I have something to admit.
I don’t know if I’m addicted to the internet, or if everything I do is confined to it. If I am addicted, then I want control of my life back.
I keep having a scenario play out in my head. I imagine a person whose relationship to the internet is close to nonexistent and what their life would look like.
A Healthy Relationship With the Internet
Let’s say it’s the not-so-distant future. I picture a woman who lives in a quiet New England town. She has a day job working in a library. She has three close friends who she always looks forward to seeing.
She reads. She gardens. She plays music. She keeps herself reasonably healthy. She might have a pet or two. She could be married, or maybe not.
She always donates part of her paycheck to charitable causes, and she often volunteers to help those less fortunate. She’s aware of the greater problems of the world, but she understands the best way to contribute is to help the people around her. She's not concerned with things she can’t control.
She keeps a photo album of her memories and experiences. She deeply appreciates the smell of summer rain. She is very much immersed in living.
Outside of her job and managing finances, she rarely, if ever, uses the internet. This woman doesn’t drown in social media, scroll down YouTube feeds, or try to have Twitter arguments while driving.
Her life is her own, and it’s only shared between her and the people she cares about. It’s independent of the noise and chatter.
Is this life even possible?
If I met this woman, I feel like I’d be standing in the presence of modern-day enlightenment.
Our Relationship With Everything
Let’s state the obvious.
Information is on the internet. Work is on the internet. Play is on the internet. Friends are on the internet. Dating is on the internet. For all it’s worth, the internet is almost everything.
What the internet used to be was a place for nerds, rejects, independent thinkers, and other introverted degenerates to connect with each other. Then everyone else showed up and ruined the party. Literally everyone.
I’m not trying to get hung up on nostalgia, but the internet is something different now–something unsettling.
Now, this is just my impression, but the pervasiveness of the internet can make it feel like everyone’s life is being crushed together. I get the point is “connection” but it can feel as though we’re all being forced into one unit, even if we don’t want to be.
The internet is supposed to be a universal tool, but sometimes, it feels more like an intruder.
When it feels like the internet is invading the intimacy of your personal life, something’s wrong.
Take social media. Everyone’s beliefs are forced into conflict because we can only express them superficially — that is, without face-to-face communication. It gives the illusion that other people’s beliefs are invading on your own, which leads us all into unproductive stress and rage.
Social media is also a “stack up” machine. It’s the perfect tool for comparing yourself to other people. Your “identity” is embedded into a cyber scoreboard where it gets ranked against other people’s success.
If you don’t check it, how will you know if you’re doing well? Social media isn’t fueled by connection, it’s fueled by insecurity.
Reclaiming Your Life from the Internet
Technology is here, and it’s here to stay. I know you can’t “put the toothpaste back in the tube.” But we can’t let it ruin our lives, or degrade our humanity.
You could spend every waking moment wandering the halls of the internet. You could see all kinds of immersive, captivating, addictive things.
But if you’ve been wandering as long as I have, then you know you encounter horrible things too. You fall down nightmare rabbit holes. You get completely absorbed from the second you wake up to the second you shut your eyes.
And suddenly, it’s no longer working for you. You’re working for it. When does it stop? If the internet is everywhere, where do you run? What does freedom look like?
The answer is your own life. I think that’s where we all need to get back to. Personal relationships, goals, and experiences.
In campaigning for “connectivity,” the internet created isolation. This is at least part of the reason millennials have less sex, loneliness is rampant, and so many people are struggling mentally. The modern world makes it hard to be happy.
The lines between the world, the internet, and your personal life are blurred, and the only way to describe the feeling that comes with that is anxiety.
We’re all forced to look at society, even when we’d rather be left alone. Not being part of it all is difficult and discouraged. How do you reap the benefits of connectivity while avoiding the pitfalls? How do you do things that enrich you without becoming a slave to constant feedback?
It’s going to take an act of will. Digital minimalism is an obvious solution, but there’s more to it than that.
Make your life distinct from the grand bullshit of everything else. I’m not talking about becoming a monk and living out in the woods. I’m talking about spending less time gawking at the world and more time being in it. I plan on doing this by:
- Cultivating personal relationships and experiences.
- Being intentional with internet use. Not using the internet out of habit.
- Staying focused on my own goals.
- Having strict rules when it comes to smartphones.
- Being more social in the real world.
I know not everyone has a problematic relationship with the internet, but for anyone who does, I think emancipation will come from understanding what the internet has become, and choosing life instead. More life, less “connectivity.”