Monday, January 14, 2019

Turning Offline

It feels a little ironic to use an online platform to talk about how I’ve stopped using most online platforms, but —

A few things coalesced during the final months of 2018 that left me discontent with the state of my social media and screen use. I’ve mentioned this before, but I spent the tail end of last year and the beginning of this year gradually culling the physical, digital, and mental clutter in my life.

I began with who I followed on social media, unfriending/unfollowing the majority of the people on my feeds I didn’t personally know. By December, I was additionally uncomfortable with the deliberate lack of care Facebook showed for its users’ data and the spread of misinformation and anger on Twitter, and I deleted them both. The sense of relief wasn’t instantaneous, but months later the cumulative effect has been staggering. I had unknowingly wasted so much time and mental energy on filtering through other people’s content that once it wasn’t in front of me, I felt immense freedom from the endless weight of it.

Along with ridding myself of two social media behemoths, I realized how much time I was wasting on my phone. The introduction of the iPhone Screen Time feature told me I was spending nearly four hours a day on my phone (which, if you had asked me, I would have estimated at closer to two hours a day). Horrified, I worked my way through Catherine Price’s How to Break Up With Your Phone, which led to me deleting most of the apps on my phone and setting new phone habits. I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb mode and out of eyesight most of the day, and I have a “phone curfew” an hour before bedtime. I’ve halved the amount of time I spend on my phone each day, and it often falls well below two hours.

Interspersed with the above changes was the abrupt falling out of interest with sharing things about my life online. I don’t personally know the majority of the people who follow me on Instagram, my single remaining social media platform, and I care less and less about exchanging personal details for likes and comments, particularly on a platform where users don’t own their own content. If I’m going to share online at all, I’d rather it be somewhere like a blog or Medium — platforms with more space for genuine engagement and an overlap of readers with friends and family in real life.

I recently re-found the article about Aziz Ansari going analog and realized how much I’ve come around to that mode of thinking. Though I wouldn’t go as far as deleting my internet browsers and email, there is a certain appeal to letting go of the internet’s constant pull on your attention. Until recently, I would easily and often waste time on the internet, endlessly clicking on fluffy articles or videos and squandering away hours at a time on nonsense, trying to chase the dopamine hit of finding something new and exciting. I’ve set barriers to easy and mindless access, including putting my laptop away when I’m not actively using it, putting all of my nonessential phone apps in Downtime mode, and keeping my phone on Do Not Disturb at all time. Mindless scrolling is inevitable with frictionless access, and putting barriers in place makes me think twice every time I pick up my phone or log on to my laptop.

Now that I’ve dragged myself offline, I have newfound free time. I’ve been able to think, actually deeply think. All the times I bemoaned an inability to process what I was thinking, and the culprit was sensory and information overload. I now journal every day. I read, even more than I did before (I’ve read 50 books already this year), and I take notes on what I read. I work out more often. I make deliberate plans to catch up with people.

While I’ve by no means perfected the practice of staying offline, I’ve made significant strides in the last few months to curb my mindless usage of the internet and instead spend my time doing more worthwhile things.
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