How to Disappear for the Next Four Years

There's no machine that makes you disappear (yet), but here are some other options.
December 9, 2016, 6:30pm
Illustration by Alex Cook

The election was a month ago, and Trump fans are still exercising their right to gloat about how a bunch of famous liberals said they would move to Canada if Trump won. Of course no one—or almost no one—actually left the US, because that accomplishes nothing. Even if you move to Canada, you still have your own problems to work out, and you'll still have to hear about whatever's happening in the US while you're there. On top of that irritation, you also have to deal with the struggles of being an immigrant in another country, which I know from experience can be a real pain.


So if you just can't handle the horror of watching this administration get its way for four years, don't leave the country. Disappear! Walk away from life altogether for four years, and time warp to January of 2021. Once there, you'll surely be delighted to see benevolent President Joe Biden being sworn in. Or you might have to watch Trump and his new vice president, Robo-Linda McMahon, being anointed in blood atop the smoldering ruins of Capitol Hill, in which case you'll know you should have fucked off for eight years.

Anyway, there's currently no disappearing machine, but the world is full of very real ways that you can isolate yourself, escape the horrors of the wider world, and simply ignore everything until reality conforms to your whims. Then you can come back and act like nothing ever happened. Here's a quick guide.


Pros: Not having to do anything. Family knows where you are.

Cons: Expensive. May cause mental illness.

Just becoming a complete shut-in is the most obvious possibility, and it has a certain allure because it's easy—assuming you're independently wealthy, or completely supported financially by someone who is. Once the money part is squared away, you have to commit to staying off the internet, and avoiding all TV and current news. You can have all your food and groceries delivered, although you'll need to use a landline since you're throwing out your smartphone, and you won't be able to rely on Seamless or Postmates. Other than that, it's four years of books and DVDs if you're lazy, and if you're industrious, you can learn some languages and come up with a unified field theory.


Then again, there's a very real possibility that you'll lose your mind doing this. The majority of hikikomori in Japan—men who have decided to check out of society—have diagnosable mental disorders. Also just living on your own worsens conditions like depression and increases your likelihood of dying from alcoholism, and that doesn't even include the whole not-socializing-with-anyone-or-interacting-with-the-outside-world thing.


Pros: Scenery. Valuable life skills learned.

Cons: Super hard (like really hard). Requires animal slaughter.

You can always move off the grid. If you're rich, like Oscar Isaac's character in Ex Machina, and your plan is to build a futuristic solar-powered home in the wilderness and filter your own pee for drinking water, then your situation is a lot like the hikikomori guys from number 1, and I wish you good luck holding onto your mental health. If, on the other hand, your plan is to create a homestead and farm it, like Faustino Barrientos, the Patagonian hermit farmer (see video above), that seems like a healthier way to spend your time in isolation.

Problem is, survival farming is really hard. Yeah, growing yourself a bunch of vegetables is relatively easy. But one cannot live entirely on kale. I've found estimates that survival farming, meaning growing all your own calories by farming things like beans and potatoes, takes anywhere from 2 to 30 acres, and a lot of backbreaking labor.


If you're planning to supplement some of those calories with meat, once again, good luck. Even small livestock operations generally need government loans just to start down that road. And even according to seasoned animal-slaughterers, the first few years of killing your own animals can be tough psychologically.


Pros: Beautiful, dreamless nonexistence.

Cons: Possible death.

Cryogenic sleep is real. In 2013, a contractor called SpaceWorks published a report commissioned by NASA on the feasibility of cryosleep—using "therapeutic hypothermia" to almost completely freeze people—for sending crews to Mars. At the moment, people can be frozen for maybe a day, but longer is pushing it.

Instead, if you wanted to sleep for four years, you would need an anesthesiologist to put you into a drug-induced coma. As far as I can tell, the record-holder for time spent safely asleep seems to be Donna Landrigan, who was put into an induced coma for five months, with another month spent returning to full awareness.

But induced comas aren't an exact science. The necessary drugs have the potential to compromise your immune system or worse. For instance, Landrigan's doctor used the drug propofol to induce her deep sleep. If that sounds familiar, that might be because it's the same drug Dr. Conrad Murray used to put Michael Jackson into medically induced deep sleep. But Murray gave Jackson a little too much, and he died. So, caveat emptor!


Pros: Learn stuff. Perform valuable research.

Cons: Too much publicity. Almost impossible to get in.


Research institutes are always stationing people in extreme locations, like the International Space Station, pods in the desert, Antarctica, or the bottom of the sea. Telecommunications in these isolated places can be very limited, and you have to spend your days avoiding death and looking into microscopes, so for all intents and purposes, you'll essentially disappear.

But these jobs are rare. Moving to Antarctica can be an arduous, four-year journey. Moving to space requires you to be an astronaut, the hardest job in the world to get. Moving under the sea for longer than a day or so pretty much requires you to be Jacques Cousteau's grandson.

Another problem is that the science-pod lifestyle often attracts the attention of people like reporters and nerdy kids, who'll want you to do things like Skype interviews and Reddit AMAs, which defeat the whole point of isolating yourself to begin with.


Pros: Usually doesn't cost anything. Spiritually fulfilling.

Cons: Lifetime commitment.

A good way to escape from reality is to join a monastery, or otherwise become so deeply religious that you pray or perform religious activities all day. These types of things typically have a training period that lasts multiple years and keeps you cooped up away from society. The "novitiate" period for Catholic nuns, for instance, can be up to two years. Some Zen masters require new Buddhist monks to train in isolation for five years. But even once that's over, your life now centers entirely on prayer and religious service, not watching CNN.

Big downside: Being in a monastery is thought of as a lifetime commitment, and your abbot won't love it if you hang up your vestments and take off after the 2020 election. The Church of Scientology, for instance, has a monastic order called Sea Org, and it makes members sign billion year service contracts. People who have left Sea Org say they were charged hundreds of thousands of dollars. So while your disappearing act may have been successful, finagling your big, surprise reappearance might be trickier than you imagined.

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