When was the last time you went offline and spent time away from the internet and social media? How often do you find yourself checking to see what is happening online during your day?
When I am at home in town with a high speed internet connection that has endless data to stream, I am constantly online. I read news articles, watch Youtube videos, read internet forums, then jump over to social media feeds. That is only the start of my internet addiction. I watch video streaming services on my TV and on my phone I use various apps throughout the day. I stream my music to listen anywhere I go. Sometimes I’ll find myself doing multiple things on the internet. I’ll watch a streaming program on my big screen, while scrolling through news stories on my laptop and following social media on my phone.
As exciting as I find all this activity and information, often I feel a sense of anxiousness and nervousness about it all. When I am online, I feel like I am connecting to people and that feels exciting. Unfortunately, much of the time, I fall into a rabbit hole that is filled with fear, anger and anxiety. There are many studies that point to the fact that much of social media is a contrived world of fake users and automated content that is meant to reaffirm our worst fears and deepen our sense of anger in the world. These two emotions hit us hard and they are what drive us to look longer, respond often and keep a watchful eye for more content. It is in the best interest of all social media to keep us angry and afraid of the world. The more negative we feel about everything, the more active we are online to share those emotions with others and increase the popularity of these platforms. Advertising is attracted to where the action is, so social media loves to generate content that gets people involved as that is how they make their money.
To take a break from this endless digital experience, I spent the past week at my remote cottage where I am located just outside the edge of any cell phone signal. I have some options to gain a signal but it is difficult and unreliable. I only use the internet when I absolutely have to, for the most basic tasks, using as little data as possible. I’ve stopped streaming video, I’ve stopped listening to music and I’ve stopped tapping into social media to see what everyone is doing.
For the first day or two, I felt a sense of withdrawal from the world. I constantly felt uneasy at the idea of not being able to go online for anything. Instead, I was forced to just read the books I had with me, talk to my partner in the dim light of the living room, listen to the birds and animals or just stare at the lake, the trees and the endless sky.
After a week I started remembering what the world felt like before the internet. I could just sit alone quietly, at peace and think for myself. I had time to finish the dozens of little projects around the house. I felt my day expand and grow longer as I now had moments to just rest and sit in the sun, take a walk in the forest or cut brush on my land. I was no longer hounded by the endless digital voices that simultaneously make me feel happy, afraid, humored and angry all at the same time. I also had time to work on a book.
It was great to get back to a life that I once had a couple of decades ago when my days were filled with action, exercise, outside work and actually talking with others in real time. I have never been the type to be bored but I have to admit that this addiction to the internet and social media has cost me my health, mindfulness and a general satisfaction with life on a daily basis.
Perhaps we should take time away from the internet once in a while. Try it for yourself for a day or two. Do you remember the last time you had a day to yourself, with just your thoughts and the contact of the people around you? As humans, we survived thousands of years without a constant connection to everything. I think we are all capable of disconnecting from the world of the internet and social media once in a while to reconnect with ourselves. Otherwise many of us are going to end up overweight, out of shape, anxious and depressed. It’s time to take back your life.