(Or how the internet is like an overstuffed closet.)
In January, my husband and I decided to stop using the internet for a month. There were a lot of reasons for it, but basically our brains felt cluttered. Also, after lots of experimentation, we had stopped allowing our four-year-old to use screens because we can see first hand the negative effects they have on his brain. We needed to apply the same logic to ourselves. Here’s how it went:
The first week, I was really strict about it (except for email - as soon as I missed a time-sensitive email, I dropped my only-check-email-once-a-day rule). Over the next few weeks, I relaxed the restrictions a bit (I’m no good at all or nothing scenarios). I posted a question in a Facebook parenting group when I needed help. I looked up how long to cook a pork tenderloin. I continued to use accounting software and shop online for work. However, the baseline remained “I don’t use the internet”. In fact, aside from these aforementioned practical uses, I couldn’t really figure out why I needed the internet at all. This was not at all what I expected would happen. I was so scared that I was going to miss out on so much and as it turns out, I didn’t miss much of anything.
This is a good time to talk about my unhealthy relationship with social media. I love it and yet it makes me feel bad. I knew that staying off of social media would be hard for me. It seems counter-intuitive, but I learned that the more I check social media, the more I want to check it. The less I check it, the less compelling all the minutiae of other people’s days are. During our month away, I checked in on social media about once a week, and since it ended, I check in about every 4 or 5 days.
Have you ever traveled and realized that you managed just fine with the small amount of clothing you packed and wondered why you needed all that extra stuff at home anyway? A closet full of clothes can be overwhelming. There are so many decisions to make. A lot of the things make you feel bad but you hold onto them anyway. When shopping, you get distracted and you buy things you never intended to buy.
That’s basically how I felt about the internet.
In Marie Kondo’s method of decluttering, or tidying up, you take everything out and only put back what “sparks joy”. When I work with clients, we start by pulling out their absolute favorite items to wear, so that we can set a standard for the rest of the wardrobe to measure up to. When you build a capsule wardrobe, you intentionally choose a small number of items to make life easier.
When I took everything on the internet away, and added back only what I really needed and used, I felt clearer and happier. The constant feeling floating in the back of my mind that I was forgetting to do something important gradually went away.
After our month was over, I stumbled across this interview with Cal Newport, in which he also advocates managing your internet usage by starting with a month long digital cleanse. Read the article - it articulates much more clearly than I can how I feel about the whole thing.
In the end, I found I could regulate my use by asking and answering honestly this question: why am I going on the internet? Is there a valid reason (“I’m bored” doesn’t count)? If I can’t articulate one, I’m guaranteed to take in some meaningless content that will not improve my outlook on life. Even though our month of no internet was over a month ago, I’m still operating from this place.
I’d love to hear from all of you - what questions do you have about how it worked? Could/would you do this? My friend Kourtney and her husband are starting Monday!