupted time – a half hour or 45 minutes – when I turn the computer on, check email, do online banking, and buy anything I need to get (because what would I do without internet shopping? most of the time I really cannot be bothered to load everyone in the car and take them to a store). And then I’m going to turn the computer off. This will mean, clearly, a lot less blogging, if at all. Sorry. But I owe it to myself, my family, and my children, to be a responsible, calm, happy grownup. I realize this is all possible because I am lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom, and that I was already somewhat disconnected electronically (I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t use Twitter…). But I do know that I wasted a lot of time maintaining a false connection to the outside world through this electronic computer box, and it’s time I maintained a real connection to my own self, for one.


  1. SereneBabe

    ME TOO!

    I have to have it on for work, and I still like to have it for play. But, I mostly keep it OFF during the days. I believe my brain is a much more peaceful place because of it. 🙂

  2. Kate

    Amen! I know I’ll miss WoJ terribly though — when I get online. I’ve already made a conscious effort to slow down with Facebook and the other junk I was reading. I rarely post anything but found myself reading updates from people that I only marginally care about — and why? Just because it was there. Your point about answering the kids while staring at the monitor really hit home and I had a moment this afternoon where I was nursing James while messing with my iPhone over him and the boys were making up some game that I really felt I should participate in (even if just sitting there watching). Parenthood is challenging enough without online distractions, and as time races by and you realize how short and precious life is, maybe less time spent in the ether is better for us all.

  3. Julie

    Facebook is particularly mindless and demanding, it’s true. Apparently the virus I got was actually from Facebook; the computer guys said they’ve been seeing a lot of it lately. I think all the computer stuff leads to this constant feeling that we need to be connected to others, but reading the Facebook updates of people we don’t really care about particularly is not really connecting. And my time is much better spent being introspective or looking my family in the eye.

  4. Corinne

    I thought you were off having a baby! But this is really good too.
    Great post, there was a lot of nodding while reading. thanks for that.
    Best birthing vibes to you!

  5. Beth

    Good for you, Julie. I can’t wait for the next adorable Falatko to pop out. Supplementary homeschooling sounds right up your alley…can I send Alessandro for Latin classes?

  6. sutswana

    This picture is definitely worth 1,000 words. Look at that happiness!

  7. Adria

    I had the same virus – it ended up being really wonderful. Really – pregnant again – this is GREAT news!!!!!

  8. Robyn

    This is VERY good, though it’ll be hard to wean myself of the idea that when I’m reading your words, we’re really communicating.

    I’m going to write you a letter! I remember how to do that. Kiss Dave and your wee eggheads.

  9. Mo

    Yikes re: virus but I love the idea of pioneering Julie!

  10. Christine

    I am an empty-nester, but am still inspired by your words to be more mindful of my computer time. Found your blog while looking at knitting patterns on-line. Enjoy your children!


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