The internet isn’t the world.
It is only a window to the world, one that we’re free to look in while sitting safely on the toilet.
So, seeing as we all have our own window to everything in the world, we need to wonder why we would ever look away. Why moderate it? Why would we accept boredom when we can experience the world without risking our necks?
It was always the plan to put the world in your hand. Anything and everything, all of the time. – Bo Burnham
Here’s a reason: Somewhere out there an 11-year-old kid is going to discover Japanese hentai pornography and he’s going to watch it every day of his life until he turns 25.
He’s never going to have a real romantic relationship. His self-esteem is going to be crushed. And he’s going to buckle to his knees in horror once he realizes what the internet has taken from him.
But porn addiction is only one example, and people recover from that. For the majority, internet addiction is more subtle.
The irony is not lost on me I’m writing about the internet on the internet. But this beast has woven itself into everything we do, and we need to find a way to tame it if we don’t want to lose our minds.
The Other Person in the Room
If you’ve ever been addicted to the internet, it can feel like there’s an extra person in the room. Like there is someone who is always poking you and demanding your attention, knowing you’re eventually going to give it to them.
When you’re with friends or loved ones, it can feel like there’s a digital phantom floating above your head. It’s not just you and them. It’s you, them, and a little bit of everything else too. It’s just barely barging into the intimate moments you share with others, but it’s enough to notice.
The internet makes it difficult to create experiences that you can remember and cherish in real life. It chips away at your sense of presence and replaces what could be a beautiful memory with a vague sense of anxiety and a need to be elsewhere.
Our moments are undermined by the temptation to see what the rest of the world is doing. And if this is always an option, what happens to our moments? They get degraded, and a million degraded moments don’t add up to a well-lived life.
Tumbling Down Infinite Feeds
The internet used to be about curiosity and connecting with like-minded people across the world. Nothing was offered to you; you had to discover it yourself. But things have changed.
Take YouTube for example.
What you see on YouTube is determined by a computer that guesses what you’ll like based on what you’ve searched in the past. Mr. Algorithm knows you well, and he can be disturbingly dead on.
Because your attention translates into profit on the internet, infinite recommendation feeds that are driven by algorithms have become the norm.
A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. herbert a simon
Infinite feeds make marathoning YouTube videos feel like chain-smoking. Once I’ve reached my 40th video or so, I don’t feel like I’m having fun anymore. I feel used. I feel out of control. I feel like I didn’t have a choice in what just happened.
Breaking free from the internet means recognizing the difference between choosing something deliberately and being coerced.
The World, the Internet, and You
If you have constant access to the world, it’s as if the world’s problems sit at your doorstep. The lines get blurred between your life and everyone else’s.
Being informed is important. Fighting for causes is important. But it feels like the goal of the internet is to get us to never stop being immersed in other people’s realities.
Our own lives and thoughts become irrelevant to what influencers are doing and whatever 24-hour news cycles have to show us next.
Without putting on a tinfoil hat, I’ll say that it’s easy for an individual to feel trapped in a web nowadays. Like we’re all being consolidated into a big bin labeled “society” without our consent.
The internet seems to draw people away from leading their own lives and thinking for themselves.
Your life is distinct from what happens online, and you’ll waste it drowning in things you can’t control.
Our Biggest Regret
Palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware wrote a book about the top fives regrets of the dying and they were:
- I wish I would have had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I would have had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I had let myself be happier.
A friend of mine said that there’s going to be a sixth regret for the millennial generation. Our regret is going to be:
- I wish I spent more time living my own life, instead of gazing into someone else’s.
Or simply, I wish I didn’t spend so much time on the internet. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to die gripping my phone.
Change Your Relationship With the Internet
I want to step into the real world, and not just stare at it through my phone. I want to cultivate my moments. I want to fill my life with them, and the more I’m a slave to the internet, the more opportunities for those moments wither.
I’m working on my addiction. Going online when I’m not doing work or communicating is a tough habit to break, but it is possible.
Focus on your own goals and relationships. Let the internet be a tool, as it was intended. Be intentional with how you entertain yourself.
Always wonder if you’re using the internet out of choice or habit. And please, be with the people around you. Give them your full attention. That is what’s going to matter.
If you’re immersed enough in reality, you won’t need the internet to compensate for anything.