I suspect I’m not alone in finding myself checking the news on the interwebs a little too much lately. While I have a rule against discussing politics on this blog, let’s just say that I think we can all agree that things have gotten profoundly weird. Each day brings with it new kookiness and with that novelty comes the desire to stay glued to our smart phones and computers.
How to break that addictive cycle may just be one of the great questions of our time. On our deathbeds, I doubt many of us will look back fondly on those thousands hours we spent on our Facebook news feeds.
So what practical steps can be taken to climb out of the internet hole? I have a simple, three part thesis:
- Recognize that we fall down in the Facebook/Twitter/News Feed hole when we are feeling anxious, lonely or depressed.
- The only way to avoid wasting time on the smartphone/interwebs is to replace that mindless surfing with alternative activities.
- Engaging in those alternative activities, particularly physical ones, establishes a positive feedback loop that reduces problem 1.
At this risk of this post turning into yet another listicle, here are some suggested alternate activities to plug into point #2:
- Take a class. Hint: if you pay for the class you are more likely to go.
- Schedule a time to exercise. The more that exercise activity interferes with the ability to use a smart phone the better.
- Don’t look at your phone/computer first thing in the morning. Pick up a book first.
- Build something.
- Garden, pull some weeds and plant some vegetables.
- Go to concerts, plays, lectures etc.
- Seek out a spiritual practice that involves both private time and scheduled group engagement.
- Read and apply some of the “deep work” anti-distraction strategies found in Cal Newport’s blogs and books.
I think the common thread with these activities is redirection and physical separation from our computers and phones, though I’ve found that you can take an online class and avoid mindless surfing with some discipline. There are many other activities that I’ve left off here, and I’d love to hear suggestions from our readers in the comments.
Much has been made of the crack-headed bio-neurological addictiveness of the internet, particularly Facebook. While there’s some truth here, the philosophy nerd in me rejects the idea that this problem is entirely within the domain of the neuroscientist/psychologist (see David A. Bank’s excellent critique of positivist explainerism if big ideas float your boat). Internet addiction is not a problem that can be solved solely on the individual level. We also need collective action. We need to meet face to face, create new narratives and work together to make the world a better place. Face to face group activities go a long way in defeating the cult of the individual so favored by the Silicon Valley elite who profit from our distraction.
Still, there will be times that problem #1 gets the best of us. We won’t always succeed in avoiding the interweb hole and we might, as Newport suggests, even schedule some time to mindlessly surf just to get it out of our system. But the more we get out and just do stuff the less we’ll end up internet surfing and the better we’ll feel. In short, schedule a time to surf a real wave rather than a virtual one.