About a year ago I made a small change in my online habits. I started to take at least one day off a week where I didn’t engage with social media, my email and often the internet in general. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but wanted to see if changing my habits would have any effects. What I came to was that this small and insignificant step began to have larger impact the more I did it. I really liked the psychological freedom on those days- I started to look forward to them. I chose Sunday, then I started to add Saturdays too. Finally in August of this year I took a bigger plunge. I removed all my social media and email apps of my mobile device. This was a game changer, not having all that my instant ready, but I noticed I quickly adapted.
Like most of people with access at our finger tips I wanted to stay plugged in. I realized I liked it so much so that I was spending time reading updates and news stories I cared nothing about and had no impact on my life as well as constantly looking for that next email that would invariably be there. Along the way I noticed my brain started to change too. At first I noticed subtle anxiety if I didn’t ‘check in’ constantly, but the more I stayed away that feeling went away and something else happened. I started to feel freer psychologically.
The genesis of all this was a radio program I listened to while driving on one of my tours across the US a couple of years ago. I heard Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founders sister and former VP, talking about a lot of her peers who had been involved in the development of social media for years making big shifts in their lives a engaging with what they called a ‘digital sabbath’. Basically turning of the internet one day a week. They were seeing how much its duality it connected and interfered with their daily lives.
Like most of us I have always wrestled with and been trouble the ways social media and fingertip internet access have reshaped our lives across a wide spectrum. From our seemingly chronic plugged in futures (as long as there is electricity) to the way the internet can distort our world views by keeping us in our own bubbles of self fulfilling information by ‘the oracle’ that only shows us relevant search returns on our questions to the wider web. To the studies that show social media distorts who we are in our outward projections just because of its medium of communication. And of course the realities that have emerged where we are being treated as informational products to help sell other products for the corporations like Apple, Facebook, Twitter etc. or to the revelations that social media is the ultimate resource for governments in spying on civil society. There is so much media static that occupies our brains we don’t get to let them rest and I see social and mental fatigue all around us. That combo of social responsibility and instant access to unfiltered information on scales that no one had before in human history is remapping our brains, but I would also argue that its having negative impacts too- just look at troll culture for instance.
All complex and unnerving pieces that lead me to ask how do I want to live my life-electronically and in meatspace. So I decided to unplug a lot more and it feels really good. My partner did it on her own too. My mental space feels clearer, the slight anxiety I would feel is mostly gone. It still comes back when I begin to engage a lot on social media. And surprising I found out that I still feel connected to those in electronic world.
Since I changed those habits I added some others. I log out of my email and social media when I am finished , so that its more steps to get back in. What came out of that is that I want to get into them less and less. Being off the internet more I found I am reading more books again instead of all the clickbait articles. The less I spend debating or arguing on the web the more I spend writing , thinking and engaging. All good stuff in my humble opinion.
I didn’t write this piece to pat myself on the back, or get others too, but I wanted to share these thoughts because I see others who struggle with these same realities daily. In all ideas of liberation there are layers. To me this was another one I wanted to be free on my terms as much as I could. I still enjoy the interwebz and if it goes down in a post industrial collapse I will miss it. I do like keeping up with friends and family I don’t get to see. I like learning new ideas and seeing more about our insignificant place in the universe from a keyboard. It gives me perspective. I also like consciously choosing how I engage with the internet and when.
Thanks for listening