A Three Step Strategy for Curing Internet/Smart Phone Addiction

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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:

  1. Recognize that we fall down in the Facebook/Twitter/News Feed hole when we are feeling anxious, lonely or depressed.
  2. The only way to avoid wasting time on the smartphone/interwebs is to replace that mindless surfing with alternative activities.
  3. 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.

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4 Comments

  1. …” (see David A. Bank’s excellent critique of positivist explainerism if big ideas float your boat)”! That was interesting…I always knew something bugged me about the tone of many of those NPR podcasts. Thanks for that.

  2. i’ve had some minor success in reining in my new consumption lately. for a while it was pretty bad, hours in the evening to the point that i was developing a crick in my neck from staring (in horror) at a screen in the same position for so long. i’ve found that more knitting helps because i can’t read and knit at the same time, but it doesn’t help if i’m watching videos while knitting something mindless because i can do both at the same time. as a result i’ve started working on more complicated projects (both knitting and sewing) because i can’t pay attention to complicated stitchwork and whatever they’re saying on the news, else i’ll wind up accidentally sewing something to my pants leg. so that makes for a double bonus: protecting my sanity + raising my knitting & sewing skills level!
    also yes to exercise and getting outside more in general.
    i’m now mostly limiting myself to a scan of the news in the morning, watching the democracy now broadcast on most days, and then a small bit of reading/watching in the evening. that’s probably still a lot by some standards, and it hasn’t reduced my level of rage (but that’s ok by me) but it’s reduced my level of despair because i’m not swimming in a constant stream of bad news all day and night.

    PS – i’ve also found a good mode of semi-distraction that also makes me feel like i’m doing some small positive thing, which is to knit things for charity. there are lots of options you can find on ravelry. my mother’s doing it as well and has adopted sylvia’s place (a shelter for homeless LGBT youth in NYC) as her charity of choice, and i’m working on a big batch of stuff for a syrian refugee support organization. not going to fix all that’s broken, but it keeps our hands busy and will keep someone else warm.

  3. Yes, indeed, “things have gotten profoundly weird.” I too find I am spending more time than I would like reading the news of late.

    I heartily agree with what you wrote, that

    “1. Recognize that we fall down in the Facebook/Twitter/News Feed hole when we are feeling anxious, lonely or depressed.
    2. The only way to avoid wasting time on the smartphone/interwebs is to replace that mindless surfing with alternative activities.
    3. Engaging in those alternative activities, particularly physical ones, establishes a positive feedback loop that reduces problem 1.”

    PS I have begun thinking about the “hole” as a “ludic loop.” For me a great way to break the spell of the ludic loop is to use a kitchen timer whenever I start doing email or such and no matter what, when it goes off, I stand up and move. My dogs think this is hilarious.

    I hope this is not too forward of me, but I hereby provide a link to post on that topic here:
    http://madammayo.blogspot.com/2017/03/email-ninjerie-update-note-on-batching.html

    Kind regards from your fan

  4. I cut fb out of my life cold-turkey more than a year ago and I’ve never looked back. On the rare occasion that I have to log on in order to visit the page of a person or organization that uses it as their website, I feel not the slightest urge to venture beyond the target page and I close it immediately. I have time to read and cook, my anxiety level has dropped and I don’t feel the sinking sensation of my life slipping away into oblivion. I have lost touch with quite a few people with whom fb was our only connection (I’m an expat so seeing them face to face is not an option), but if we can’t get it together to exchange emails or arrange a video call, I guess the friendship wasn’t much to begin with, was it. Totally worth it to get my life back. Never going back again!

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