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September 14, 2009

Tech Torture with Topher: Topher unplugs

Posted: 04:43 PM ET

Editor’s note: This is the latest in’s ongoing “Tech Torture With Topher” video-blog series, in which we “torture” staffer Topher Kohan by depriving him of a technological convenience for a week to see how he copes with it.

Welcome back everyone! It's time for a new Tech Torture with Topher, and this week's torture is gonna be a tough one.

From now until Friday night, I'm trying to give up all Web-based technology when I'm out of the office. That's right: No home computer, no iPhone Web surfing, no World of Warcraft, no Twitter updates, no tinkering with my fantasy football teams.


In the digital age we're all used to staying connected in our off hours, whether it's answering e-mail, working on freelance projects or just goofing off on our computers or smartphones. So once I leave CNN here in Atlanta I won't use my iPhone for anything but making and receiving phone calls. And I'll leave my home computer turned off.

Two exceptions: Since I can't do my job without the Internet and I don't want to get fired, I'll be allowed to be online here at the office. And if there's a work-related emergency when I'm at home, I may have to get on the Web for a few minutes.

So, let me know what you think. Does this sound easy or hard? What will this teach me? How should I spend my newfound free time?

Drop me a comment below and lets start a conversation. And as always, jump on over to Twitter (Topheratl) and join the dialogue there. (If it's nighttime on the East Coast, though, just don't expect me to tweet back.)

Editor’s note: Topher Kohan is the search engine optimization (SEO) coordinator for, a “Star Wars” aficionado, a tech dork and an all-around good guy. (No, really, he is — just ask him.)

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Jason   September 14th, 2009 4:51 pm ET

Not to be mean, but how about exercising?

chuck   September 14th, 2009 5:00 pm ET

Good luck! I work in the IT field and try very hard every day to NOT work from home. I find that simple things like email are the starter problem. I get an email that a user can't do this or can't do that, so i begin to investigate. The next thing I know, I have put in an additional 4 hours of work from home.

Best of luck,

Yacine Brahimi   September 14th, 2009 5:04 pm ET

Dude. Dont kill yourself, Ive tried to do it.

Emily   September 14th, 2009 5:08 pm ET

try spending time with family or children. get out of the house.. go out to dinner with friends. read the newspaper to stay current on daily events!

Nathan Fritz   September 14th, 2009 5:09 pm ET

Go for a bike ride! Go swimming! Take a girl out for a picnic! Remember back not 30 years ago when we didn't have computers in our lives! Play a board game... hang out with friends you can actually laugh WITH instead of telling them via ascII that you're laughing (out loud, nonetheless!)

Nate   September 14th, 2009 5:25 pm ET

My bet is that youll spend a majority of your time out in the world. My bet is that most of the time you spend out in the real world...youll be wondering if you have a new email. Or youll think of something really funny to update on twitter...or how the WOW community is doing. My bet is that you will sure be out and about with not much going on at home. I have a feeling youll spend most of it wishing you were back on the web.

Tony Smit   September 14th, 2009 5:28 pm ET

Nathan Fritz said to "Go for a bike ride!" and much more. Excellent!

Another way to disengage from the Internet is to do work that is primarily physical – volunteer work like in a food pantry stocking and distributing food, cleaning trash from illegal dumps, Habitat for Humanity house-building, nature hikes with students, field trips gathering data for scientists, bird-watching.

And fishing. If you are fishing in a pond entirely on private property, no license is required, but fishing in public waters usually requires a license.

After I graduated from college, I found I have very little interest in football – high school, collegiate, or professional – probably because I don't personally know any of the players, and because I have seen enough games that it was time for me to engage my mind in other interesting things. I also realized that the players get paid, the officials get paid, the water boys get paid, the other workers get paid, the yabbering news hounds get paid to pay attention to the games – but I don't get paid. I won't watch football again until I get paid for doing so!!

I suggest you quit the fantasy football activities, as all you are doing is arranging data in interesting ways. Exercise your intellect with data from the real world (like fishing or bird watching) rather than the flood of frivolous information on the Internet.

Martin   September 14th, 2009 5:29 pm ET

Woof. Good luck dude. Atleast if it only limits web stuff, you can still use your iphone as an ipod.

Darryl   September 14th, 2009 5:33 pm ET

The cable box is too much Technology. You really should not use that either. That said try reading a book taking a walk. A night out at a pub.

Chris   September 14th, 2009 5:36 pm ET

oh my....this is going to be harder than giving up Coke (either kind!). Good luck. Try not to get under your wife's feet too much.

Karen   September 14th, 2009 5:38 pm ET

I sort of snapped a few months ago when my cable went out and I realized I had an upset stomach at the prospect of dealing with my cable company. So.... I cancelled cable. Suddenly I found myself reading books! Cleaning my house! Sitting out in the sun with my cat! Next, for kicks, I reactivated my old cell phone which only receives calls and makes calls. It can record a voice mail but that's it. No camera, no texting, no web. The kink in my neck from bowing over the phone has gone away! Today I cancelled my home internet access. Heck – I'm at work ten or more hours a day, I can certainly get all my personal emailing done, and surf a website or two. I feel positively FREE, not to mention the couple of hundred dollars I'm saving a month! Very happy with all these decisions, and I hope you find a little of yourself that might have gotten lost in technology.

Shivraj   September 14th, 2009 5:54 pm ET

Interesting advise from everybody. How about taking up meditation to detox from ADHD that invariably comes from being online?

Marchosias   September 14th, 2009 6:03 pm ET

When "un-jacked" I tend to read – a lot. I also garden, which may or may not be an option for you. Household projects also tend to get done quicker when I'm not maintaining my "virtual life." Things like painting a room, or moving furniture around. Throw an "un jacked" party, no cell phones allowed! Living close to the local "night life" I can walk to many of the most popular restaurants and bars in town, so that's always fun. It's also much easier to do if you're on vacation, since you can just go camping somewhere without electricity/Wi-Fi/Cell service/phones etc. and just de-rez I do draw the line at music however. I need to have music while walking or whatever, and it's not that big of a jump from a walkman to an ipod/mp3 player, so I'd let you fudge there.

john Sonpull   September 14th, 2009 6:19 pm ET

what you're trying to do i do every day. get a life.

some suggestions:

go outside. walk. run. bike.

got a family? pay attention to them.

no family, hit the social scene and meet a woman (or guy). (hint, don't talk about star wars or your inability to have a life w/out an electronic device)

paint. build models.

read a book.


golf. tennis. swimming. chess in a park somewhere.

this has got to be the lamest article and challenge i've ever heard of.

seriously. is this what the country has come to, people w/ the depth of a puddle carrying a silicon monkey on their backs?

Laurie Mann   September 14th, 2009 7:10 pm ET

My husband and daughter had that problem just a year ago – they had a 48-hour post-Ike power outage up in Pennsylvania so they had to drive to get hot meals, take cold showers, fill the fridge with ice to preserve the food. Meanwhile, I was visiting relatives 500 miles away who didn't lose their power. We all survived.

While I'm underemployed and spend too much time online while I'm home, if I'm working or on a trip I don't miss it too much.

Karen, gotta say I have a phone that just makes and receives calls. My husband has an iPhone, but I find the screen and keyboard too small to use.

Matthew   September 14th, 2009 7:28 pm ET

If there is an emergency, you should have to go into the office to make this torture complete. One week should be no sweat. One month would be tough, but doable. Several months and you would really prove how tough you are.

Greg   September 14th, 2009 7:53 pm ET

The irony here is deafening.

andrea   September 14th, 2009 8:08 pm ET

I've found when I take a vacation from the web that I can tolerate people better. It can be too much to be exposed to the stupidity of humans en masse. Time alone, and I mean *alone*, helps my misanthropy.

Sev   September 14th, 2009 8:22 pm ET

Go for it man! Maybe you will continue with this disconnection, good luck!

Rich S.   September 14th, 2009 8:27 pm ET

I just got back from a week in the Caribbean. No mobile phone. No Internet. No computer whatsoever.

Of course, I did have sun, sand, bikinis and a paperback sci-fi novel to fill my time. Not to mention dining, snorkeling, and cold, cold beer.

Give up the TV, also (if you can–I dare you to try...).

Naturally, you won't -get- these comments until Tuesday morning...

Kevin   September 14th, 2009 8:34 pm ET

Whats the point of torturing yourself? Just because you can? Kinda sick if you ask me...

Tyler   September 14th, 2009 8:38 pm ET

Is the challenge to not use technology as entertainment? (ie. internet games, non-internet games, cell phone usage, etc.) Or is the challenge: no technology at all? (ie. no microwave oven)

pauly   September 14th, 2009 9:37 pm ET

The real question is.... do you use technology or does technology use you? In other words; do you decide or does the machine decide?

Meryl   September 14th, 2009 10:13 pm ET

This is when I'm grateful to be 45. I remember what life was like before high-tech, heck even before cable, and I remember what I did in that life. I hung out with friends - in person. I read newspapers, books, magazines - the kind you hold in your hands. I went to movies - OUT to movies, not downloaded or Netflixed. I listened to the radio. I watched bad network TV. I think I might get rid of internet access at home ....

Chris   September 14th, 2009 10:24 pm ET

An admirable challenge for any IT type person. I'd love to do the same, unfortunately my job doesn't permit it so much. Telecommuting has it's benefits, but I'm a little worried that it's starting to suck the soul out of my personal life.

Brandon   September 14th, 2009 10:54 pm ET

I honestly don't think it will be all that hard. I've gone days without getting on the computer, but you do really have to find something interesting enough that replaces being on the computer in order to ignore it. I find doing projects around my house, going out to the store to do a little bit of shopping does the trick. I spend time with my family or go outside with my daughter. She's one of the few kids in our neighborhood that plays outside...crazy I know. You still have some technology to keep you could probably play some non online games, or catch a good movie. Maybe even go out to the movies. I saw someone say something about a bike ride...that would be good too or better yet go to the Maybe just a good walk. There is plenty to do, I work in the IT field and I'm ready to not be sitting in front of a computer when I get home. Though it does happen.

aggie   September 14th, 2009 11:01 pm ET

Good luck! I think you'll do fine.

And you don't have to spend time outdoors if you don't want to! Why do people always think there are only 2 choices – online or outdoors?

Get some friends together and do something none of you has tried before, like oil painting or French cooking or whittling – anything – and totally laugh at each other and at yourselves. Then throw all that stuff away order Chinese.

Go to the mall and laugh out loud at the outrageous prices people will (evidently) pay for stuff they don't need or even want. Then go to the library and pick up some free books and videos.

Use radio for your news – everything you need in 5 minutes – a real time-saver. But – is satellite radio "web-based"? If so, it's local broadcasts for you, or recorded music. Hey – audio books! There's an idea! They're free at the library too.

And is GPS considered "web-based"? because if it is, you'd better be good at reading maps (which, as a fellow geek, you probably are).

Can't wait to hear how you do!

Franko   September 14th, 2009 11:06 pm ET

Tortured, stressed out, die for the cause of profit
How will it end for poor Topher ?
Heart attack, stroke, diabetes, bad knees ?

Ronald   September 15th, 2009 12:06 am ET

Last year my wife and I visited Queen Charlotte Islands BC Canada for a week. No cell phone reception (we tried that). Left my laptop at home. No fast food, but lots of organic restaurants.

So life gets simple and basic again. Doing some low tech activities like beach combing or going on excursion with a zodiac, sleeping at places that somehow stayed in the 60s, talk to locals who really have plenty of time, well you get the drill.

I have some very good memories and did not miss the technology that much.

ADV   September 15th, 2009 4:21 am ET

On the same train of thought as Karen, there's plenty of things to do once you realize you don't need to stay on the 'net. And it's really easy, since you'll end up doing physical things that don't give you time to think about stuff online.

As many people have already said, read a book. Or, really, read any books that's in your field of interest. (No need to pick up the latest teen horror story if you're a trekkie.) Get some exercise, especially if you're out in the suburbs. Maybe take up a hobby, like building plastic models or water-painting. It'll definitely help you relax and come to work invigorated.

Todd   September 15th, 2009 5:11 am ET

I have a home computer that I turn on once a week to do banking and check e-mail, believe me it is possible to live not being connected 24/7! I also have no cell phone, just my trusty landline. Try just sitting quietly in the room and thinking. Hard telling what you will come up with!

Luke   September 15th, 2009 5:22 am ET

Don't think this should be considered a tech torture, its more of a media consumption torture.

Especially since Internet is not a gadget, you are just going to be deprieved of access not the technology that allow u to use it.

Furthermore its not a fair challenge since you can still access the net while at work. Its not going to depreive you very much. You'll probably do okay without internet outside work cause you can substitute it with other consumption of media.

I hope the result won't sound something I can expect of now.

Monty   September 15th, 2009 8:06 am ET

I think you'll be fine, in fact I bet once you get use to it you won't want to spend so much time online after your experiment. Maybe you'll get an opportunity to engage with people face to some real people. I think it used to be call socializing. Good luck man!!!!

Nicholas   September 15th, 2009 8:28 am ET

New Media connectivity has become nothing short of an addictive engagement. Our jobs require it, and our lifestyles leave us with a sense that we would be "out of touch" with the world, on a social AND technological basis, if we did not own and use the latest HW and SW apps and devices.

I recently had my PDA stolen from me on a train. I spent a frantic night trying to contact all my next few days appointments (trying to remember email addresses or contact through FB or LinkedIn), and finally got 2 hours quick sleep, before rushing to the nearest T-Mobile store to spend far too much on a new PDA.

Karen (9/14, 5:38pm ET) is, IMO, on the right track, albeit perhaps further down the track than most of us might be willing to go! We need to reevaluate the merits of connectivity, as it relates to our Quality of Life. One needn't be a Luddite to realize that our "always on" mentality has actually disconnected us from the parts of our lives that bring the truest reward: the small and often unanticipated moments of intimate community that we share with our friends and family, pets and petunias...

Connecting via Facebook or MySpace is a compelling offering, but living via those platforms is as bad as conducting a romance on it doesn't really go anywhere, it just SEEMS that way.

I advocate for a National Day of Digital Disconnection, not to encourage people to throw away their iPhones and DVRs, but to mentally reset them. A "reboot", if you will.

There are some great devices and applications in our lives, but we need to reprioritize our use of, and dependence on them. These are supposed to be facilitating tools, not crutches.

Caitlin   September 15th, 2009 8:34 am ET

I think it depends on how easy or hard it can be. If you have other things to do to keep yourself busy, then it should be relatively easy. Although, if you're just sitting around doing nothing, then you'll most likely get bored and want to hop online to try and cure said boredom.

seriously   September 15th, 2009 9:21 am ET

unplug and go to the gym. Seriously dude.

Jay   September 15th, 2009 9:44 am ET

I work in technology and during the week I am generally am glued to the web and to my email. Once I am home in the evenings and also on the weekends I absolutely flat-out refuse to turn on my computer. I also frequently turn off my cell phone. My employer doesn't really like it very much, they want someone 24/7, I just tell them that they don't pay me for a twenty-four hour day and therefore any time after 6:00pm is my own!

emma   September 15th, 2009 11:16 am ET

Take time to get in shape – walking, biking – no more sitting

steve   September 15th, 2009 1:24 pm ET

agreed with Jason, take up exercise... not only will it eat up some of that free time, but the health benefits make it a no brainer.

sad that it sounds like torture to give up twitter and world of warcraft... i can see how they might have some recreational value in moderation, but if you're spending all your off time doing that, maybe you should try extending this hiatus beyond a week!

Littlewolf   September 15th, 2009 6:29 pm ET

Hello, yes learn to do ballroom dance and salsa dance and in no time you will get away from the computer, its so much fun, that sometimes when my friends text me and im on my way to salsa lessons its annoying, lol. Good luck and trust me its possible

Cleo   September 16th, 2009 4:35 am ET

Topher, enjoy your new found freedom. Take up a sport. Take the time to smell the roses. Go hang out and get your news from friends and family for once instead of online. Spend time with them and this time, really listen to them and simply enjoy chilling with them. we only live once afterall.

Britteny Bello   April 20th, 2013 4:22 pm ET

Listening to audio books is practical and it meets the busy lifestyle of contemporary people. You can tune in to your favorite books anytime anywhere, while you are walking, sh... The popularity of iPod and MP3 players has raised the marketplace of audiobooks in recent years. Some book publishers also believed that audio books could outsell paperback books or e-books one day. Indeed, this pattern is clear if you think about some great benefits of audio books over paperback books. :

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