I am starting to grow tired of the internet. Every day feels like the same thing. The same feeling of rejection when I’m reminded of the social experiences people are having that I am not involved in. The same feeling of aggravation and isolation around people’s responses to current events. The same feeling of fear around societal trends and possible future events. And, perhaps most importantly, the same stale feeling around yet another hour in front of a screen, typically sitting down at home, consuming content that is all too similar to the content I had consumed the last hour I spent online.
As you can see, even before this, I spent less time on my phone than most
In the context of most of the world in 2022, going four days without the internet sounds extreme. We do everything online. We’ve spent the last two decades congratulating ourselves for making things more efficient by moving them online. However, I am not so sure this is a good thing. David Byrne famously pointed out five years ago that all of our new technologies have one thing in common. From online shopping to robots and those self-scanners at the grocery store, they all eliminate points where humans would have previously interacted with one another. This is one of the primary factors that lead to a loneliness epidemic being declared even before it the pandemic came and made it far worse.
My theory was that if I spent less time online, and distanced myself particularly from news and social media, I would be a lot happier. After all, I knew that there are people out there that care about me. I know there are people that see things the way I see them. The whole world has not descended into finger pointing and panic, and there are tons of great new experiences to be had if I just look around me. I just had to stop letting the internet tell me what to think about.
The very first thing I noticed was noticing more things.
I spent time observing trees, clouds, storms and all the things that we often forget to look at when our minds are occupied.
Soon, I became lost in thought.
Behavior analysts will often point out that if someone wants to move away from an undesirable behavior, like smoking or excessive hand washing, it is far easier to do so if the behavior is replaced with a new behavior. I sincerely believe this to be true, but I removed the internet from my life rather abruptly without selecting alternate activities. There was not always a suitable alternate activity, no matter how much I enjoyed this book!
So, in order to stick to my pledge, I ended up spending time just in my own thought. While at first my thought processes went to all of the things that had been frustrating me, soon I ran out of things to think about on that topic. This is where we all have the potential to tap into our creative sides.
It feels like we were more creative before we became constantly distracted by smart phones. Just the idea of people tapping back into this side of themselves and coming up with all sort of ideas gave me chills.
By the time I returned home, I was happier. But, as is the case any time people go on vacation, I did not know whether I was happier because of my hiatus from the internet, from not reading the news or being on social media, or if I was happier because I had just spent the weekend out of town with friends. This is something it would take all week for me to figure out.
After returning to Denver, I felt like I was still observing more than before.
And I had some pleasant conversations with the people I encountered.
Maybe it’s time for all of us to reconsider what our relationship with the internet should be. From increasingly using LinkedIn to network and find jobs to the use of QR code scanners for menus at restaurants, societal trends seem to pulling us closer to the internet, having it become more and more a central part of our lives. But, is this what we want? Is it what we need right now?
After a week of reflection on this experience I started to ask myself why I’m happier. What am I trying to escape? Am I trying to escape people? Or am I trying to escape a certain behavior pattern that the internet and particularly social media seems to encourage? Am I fed up with the way people interact over social media? Or am I fed up with the way people interact in general? And, is the way we interact in general a reflection of how social media has changed us over the past two decades?
Sometimes an experiment like this one, meant to answer a question, only leads to more questions. But, sometimes, despite what we all learn when we study science, if we experiment with something and it leads to a positive result, like being happier, maybe we need to stop obsessing over the reasons why and just be happy with the result.