When was the last time you went offline and spent time away from the internet and social media? How often do you find yourself checking to see what is happening online during your day?
When I am at home in town with a high-speed internet connection that has endless data to stream, I am constantly online. I read news articles, watch YouTube videos, read internet forums, then jump over to social media feeds. That’s only the start of my internet addiction. I watch video streaming services on my TV, and I use various apps on my phone throughout the day. I stream my music anywhere I go. Sometimes I’ll find myself doing multiple things on the internet. I’ll watch a streaming program on my big screen, while scrolling through news stories on my laptop and following social media on my phone.
As exciting as I find all this activity and information, often I feel anxious about it all. When I am online, I feel like I am connecting to people. Unfortunately, much of the time, I fall into a rabbit hole that is filled with fear, anger and anxiety.
Many studies point out that much of social media is a contrived world of fake users and automated content meant to trigger our worst fears and feelings of anger. These two emotions hit us hard, and they drive us to look longer, respond more often and keep a watchful eye for more content.
It is in the interest of all social media to keep us angry and afraid. The more negative we feel about everything, the more active we are online to share those emotions with others and increase the popularity of these platforms. Advertising is attracted to where the action is, so social media loves to generate content that gets people involved as that is their business model.
To take a break from this endless digital experience, I spent the past week at my remote cottage located just outside the edge of any cellphone signal. I have some options to gain a signal, but it is difficult and unreliable. I only use the internet when I absolutely must, for the most basic tasks, using as little data as possible. I’ve stopped streaming video, I’ve stopped listening to music, and I’ve stopped tapping into social media to see what everyone is doing.
For the first day or two, I felt a sense of withdrawal from the world. I constantly felt uneasy at the idea of not being able to go online. Instead, I was forced to just read the books I had with me, talk to my partner in the dim light of the living room, listen to the birds and animals or just stare at the lake, the trees and the endless sky.
After a week I started remembering what the world felt like before the internet. I could sit alone quietly and think for myself. I had time to finish dozens of little projects around the house. I felt my day expand and grow longer as I now had moments to just rest and sit in the sun, take a walk in the forest or cut brush on my land. I was no longer hounded by the endless digital voices that simultaneously make me feel happy, afraid, humoured and angry all at the same time. I also had time to work on a book.
It was great to get back to a life that I once had a couple of decades ago when my days were filled with action, exercise, outside work and actually talking with others in real time. I have never been the type to be bored, but I must admit that this addiction to the internet and social media has cost me my health, mindfulness and a general satisfaction with life.
We should occasionally take time away from the internet. Try it for a day or two. Do you remember the last time you had a day to yourself, with just your thoughts and the contact of the people around you? As humans, we survived thousands of years without a constant connection to everything. We are all capable of disconnecting from the online world in order to reconnect with ourselves. Otherwise, many of us are going to end up overweight, anxious and depressed. It’s time to take back our lives.