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February 2022

Post image for What I Learned During My Three Days Offline

As most of you know, I just took three days completely offline so that I could discover what would be difficult about it.

I have so much to say about that three days, and first thing I would like to report is that there was almost nothing difficult about it.

To my surprise, I didn’t crave the internet at all. I wasn’t dying to check email, judge people on Twitter, or figure out the day’s Wordle. Instead I did my daily work — very little of which requires the internet, I discovered — and simply lived life in the physical world.  

This simplicity was disorienting in a way. Many times a day I would finish whatever activity I was doing, and realize there was nothing to do but consciously choose another activity and then do that. This is how I made my first bombshell discovery: I take out my phone every time I finish doing basically anything, knowing there will be new emails or mentions or some other dopaminergic prize to collect. I have been inserting an open-ended period of pointless dithering after every intentional task.

With my phone parked in a cardboard pouch taped to my kitchen wall, this ritual was unavailable, so I again and again found myself hitting a kind of intentionless vacuum, where nothing would happen until I consciously formed a new intention to get on with the day, in a way of my choosing. I can’t convey the strangeness of this feeling — it was like repeatedly discovering that I had misplaced my cane again, only to remember I can walk just fine.

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Post image for How to Make the Internet Small Again

In a recent online discussion, several peers made a simple claim I want to test out: when you take a break from the activities you know are eroding your attention span—mostly phone and internet habits–you notice it improving after only a day or two.

My attention span has certainly worsened over the last ten years (especially the last two), and this worsening seems to correlate with how much I use the internet. I presume it is a two-way relationship—a shredded attention span makes it more difficult to absorb yourself in offline activities, which makes online activities more appealing, and so on.

I immediately began planning the simple experiment of staying offline for three days, and quickly realized that such a break would just create a speedbump, not a lasting change. I could see myself dumping my laptop in a drawer, blocking my fun phone apps for 72 hours, then catching up on my missed messages and Wordle puzzles on day four, essentially rebounding me right back into always-online mode.

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