10 Things I Learned From Quitting The Internet
Technology is not the problem. I am the problem.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I was fed up. Fed up with my sensitive blue eyes hurting from the glow of the iPhone 6 screen, fed up with my desire to share every highlight of my day, fed up with my need to see and read every single article, tweet, status, and photo on my feed. I wrote out the complete list of my technological grievances in my previous blog post, where I out myself as an Internet addict. I wasn’t just going to shout my frustrations into the void–I was committed to taking action. To say I “quit” is a tad dramatic: I went on a twenty four hour detox. And truthfully, I stumbled a few times. Like Jesus!
I’ve gone on a handful of these detoxes before, but that was back when I was working on cruise ships. It’s a lot easier to take a timeout from the cyber world when you’re stranded at sea in an alternate reality with horrible Internet service. This was a totally different challenge. Trying to give up connectivity in the middle of the work week in a society where iPhones are appendages as essential as lungs, proved to be impossible. And illuminating.
Every now and then I go through this phase where I’ve reached my breaking point with how society operates and get exasperated with it all. I want to move to a cabin in the woods and live free, detached, fully conscious…And a day later I’m here in Starbucks on 5th Avenue typing away into my MacBook, about to “share” across the “interwebs” what I’ve learned after less than a day of being cyber-free. So it goes. It was fun being Chris Mccandless while it lasted.
Even though my Internet break was short and sweet (like me!), I had a bunch of epiphanies. Some were ideas I had thought of before, and others were newfound realizations. I used the time to observe myself with my missing appendage, and the world around me with sharper focus than usual. These findings aren’t listed in any particular order, but here they are–the top ten things I learned from quitting the Internet (for a day):
1. I didn’t miss out on anything while I was away.
When my detox ended and I returned to social media, I found my FOMO was totally unjustified. As usual, my feed consisted of Starbucks cups, Trump articles, wine memes, “outraged” and “offended” rants by annoying politically correct extremists, and check-ins to fabulous places by my cruise ship friends. I caught up on all of the “highlights” of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr in just five minutes. I found myself wondering: Is this it? How could I possibly fill up so many hours of my day with this? What’s the point in continuously scrolling in real time when I could just do a re-cap in one fell swoop at the start and end of each day? That’s not realistic in terms of email, which is time sensitive, but for social media it’s definitely something to work towards, especially now when it’s possible to schedule times to put out content.
2. I was way more productive without my phone as a distraction.
This is so obvious it’s almost cringe-worthy, but my productivity sans Internet was outstanding. Normally when I get home from work, I sit down on the chair in my living room, eat a snack, and scroll, baby, scroll. Decompression at its finest. It’s not unusual for an hour to fly by in this fashion. But this time, instead of numbing my mind, I quieted it. I did a mini meditation, taking a few deep, mindful breaths. Healthy decompression! And I felt so recharged in just a few minutes. It was only 8PM and I couldn’t watch Netflix, or text, or go on social media–so what to do? I did what I’d been putting off for weeks. I vacuumed, scrubbed the kitchen counters, dusted underneath the living room table, cleared out the drawer of my nightstand, organized my closet, prepared a healthy meal, did a lot of writing without distraction. Then it was 10PM, and my roommates still weren’t home. I felt satisfied, but bored. I was so tempted at that point to go on my phone, but I wouldn’t let myself. I was determined to finish out since I stumbled a couple times during the day. So I went in my bedroom, turned on my Himalayan salt lamp, lit some candles, and just laid down. Total relaxation. #Savasana. With my mind quiet, creativity totally flowed through. So I grabbed my notebook and wrote it all down. Future blog posts FTW!
3. I rely on the stimulation of my iPhone to give me energy.
When I found myself getting tired during the day, I was naturally inclined to grab my iPhone. I realized it is because the stimulation keeps my brain awake and alert. Each like is a burst of energy. The “shocking” click-baity headlines and stream of information keeps my brain active, but not in a healthy way. This well of artificial stimulation zaps my attention span and wastes mental space. It’s keeping me alert, but it isn’t serving me at all. So on my detox I took a different course of action and recharged through closing my eyes and taking a few deep breaths. #MiniMedi. Do we see a pattern emerging?
4. I paid more attention to real life people than online figures.
Normally when I’m in a store, I spend half the time glancing at the shelves and the other half glancing at my phone. During my detox, I was much more present in my environment. And I found that I talked to actual people–strangers!–way more than usual. I had a great little conversation with a cute elderly woman at The Book Cellar on the Upper East Side. She noticed I was looking at a book by Thich Nhat Hanh and said she thought he was amazing. “Mindfulness changed my life,” she told me. I agreed. There were multiple encounters like this that normally I would not have been receptive to because I would have been preoccupied with my phone. I always feel like I’m in hurry, because there’s always messages to respond to, Snapchats to open, things to catch up on. It’s not actual productivity, but it feels that way. It was really nice to experience moments of connection with real people instead of favorite-ing the words of online figures I follow. Interactions like these make me feel like I’m in a small town rather than the largest metropolis in America.
5. Twitter has highjacked my brain.
This is something I’ve always been peripherally conscious of, but without my iPhone, it became more obvious: I think in tweets. All throughout the day these one or two liners would pop in my mind. I don’t actually tweet most of them, though, because I don’t want to look like a compulsive social media user, even though clearly I’m habitually on it. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’ve talked to friends about thinking in tweets, or planning status updates, or feeling compulsions to take photos and upload them. A lot of us feel the same way. While it’s comforting to know it’s common, the normalization doesn’t make it right. It’s still sick. The simple fact is, our own minds don’t even belong to us anymore. They’re just machines to produce content that we hope will yield validation.
6. I’m addicted to false validation.
I say false validation for a few reasons. The main one is that I find myself posting things I know will get a better response than something else. So instead of the brilliantly angsty Fiona Apple lyrics I’ve been humming all day (I tell you how I feel, but you don’t care/ I say tell me the truth, but you don’t dare/ You say love is a hell you cannot bear/ And I say gimme mine back and then go there for all I care), I’ll post something more likely to generate more likes. Classy! It’s not validation of my authentic self since it’s only one aspect, the one I know is bound to be popular. Another reason the validation is false is because some people will like other people’s posts just so that people will like their post in return. It’s disgusting. And I’m so guilty of this, especially on Instagram. The third reason the validation is false: if you post a photo of a Starbucks cup and 100 people like it, they aren’t liking you. They’re liking the Starbucks cup. Sorry to burst your ego, but you shouldn’t take that like personally.
7. Time went by so much slower.
As I mentioned before, an hour spent on my phone can fly by. Which is maybe great if I’m in line at a grocery store or at a red light (whoops), but life is short as it is. Why should we allow it to slip out of our fingers at an accelerated rate? By going offline, I was able to plug into the fullness of the moment. Everything was richer. Who knew you could still hear birds chirping amongst the sound of construction and car horns? It was really nice to walk along the East River and not feel rushed. I just took in the present moment, savoring it all. The compulsion to share faded as the day went on. Time slowed down and my whole world expanded.
8. I was alone more than I realized.
It was late in the afternoon when I felt something I hadn’t in a very long time: loneliness! It wasn’t a big deal, just something I noticed. Constantly messaging with friends and family makes me feel like I’m not alone. But I actually was! And even though I was deliberately without my phone and not communicating with people, I still felt insecure. It’s like I need to constantly keep conversations flowing to prove to myself the relationship is still alive.
9. I’m not the only one addicted to the internet.
Again, this comes as a surprise to nobody, but it really is true: everybody is on their phones all. the. time. I don’t normally pay attention or care, because I’m doing it, too, but observing it made me see the insanity of it all. Thousands of human beings in Time Square, all preoccupied with technology. All apart of the machine. I was the only person on the packed subway not using a device and all I saw was madness. Here we are, all from different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds, with stories to share and experiences to learn from…and half of us are playing Temple Run. It wasn’t just on the subway, but everywhere. Even hanging out with friends I found myself being frustrated. Everyone’s a little short, not fully paying attention, so quick to look back down to their screens. And I understand it one hundred percent, because I am the same way. The intention is good: they want to genuinely give you an answer, but then they want to return to what they’re doing on their phones. It makes sense when you’re the one on the phone, but to be on the other side of it makes you more aware of how wrong it is.
10. I take for granted the ability to connect with friends and family in an instant.
This is one of the times I broke my Internet abstinence: I had a quarter life crisis at one point in the day and I needed to reach out to my core support. And within a minute I had help right there. That’s a truly amazing benefit that I overlooked when I went into this challenge. It doesn’t matter that I’m in New York and some of my best friends are in California. They are offering their encouragement and validating my feelings at the drop of a hat, which is something to be extremely grateful for. It goes without saying how incredible it is in cases of emergencies to be able to reach police officers, firefighters, and doctors ASAP. This was a nice reminder of one huge way technology benefits our lives.
I want to reiterate something: Technology is not the problem– I am the problem. I take full responsibility for allowing myself to get addicted and not simply using the Internet as the tool it was designed for. The benefits of the Internet are boundless. But it’s so easy to get lost in the rabbit hole and use it beyond what’s necessary. The point in writing this is to illuminate the importance of using technology in appropriate doses. Hopefully this inspires you to try a detox yourself and observe your own experience without it.