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It’s Time to Put The Internet Back Into a Box in The Basement

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My first online interaction, circa 1992, fascinated but also terrified me. I should have taken it as a warning.

At the time, computers were just machines you had in your basement. They had programs in them, and you would sit in a chair and use those programs for a while, then go do something else. The whole time you used this machine you remained, both physically and psychologically, in your own house.

Nobody had the internet yet really, but there were Bulletin Board Systems. Your computer could phone another computer, presumably in someone else’s basement, and access a virtual space for posting messages, designed by that computer’s owner. No images, just bare text. Only one person could visit at a time, because it occupied the owner’s phone line.

One time I was using a BBS, believing I was alone in my basement, when some strange text started appearing on my screen, letter by letter. Someone else was typing—on my screen, in my basement. The text asked if I was enjoying his BBS.

My heart pounded. What was happening was impossible. Seeing that alien text crawl onto my screen felt like a seeing ghost appear before you inside your locked bedroom.

I did not yet have any sense of what it meant to be “online.” At the time, everything was offline. Life consisted of physical objects in physical locations. (We had TV and phones of course—which must have similarly amazed and unsettled those who were alive when they were introduced—but in my case they were an established part of the universe from birth.)

Still, for years afterward, going online was something you did in one place—at the home computer, or more likely, at the one in the school library—for a small part of the day, if at all. The online world was a novel and small part of life, and you almost never thought about it when you weren’t sitting in a computer chair.

Twenty-some years later, the internet seems present in almost every room, vehicle and public space—and I want that old feeling back. I want life to once again feel like it takes place in an immediate, local, physical world.

While living in this physical world, you can, if you choose, occasionally use a special computer device that allows you to look things up, learn a bit of news from afar, entertain yourself, and send important messages. 

Essentially that’s still all we use the internet for, yet it seems like nothing is truly offline. You have to literally go walk in the woods in order not to be online, and you’ll probably Instagram it later without even realizing it.

Our work, play, news, schoolwork, and social life all have at least one foot in the online world. Even our own bodies betray us, through muscle memory—our hands bring out our phones as a reflex to any hint of waiting, worrying, or wondering, many times a day, without conscious intention.

It’s become too much. Way too much “online.” But I think a shift is happening. It’s becoming more obvious that always-on connectivity is having some serious side effects on our minds and our society. More of us want less internet.

Facebook is currently having a public existential crisis, scrambling to “fix” itself in the wake of accusations that it’s making teenagers suicidal and perhaps undermining heretofore stable democracies.

We’ve seen Twitter go from a hip new place to connect and collaborate to a cauldron of public scorn and halfhearted activism. The phrase “social media” itself has become mostly pejorative, code for time-wasting habits, superficial relationships, and the mob mentality.

And whoever we are, whichever platforms we use, each of us is facing ever-multiplying occasions to feel hopelessly out-lived and out-achieved by The Joneses, because now The Joneses are infinite and everywhere—possibly even six inches from your face while you’re on the toilet.

It’s no longer controversial to suggest that ordinary internet use (by late 2010s standards) may be putting our mental health at risk. Some psychologists are concerned that the generation born between 1995 and 2012—people who didn’t experience adolescence before internet connectivity became ubiquitous—may become one of the greatest mental health crises the world has ever seen.

The Year We Came to Our Senses

I think, or maybe just hope, we’re on the cusp of an “Age of Offlining,” an era characterized by a conscious mass departure from using the internet in such reflexive, uncontrolled ways.

We’ll rediscover the value of living locally, emphasizing sensory experience, single-purpose tools, and forms of entertainment that don’t require chargers. There will be a surge in the popularity of board games (which is already happening). Bowling, crafting, gardening, and decent penmanship will make a comeback. People will spend more time in their yards.

The mental health effects of taking our phones out 100-plus times daily will have become at least as well-recognized as the physical health effects of smoking cigarettes.

Each of us will have fewer world issues swimming in our minds, resulting in less despair and cynicism. We’ll be more likely to understand and act on a handful of issues, rather than become paralyzed by a surface-level awareness of all of them.

Computers will still offer us thousands of powerful tools—word processing, research, messaging, spreadsheets, video viewing—but they’ll be designed so that these functions don’t bleed into one another so easily. You’ll never look up a word in the dictionary, and accidentally spend twenty minutes looking up actors’ birth years on Wikipedia.

Smartphones will no longer show you a candy-store-like spread of apps when you unlock them. You will tell it which tools you want to use, not the other way around.

It will become fashionable to be reachable only in person, by letter or telephone, or other modes that take some effort on the part of the person who wants to reach you. This will lead to fewer, but more meaningful connections, both professional and personal.

Email will become electronic mail again, something you check (and expect others to check) once a day or less, rather than behaving as text messages without character limits.

We will laugh about the 2010s, when we still thought our “Followers” really followed us, and our “Friends” were really friends. We’ll think of the Early Internet Era’s “web” much like its namesake: confounding, dangerous, hard to avoid, and harder to escape from.

From Everywhere Back to Somewhere

Internet connectivity will always be a vital part of our infrastructure, but its services don’t need to be hyper-connected and endlessly distracting. Netflix, for example, is entirely internet-based, but it’s relatively self-contained. You sit down with the intention to watch shows and movies, and that’s all you do. You don’t get sucked into political arguments or end up looking at your neighbor’s vacation photos.

Compare that to something like Twitter, as it exists today, which is essentially a randomized, infinite rolodex of hot takes from strangers on every possible issue, from elections and wars to McDonalds’ newest menu item. It’s hard to imagine a machine more efficient at shredding your time and mental energy into tiny, useless pieces.

We’ve gone completely nuts, and we’re slowly realizing it. I, for one, have reached Peak Internet. I’m rolling it back from here. I want my internet in a box in the basement again.

Such a box would still be supremely powerful—or it could be, if we can keep it from constantly fragmenting our limited time, stoking our insecurities, and dulling our ability to focus. We certainly wouldn’t want to be opening the box fifty times daily, a few minutes at a time, as we tend to do today.

I want to go down to the basement after work, put my messages and my writings into the box, take other people’s messages and writings out, and read them in my easy chair. And I want a big mechanical switch to shut it all off when I’m done with it.

At the moment, this is all a fantasy, but surely a new normal for internet use is about due. Until then, those of us who want to move back toward a “box-in-the-basement” style of use can do it through personal habits—drawing strict boundaries, aggressively deleting apps, renouncing mediocre services.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do. But I am sure there is a limit to how much distraction and mental fragmentation we human beings will tolerate, and that I’ve reached mine. Time to gather all the loose pieces and sprawling tendrils and box it up again, whatever that ends up looking like.

I don’t think I’m alone. Am I?

***

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe (cropped from original)

 

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{ 60 Comments }

Rebecca February 4, 2018 at 11:21 pm

Nah, you’re not alone. This was me four or five years ago. So I quit all social media and removed email access from my smartphone. Now the internet is “in a box” and it feels great. I love it like this and I’ll never go back.

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Eric February 4, 2018 at 11:38 pm

As someone who’s been shopping on Amazon for 15 years, it was pretty shocking that I did 100% of my Christmas shopping this year at locally owned stores. Not a single item bought online or from a chain. It was great!

I also just went through and Unfollowed every single “friend” and page on Facebook. It makes it FAR more like the box in the basement. It’s still useful to me, for now. But now whenever I open Facebook, I’m shown a blank feed (or a single ad), because I don’t follow anything. Anyone I want to check in on I have to specifically search for and view their page. Also, great!

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Belladonna Took February 5, 2018 at 1:32 am

Reading this was one of those “startling glimpses of the obvious” moments … I thought, “Hmmm… that sounds like a good idea” and was about to move on to the next comment, but instead I stopped, logged into FB, and did the same. I can’t believe home many total strangers are my “friends” … or how many peculiar pages I “like”!
Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you.

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Anne February 5, 2018 at 4:08 am

Yes! Thank you for the tip, Eric. Doing this now.

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Karine February 5, 2018 at 8:28 am

I am so happy to read about your shopping in local stores instead of on line. It is so important!! And that also links to the idea of boxes in the basement, because when we go to a store, we are more limited in our choices, we shop more consciously, we shop with a purpose, and we interact with people :)

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Duncan February 5, 2018 at 5:24 pm

I heartily recommend unliking pages/groups that you don’t feel are relevant, and removing spurious friends.

However, rather than removing family / close friends, you can opt for installing “news feed eradicator” extension for your browser. Then you can still message friends / be invited to their events while having a blank facebook page when you visit (that also requires intentional searching/page viewing as per your above method).

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Frankie February 5, 2018 at 12:20 am

You’re definitely not alone, and it would be a beautiful thing if your vision comes to pass. I’ve never been on social media (except the very rare Linkedin visit), and definitely feel life is better for it.

There’s been some great TED talks on this topic recently too, about the lengths that social media companies go to to get and keep your attention. Definitely not good for the world, especially the younger generations.

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Ameen February 5, 2018 at 1:36 am

I’ve reached a similar point as well where I’m not only sick and tired of the internet but looking at a screen all the time as well, whether it’s a TV, desktop computer or a smartphone.

In addition to stealing away happiness and enjoyment from other areas of your life, you eventually start to build a tolerance towards all of the instant gratification and short-term bursts of dopamine you get from every click, tap, like and notification that nothing satisfies you anymore.

That’s why you see many people who can’t seem to enjoy everyday normal things such as reading a book or socializing because it simply doesn’t match the overstimulation they get from the internet and social media, which in turn doesn’t bring any satisfaction either.

It’s time that we all really audit how we spend our time on these devices, and I have started to view this as a problem to the extent that I feel that the health of my mind is at stake if I don’t unplug for at least the short-term just to get my brain rewired.

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Anne February 5, 2018 at 4:07 am

Yes. I’m also very tired of looking at screens all the time. And I am at an age where my formerly perfect vision is rapidly deteriorating. This is an unpleasant combination.

Yesterday I was at a farm which had turned off all its electricity for maintenance reasons. I sat on a bale of hay in a stall with the young cows for some time. I swear I could feel the calmness of real life (not electronic life) in my nervous system.

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David Cain February 6, 2018 at 10:00 am

I wonder about the long-term health effects of several aspects of “normal” internet use, including what it’s doing to us to constantly look at screens and what it does to the rewards mechanisms in our minds. It’s such a drastic change in behavior in such a short time, and we just don’t know yet. But it must be having significant effects on us and I doubt they’re good.

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WBR February 5, 2018 at 2:26 am

Oh this is hitting so many current concerns, it almost hurts. Excellent article and I truly hope your predictions for the new “offline-expect-when-I-want-to-go-online” are true. I myself started with removing the Facebook app from my phone and that alone brings me so much peace and quiet, it’s unbelievable. Another excellent post, and oh by the way, your Depth Year? Amazing. Thanks and keep writing.

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David Cain February 6, 2018 at 10:02 am

The depth year is behind a lot of my thinking these days, and it definitely influenced this post. I’m looking at everything I do and asking myself why I do things the way I do. It’s only early february and I’m already making a lot of adjustments. It feels good :)

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Paul Davies February 5, 2018 at 2:34 am

Another voice for the echo chamber… phone empty of all bar note-taking-like apps, empty FB feed for proactive rather than reactive checking, e-mail delivered by the virtual postman of the Inbox When Ready extension (incidentally works 100x better than trusting myself to look only at certain times), more and more friends ditching FB completely…

I know lots that have gone down this path, and none that would consider ever going back.

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Renae February 5, 2018 at 3:39 am

I stand with you! I deleted Facebook from my phone some time ago, and only go in it once every few months. I’ve turned off Push notifications so my phone is not attracting my attention and I check my email once or twice a day depending on how I feel. My phone stays on silent. I try to be deliberate about the handful of blogs I read and my time on Instagram. I don’t do Twitter. I follow rules I set for myself about net surfing eg not whilst eating, or in bed, or at work, or when in the company of others. I think of it like mindful use and if I notice use of an app becoming reactive or at the expense of real activities in real life, then it’s a sign it needs deleting.

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Razvan February 5, 2018 at 4:08 am

You are not alone. This is a struggle worth having.

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Nicola February 5, 2018 at 4:15 am

You’re definitely not alone, David. I’d been thinking about doing a social media detox for the past few months and, I’m happy to say, I posted an announcement on Friday night that I was taking some time out from the ‘socials’. No explanation, just straight, cold turkey, see you when I feel like it. So your post has really resonated for me – talk about synchronicity! Interestingly, I’m not missing it at all. Even more interestingly, only two people from my list of supposed friends actually messaged me to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong. So it’s also an interesting social experiment…

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Mairead February 5, 2018 at 4:21 am

Oh David. You are definitely not alone. I’ve just been experimenting with a digital detox of sorts prompted by another of your posts!( I just wrote about it today on my blog) Today’s post prompts me to dig deeper into that experience-thanks!.

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Naomi February 5, 2018 at 4:25 am

I read your articles on my laptop (usually when I’m having a coffee break) because I don’t have a mobile phone. Never have. People think a 45 yr old without a mobile is INSANE! But if I’m indoors (home or work) there is a computer and a landline, and if I’m somewhere else (out and about) people just have to wait. Sometimes I wonder what I’d do in an emergency, then I remember that literally EVERY other human around me ALWAYS has a mobile, so they could call an ambulance! PS I also like Twitter, but when you use it as just a news service (a couple of times a day) it’s fine.

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Maureen February 5, 2018 at 8:57 am

Just wanted you to know you aren’t the only “weirdo” that does not have a mobile phone because I don’t have one either……and I don’t ever want one! It became clear to me years ago that cellphones are mostly a rude intrusion in real life. I used to go to a support group and we NEVER had a meeting without someone’s cellphone going off and them saying “Oh, sorry I have to take this”. It was NEVER an emergency; it was usually their kids fighting about some trivial thing at home or needing to know RIGHT NOW where something was stored or wanting their mum or dad to pick up something for them….you get the picture! I cannot imagine my mum putting up with this b.s. when I was growing up. I also see the abuse of cellphones when I am in line places like the grocery store. The person is always ahead of me and the checker is waiting for them to pay when they just HAVE TO answer their ringing cellphone and hold up everyone else in line. I have to bite my tongue a lot some days…..sigh…..

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Barefoot February 5, 2018 at 4:53 am

I think thousands of people are feeling this way, all over the world and personally I think the downward spiral began with the advent of text messaging. Thats when the self awareness went into hyper drive and careened off into over analysis, over stimulation and over anxiety! Ive just come off a self imposed 3 year sabbatical from Facebook, actually all social media and its been really bizarre returning to it. So much rubbish is “discussed”, real conversations are ignored and people seem to have the attention span of goldfishes. I think as a species, Facebook has made us dumber. Perhaps the future FaceBookers will become the Eloi?
By the way it’s completely ironic that I posted your article on FaceBook right? ;P

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Steve February 5, 2018 at 5:04 am

Curious what this will look like for you. I still use social media myself but I follow less than 80 people on the big three (FB, Twitter and Insta). Pretty easy to keep up with just checking once or twice a day. LI is part of my job so I am always there.

As someone who writes for a living, in a world where publishers want you to have a “platform” is this going to be doable?

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Steven Yates February 5, 2018 at 5:32 am

No, not alone. I’ve been having very similar thoughts for at least five years now, although long before, I’d be walking down the street & have someone nearly crash into me, glued to their phone. My phone is a museum piece, I don’t have WhatsApp, I refuse to spend a fortune upgrading to have “the latest” everything, can’t figure out how half this digital crap even works anymore. I do use Facebook but have been aware for sometime now that if I go down my list of 900 or so “friends” I don’t have any idea who half of these people even are, remember how we became “friends,” or why. I often think that for all the information it puts at our fingertips, the Internet is also dumbing us down. I have a Twitter account but haven’t logged onto it in six months … perfect for high time preferences & people with the attention span of a mosquito. I swore off online forums long ago, after being repeatedly attacked by trolls who’d turned such venues into cesspools of juvenile namecalling by 2010. Wondering how any people are asking whether *we* are in control of technology or if it is controlling *us* (i.e., the corporations behind it are controlling *us*), & what we are going to do to take back our lives. Refusing to do pointless upgrading to have “the latest app” will do for a start, but more people are going to have to make the choice to put down their damn phones & look around them at the real world of real people.

{ Reply }

Steven Yates February 5, 2018 at 5:36 am

….Wondering how any people are asking whether *we* are in control of technology or if it is controlling *us* …

That should be *many* people…. No edit feature here, apparently.

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Lais February 5, 2018 at 6:10 am

It’s been a few months I’ve been trying to put internet in a box, and I must admit it’s not an easy task. Every time I struggle and put the internet back in the box I feel an immense relief, like I’m connecting to reality a tiny bit more. Creating mechanisms in order to maintain a clearer mind requires creativity, so I believe it’s a healthy daily task, it’s like trying to kill the Hydra of Lerna lol.

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Jen February 5, 2018 at 6:55 am

Because 2018 is my “Year of Depth” (thank you for that post), I organically came to this place. I began unsubscribing with abandon to emails and blogs. I only keep those that I open and read every single time I get them … which is just a handful. Since I started that, I automatically started doing the same with Facebook. Simplification is most certainly becoming my motto. Our house is on the market, we’re downsizing, so the process of letting things began long ago.

I listened to a podcast where a young successful photographer could effectively be contacted only one way ….. by commenting on his Instagram pics. He had an email but had over 11,000 unread emails. He and the interviewer sounded so proud to compare their “#”s. Unread emails have become a goal just as a decade ago getting your inbox to zero once was. I was intrigued. This photographer just couldn’t be bothered with all the distraction. He had beautiful and thought provoking pictures to take.

So when you say you feel like things are already headed in this way of removing distractions, you are right … at least those who want to have intentional, meaningful lives.

Thank you for your blog (one of the few I still allow to enter my world.)

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Debbie Payne February 5, 2018 at 6:57 am

No, you are not alone. Keep spreading the message and thank you for doing so

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Elisa Winter February 5, 2018 at 7:01 am

Oh, hell no, you are not alone. Case in point: I just started a Master Degree program at age 56. The four youngsters in my study group pretty much instantly decided that “Google Hangouts” was the way we’d communicate. I downloaded it to my phone, used it for a day, deleted it from my phone. Before doing so, I wrote to them that I’d be available for phone calls and email from 6 to 9 in the evening. That’s it. No way I’m going to be roped into one more instantly always available wormhole. Yup, I’m the old lady of the group, and I sure didn’t want to appear to be that, but I AM that. And it’s OK. Thanks for the great post.

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Dean Wilson February 5, 2018 at 7:10 am

Well done! I have endeavoured to streamline what comes to me from the ethers for a number of years. I look at my interconnected electronics as a tool, always looking for ways to minimize the constant attempts made to intrude/control my existence. Your periodic offering is one of the few remaining posts that I actually allow, one of the even fewer I “always” read.
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter…were all deleted from my “home page” almost 5 years ago as I found them to require way more maintenance and attention than I was prepared to give. I know what it is to become reliant on outside sources/substances. I also know how hard it is to give them up, what it takes for me to do so.

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David Cain February 5, 2018 at 7:15 am

Hi folks, thank you for your excellent comments. I’m on vacation right now and I’m (appropriately) severely limiting my online time, so I will respond to them a little later than usual. Have a great week.

-David

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Vilx- February 5, 2018 at 7:21 am

I’ll risk going against you and the crowd this time.

I don’t think that’s the way it will happen. The Internet won’t move back to a box in the basement, except for a few eccentric individuals, like the folks out there today who purposefully DON’T own a cellphone.

And I also think that “mental health crisis” is a bit exggerated, although for us old timers it might seem like the young ‘uns are living their lives with their noses glued to those tiny screens. Come on, that can’t be healthy, right? We didn’t grow up like that!

But they are not us, and it will not affect them the same way it does us, and they will see it differently.

And remember – it’s only a disease if it does harm. If it doesn’t then, well, it’s just a thing.

Still I think there will be a shift. We see the beginnings of it with the widespread recognition of “fake news”. People are becoming more and more aware that no all online content is good and truthful and useful. There will be a demand for platforms that serve the people, not the other way around.

I think the Internet will remain ubiquitous in our lives and spread to even further corners where it has not reached yet. But it will also become more symbiotic with humans. We will gain more profit from it and it from us. It will be everywhere yet it will not demand all of our attention. It will surface when we need it or want it and fade to the background when we don’t.

The Internet and smartphones are very, very new things. We are just beginning to figure out how to best use them. And, sure, every now and then we will get it wrong. And then we’ll change it to something better.

So I don’t think that distancing from technology is the real solution. We need to figure out how to coexist with it for maximum benefit to all of us.

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Steve Mays February 5, 2018 at 1:48 pm

When I grow despondent about life online, I re-read this passage from Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants:

“I am no longer embarrassed to admit that I love the internet. Or maybe it’s the web. Whatever you want to call the place we go to while we are online, I think it is beautiful. People love places and will die to defend a place they love, as our sad history of wars proves. Our first encounters with the internet/web portrayed it as a very widely distributed electronic dynamo –a thing one plugs into– and that it is. But the internet as it has matured is closer to the technological equivalent of a place. An uncharted, almost feral territory where you can genuinely get lost. At times I’ve entered the web just to get lost. In that lovely surrender, the web swallows my certitude and delivers the unknown. Despite the purposeful design of hits human creators,the web is a wilderness. Its boundaries are unknown, unknowable, its mysteries uncountable. The bramble of intertwined ideas, links, documents, and images creates an otherness as thick as a jungle. The web smell like life. It knows so much. It has insinuated its tendrils of connection into everything, everywhere. The net is now vastly wider than I am, wider than I can imagine; in this way, while I am in it, it makes me bigger, too. I feel amputated when I am away from it.”

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Jim February 5, 2018 at 7:25 am

You are definitely not alone. I have been on a total news sabbatical for well over a year now (and your post on not reading the news was part of that). No Facebook on my phone, and I only log into it occasionally now, and that is to check one group that is dedicated to something positive (thru-hiking the Colorado Trail, which I plan on doing for a second time this summer). I have taken up writing letters, by hand, haven’t watched TV since 2000, but instead read books, go for runs, etc., etc.

My test for using the computer or being online now is simple, “Am I creating something, or consuming it?” If I am online to create, great. Otherwise, I try to stay off.

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Ashley February 5, 2018 at 7:28 am

I also miss landline phones. You could treat your smartphone like a landline. Leave it in one designated spot when you are at home or at work (instead of having it in your pocket or carrying it with you from room to room), and don’t take it with you on walks or short trips into town. Also, if you are going to be out with someone else who also has a phone, no need to bring yours. If you really need a phone (i.e. an emergency), you can borrow theirs.

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Victoria February 5, 2018 at 7:36 am

You’re not alone. I closed all my social media accounts seven months ago with the intention of being more present for myself and for others. It has been the best decision for me, and I think it could be for others too. As you suggest, we have gone completely nuts, and we are starting to realise it!

Have a lovely holiday!

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Hélène Massicotte February 5, 2018 at 7:38 am

Thank you. I’ve been thinking of doing this for a while. I’ve just deleted Twitter and Facebook from my phone. I can get my fill once a day on my desktop.

My increasing dependency on my phone has been of growing concern for me, as has been the pressure to participate in the 100 flavours of social media. Enough. I want more episodes of deep work and deep thinking instead.

Here’s to a better, more present and thoughtful life.

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John Lein February 5, 2018 at 7:45 am

I’ve found great relief this year in using technology to limit technology.

Taking off most of my apps on my iPhone (all social apps) AND turning off Safari means I end up not using it much beyond for family texts and calls.

I use Focus App on my iMac to block social sites outside of a 90 minute block every evening which I end up missing half the time. I do genuinely miss some of the friendships and conversations online which suffer from this, but overall it’s been a big step up in life. My anxiety and depression have improved, and I have time for more things outside technology like reading, games, and puzzles.

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Shari February 5, 2018 at 7:52 am

This past Christmas I bought myself a learn to knit kit. Instead of surfing the internet, the hour before bed each night I have been knitting while listening to books on Audible. I made a scarf and finished listening to ‘Love in the time of Cholera’. I gave the scarf away as a very well received gift and enjoyed a beautiful conversation with a friend about the book. A different existence indeed.

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Kevin February 5, 2018 at 8:02 am

I used to read on the average 6 to 10 hours a day as I had 5 horrible health problems. Reading was an escape and I did that on the internet. I was in a hospital and did not have TV. Then when I got better I had a changed perspective on life. It is a gift and we should cherish it. I don’t read as much, became a vegetarian, no social media at all for me. The best part is I am 10 times more magnanimous and happier than I ever imagined. Every day is a happy gift no matter what or how bad the weather is outside. Life is calm, happy, and serene.
I have customers who are Amish people in Lancaster PA. They invited me to their homes in the evening. I could feel the quite, honest, respectful, and simple stress free life they have without the internet, electricity, autos etc. Being with them that day gave me the incentive to change my life.

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Tonya February 5, 2018 at 8:12 am

You’re not alone in wanting that I assure you. I’m on my own current social media break because even this Gen X’er is prone to the usual downfalls like FOMO, feeling less-than, needing likes, etc. I remember those days when our “family” Apple 2E sat in our basement and was rarely ever used (because frankly, it couldn’t do much back then except word process and play The Oregon Trail (using DOS commands)). But I’m so tired of feeling tethered to it all. :(

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Drew | FIIntrovert February 5, 2018 at 8:17 am

Great post. Airplane mode is pretty effective as the on off switch for the ever present internet.

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Rodrigo Borba February 5, 2018 at 8:31 am

Hi David,

Weeks ago I started to do this (not with the same justification) and I aggressively deleted some “social” apps and games out of my phone.

Basically, Instagram was raping 2h~3h out of my day. I was an avid user: posting my routine, things that I wanted to people see about me and other useless stuff just to maintain an appearance in public.

I reflected some seconds before post a new photo: “Why am I doing this sh*t?”. And I started to feel angry about all this nonsense social life.

Twitter is no longer at my sight since 2016, it’s basically the way you described: randomness throwed at your face without any value at all.

Facebook still got me, but my frequence is too low that is not an problem. I only go there to see some groups (related to interest areas) and that’s it.

Maybe I’ll go to a social network or other, just to revisit but not to make them my daily routine.

For now I want a brain peace.

(Sorry for my bad english, I’m brazilian and still learning!)

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Laurie Py February 5, 2018 at 8:37 am

You are not alone. I wish your vision would turn into a movement. I feel like everyone around me is obsessed with their phone or whatever is on it. I am tired of it. I would love to figure out how to “wake up” my 18 year old to this. She wastes so much time scrolling! Ugh! Thanks for giving us hope!

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Jordan February 5, 2018 at 8:43 am

Great post, David. For anyone reading this who does the majority of your work on a computer, like I do this time of year, then all hope is not lost. Website-blocking services like freedom.to are great for helping you strengthen your muscle to forego social media and other distracting websites.

It’ll literally stop you from being able to access Facebook, Twitter, etc. for a set amount of time (I do 25-minute blocks), so instead of showing you the page you absentmindedly typed into the search bar, the program welcomes you with a message like “You are free to do great things.”

Now that I’ve been using it for a couple of months, I catch myself typing, “f-a-c-e” before I stop myself and say, ‘What the hell am I doing? I came here to look up a recipe for later.” So now my social media resistance muscle is strong.

Most of the time, I don’t even need the program anymore, but if I find myself 10 or 20 minutes into an unplanned Reddit session, then once I catch myself, I turn Freedom back on and that helps keep me trained.

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Pat Stoltey February 5, 2018 at 9:07 am

I’m with you. I no longer keep my cell phone on 24/7, using it only for emergencies or when I travel. And I look at emails and social media accounts twice a day, then do other stuff the rest of the time. I do love the internet for research though. All this knowledge at my fingertips is awesome!

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Steve February 5, 2018 at 9:09 am

Definitely not alone!
About 3 months ago, I’d had enough of randomly checking my smartphone……looking at news…searching up crap just to “kill” time…
So, I got rid of my smartphone…picked up a super cheap “dumbPhone” aka flip phone, and switched to a basic 15$ a month pay-as-you-go plan and good god does it ever feel good!!!
I use the internet as a tool, only when I’m home…..on and off for a reason and life is so much better.

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Phil Steele February 5, 2018 at 9:28 am

“Live like it’s the ’70s” has become my own personal mantra lately for implementing this change. I grew up in the 70s and I remember the blissful joy of afternoons that extended forever, with nothing to do, and no one to distract me from my purpose, and no one to know where I was. Being unreachable! Answering to no one. Not knowing or caring what’s happening in the world of news/celebrities/politics for a while. Because these memories are so vivid, “Live like it’s the 70’s” makes a great shorthand for me to remember to get offline and out in the physical world. (I’ve found it also helps to listen to early Rush and Black Sabbath really loud.)

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izzy February 5, 2018 at 9:53 am

You get at least a dozen “Like”s for this one.

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Sharon Hanna February 5, 2018 at 10:21 am

Shared this post on Facebook then told my “friends” I was going off FB. Feeling better already ;-)

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Maureen in TX February 5, 2018 at 10:22 am

Yes and amen to what everyone has said. Just deleted the FB and twitter apps from my phone. For those of us who observe Lent, the timing is good to make a change – a time for inner reflection. Thank you, David. I very much appreciate your writings. Peace be with you.

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Butch C February 5, 2018 at 10:49 am

David – As a regular fan, I have to say – – – this is among your best. I’m an 83yr old, who likes to be brief. Af_ _ _’nmen !! BC

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Björsa K February 5, 2018 at 10:54 am

I’m totally with you.

A strange notion I’ve noticed among people who may not feel as we do, is that The Internet in some peculiar way has feelings that get hurt if you question it at all in any aspect. Like “So you find The Internet useful? Down on your knees with your cap in hand and abide to the mighty web!”

The same goes for other things, btw. It is possible to buy service X on a regular basis, but also think it’d be better overall if the price/tax on it went up. It is possible to work in a store and know you get your wage from your clients, but also want to bring to light the debate on customer behaviour and attitude. etc etc

All this “hypocrisy” you-can’t-do-both-things bs. I bet you’ll have people tell you it’s “double standard” to upload a text that’s even in the slightest critical to what you used to upload it.

Put internet in a box, that’s a good way to put it. I think about “Raptitude topics” a lot and find this whole 100% All-In On Every Piece of Technology approach more and more weird. Consider the evolution of what has happended in technology in just the latest 20 years, and it’s almost preposterous to think that our basic needs as humans necessarily would follow along on the ride and change this drastically in this negligible timespan of history.

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Ron February 5, 2018 at 11:15 am

Really beautiful essay.
I like the broad direction suggested in the film “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Little devices that look like elegant business card cases we talk to naturally and tap to help us with the uncreative aspects of our task at hand and our life. Take out the actual sentience and I think there are optimistic ideas there.

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Larry Trasciatti February 5, 2018 at 11:19 am

You’re exactly right. Although I quite enjoy the online world it’s sad and scary. It allows each of us to keep in touch with his family and old friends but it also is too easily prone toward destruction of normal communication and social skills

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Alex February 5, 2018 at 11:21 am

Dear David,
Definitely not alone, especially regarding screen time. My eyes feel scorched sometimes, and I had to stop reading books online. I’m enjoying real books again.
Re:Facebook, I do love it, because I have reconnected with old friends from a job I loved, and we’ve gotten to share what life is like today, twenty years later. I set aside time for it and it’s a little social time.
The biggest thing I am working on from your post, is being mindful about picking up that phone! Getting back to spaces of time where, if I have to wait for a few moments, I just ponder, rather than rush to instant phone gratification. Being mindful and intentional about it, as I am striving to do in other areas of my existence.
One thing I will keep doing is reading your blog. You are one of the truly original and thought provoking voices out there. The way you continually question things, and yourself, the experiments, the honest reflections…I have been extraordinarily enriched by your mind and writings. Thank you so much. Finding your work was worth being online:)!

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Daegan February 5, 2018 at 11:40 am

As a society we’re like kids who got their first allowance or started making money from their first job. We didn’t have a plan for what we should be doing and just saw it as an opportunity to buy things that are fun but we don’t need. There was no one around to teach us how to use the internet without it dominating our lives, it’s our job to learn and teach future generations. The internet is an endless resource so naturally we’d “overspend” our time and attention.

The internet isn’t “bad” just like money itself isn’t bad. They both have the ability to amplify the worst parts of our personalities when they are available in abundance.

We are still learning what part the internet should truly play in our lives. I am confident that we will find a medium to use the internet to improve our lives without simultaneously destroying them.

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Jody Cates February 5, 2018 at 11:40 am

I’m right there with you and all of the commenters above who are saying “YES” to saying “NO” to the always online life. Thank you for the encouragement and reminder that we have control over our choices and habits.

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Deb February 5, 2018 at 12:31 pm

A short while ago I quit Facebook for a month. I thought I needed to detox from it. I was completely surprised that it took only one day to completely forget about it. I think that shows that it is interaction with the app itself that keeps you coming back, not some need being fulfilled or a contribution to my life that I miss for long. Now I am approaching my retirement and will have the opportunity to do and see so many things I never had time for before. I think it’s a perfect (and important) time to unplug from the internet. I can’t imagine wasting all that freedom by spending it staring at a screen.

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David Cain February 13, 2018 at 3:21 pm

I have experienced this too. The hold it has on us is very very slight — just a little string of contrived notifications about people “liking” things we said. Once you break the trail of breadcrumbs it’s easy to ignore.

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Anne February 5, 2018 at 12:42 pm

Another YES! here, though I’m not walking away completely. I’m staying on Facebook and Twitter – the first, used discerningly, keeps me in touch with friends, especially those in other countries, and I belong to some groups that have a positive ethos and whose posts I enjoy reading. Twitter is useful for stuff like public transport information, and I feel little or no desire these days to venture any further into the cesspit. I have set times of day when I check FB and a specific hour when I deal with emails. My mobile is nearly always on silent and I’ve turned off all notifications. I watch TV, but I choose carefully and timeshift everything. 1-2 hours a day is my max – I want to do something else after that. I’m also building in regular time for walking outside and for reading. I grew up in the pre-Internet era, and I was reflecting the other day on how easy it is to pick up my iPad when I have a spare 10 minutes, instead of the book that would always have been the go-to in the past. So I think my next step is to always have a book to hand and to put the iPad somewhere less accessible.

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Fishbird February 5, 2018 at 2:39 pm

You’re definitely not alone.
Despite my never having delved into Facebook or Twitter, your explanation of the fragmentation of our consciousness really resonated with me. That little rectangle in my pocket is increasingly responsible for both the fragmentation and diminution of my attention.
Who needs that? Not me.

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