In 2012, writer Christina Crook gave up the Internet for 31 days. She disabled data on her smartphone and turned off email. She documented her “Internet fast” by writing a letter a day (by hand or using a typewriter) and mailing it to a friend. Her friend would then scan it and post it to the blog “Letters from a Luddite.”
According to Crook in her book The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World, “”I was tired of Facebook mediating my relationships and discontented with my compulsion to constantly check-in online. I knew the Internet was allowing me to emotionally disengage from myself and my loved ones. I was living in a constant state of information overload and a vacuum of joy. I had too much information and not enough wonder.”
I think the Web is wonderful. It’s given me my dream job. It’s connected me to amazing people who’ve become my friends. It’s connected me to interesting and important insights, information that’s improved my life in powerful ways.
It lets my mom spend hours talking to her childhood best friend — my mom in Florida, her best friend in Moscow, Russia.
But of course there are days — most days — that I’m distracted by the Web. I turn on an Internet-disabling program on my laptop only to check email and Instagram on my smartphone. I wake up to the alarm on my iPhone, instantly grabbing it to check email and other sites.
The Internet is a black hole. Before I know it, I’ve gone from a blog post that I sorta needed to read for a piece I’m writing to a different post to a company that sells clothes to the company’s Instagram account to my Instagram to everyone else’s Instagram. And then I realize that I forgot the reason I originally opened Firefox. Many minutes later.
The Internet is a great way to procrastinate.
As Megan McArdle writes in her book The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success:
“Like most writers, I am an inveterate procrastinator. In the course of writing this one chapter, I have checked my e-mail approximately 3,000 times, made and discarded multiple grocery lists, conducted a lengthy Twitter battle over whether the gold standard is actually the worst economic policy ever proposed, written Facebook messages to schoolmates I haven’t seen in at least a decade, invented a delicious new recipe for chocolate berry protein smoothies, and Googled my own name several times to make sure I have at least once written something that someone would actually want to read.”
Like most things in life, the key lies in intention. The key lies in having a thoughtful relationship with technology, which Crook advocates in The Joy of Missing Out. She writes, “…I’m not rejecting technology; I’m aiming for a mindful approach: if it’s good for my character, soul and community, I’ll judiciously engage.”
Here are tips from her book for adopting a mindful approach.
Explore your relationship to technology.
Get honest with yourself about how you use your devices. As Crook writes, “does the Internet serve you? Is it connecting you — truly in ways that bless and enliven your life and the lives of others? Is it a tool that helps? Do you learn and act more because of it? Is it displacing burdens that you should not want to be rid of? Are your engagements online helping make you who you want to be?”
Before getting new gadgets, consider if you really need them.
Our brains aren’t reservoirs of unlimited energy. The more we do, the more bright, shiny objects surround us, the more our focus wanes.
Crook suggests asking these questions before getting something new, which are from Oshin Vartanian, a psychologist at Defence Research and Development Canada: “Why should I take this up, if my daily scripts are doing a good job for me? Why exactly do I need another gadget? It will incur certain mental costs, so where will those resources come from?”
Plan out your use.
Being intentional about your Internet use requires some planning. Crook suggests taking some time today to think about the tasks you need to do online. Make a list of these tasks. When you go online, complete your list, and then get off. “Tomorrow: rinse, repeat.”
Reconnect with people on a deeper level.
Technology often interferes with profound or face-to-face interactions. You’ve no doubt read about this, and probably experienced it yourself: Our eyes are glued to our devices. We check email while people are talking to us. We text instead of talking on the phone. We email instead of meeting in person.
According to Crook, “we are in danger of writing each other out of our stories.” (How powerful is that?) She suggests writing down the names of three people you miss. In the next week call them, or see them in person, if that’s possible.
Also, set an intention to talk to one person — anyone from your spouse to a stranger — either in person or on the phone every single day. Crook notes that it doesn’t have to be a lengthy conversation. “Five minutes counts.”
Explore your creative longings.
According to Crook, “Cultivating space, mentally and physically offline, is fundamental to our lifelong development as creators … When we create, we give life to our longing; we are making what we want to see in the world.”
Of course, the Internet can help — but perhaps much later. Crook suggests asking ourselves these questions when thinking about creating: “What do I long for? What can I create out of that longing? How can the Internet be a wisely used tool for me in creating this? What limits will I give myself while using the Internet as a creative resource?”
Because the Internet — and technology in general — can be an amazing resource. And it can be the opposite. The key is in how we use it. The key is in the boundaries we set. All relationships require healthy boundaries. Our relationship to technology is no exception.