The search for a digital/life balance

Last year, I gave up personal internet for two months. It was one of the biggest changes I made in my life. I was happier, more present. I lived in the cinema, read newspapers, filmed places and things.

But going cold turkey is easy. You have a sanctimonious righteousness buoying you up. People are curious about why you’re doing it. You’re held accountable if you break it. I wrote a long, dramatic Facebook post kissing the online world goodbye. The extremity of it was fun.

It’s more difficult managing compulsions. I know, for example, that Youtube adds to my life more than Twitter. I use it for exercise videos and watching documentaries. But going on Youtube requires you to open up a browser. Before you know it, you’re on Twitter or the Guardian or lost in a spiral of clickbait. Your fingers move faster than you. Time disappears. Browsing becomes your new way of thinking. It’s the rhythm of your life. Fast and shallow; it’s the heart beat of a hummingbird.

I read a lot today on the internet. I can’t remember any of it, not really. But I still remember stories I read in the New York Times months ago. I remember the books I read. If it’s information you want, there are better ways of accessing it. Tweets doesn’t cut it. The drive to check the same websites again and again is different. It’s about infinite stimulation. If you go on Twitter, you’ll have something new to consume, laid out, amuse-bouche after amuse-bouche. There are hundreds of new things to consume. Sometimes real-life, global, nail-biting, knuckle-whitening drama to consume. Like the outbreak of World War III.

I know that others experience what I do. The internet has normalised compulsive behaviour. Like sugar, we’re addicted to it, making it socially acceptable and enforced. People did things before the internet. They fell in love, did maths, built pyramids, made food, shot films, performed plays, travelled the world, explored space, raised children, wrote novels, fought for their rights. They did all of life. Life is possible without it. Greatness is possible without it. But it’s impossible to escape now.

Giving up the internet isn’t an option. In a way, that’s too easy. The most useful thing about giving it up was that it taught me what I valued. But I have to fight my impulse to give it up as a solution. I have to find a balance. I’ll be trying out different techniques for limiting the time I spend on the more unhealthy aspects of the internet and increasing the time I spend on the things are useful.