Saying goodbye to the internet?


Last week, Glennon Doyle Melton of the blog Momastery called it quits. Well, she called it quits for 40 days. At the top of her game with hundreds of thousands of readers and a New York Times best-selling book, she said goodbye to the internet. 

The internet, I think – is turning into a compulsion for me. I’m starting to look to it for my own worth. I’m looking to it for comfort and as a balm for loneliness. I’m using it to hide a little from real live people. And I’m using it to numb my feelings. To zone out. All of this scares me because these are all the things I used to use booze for. And these are the things I still use food for sometimes.

I identified so much with her post. I am also a striver - a person who’s shifting definition of success is too often linked to external factors instead of internal motivation. The internet – in particular the world of blogging – can often play to my worst instincts. I see other’s success (including Glennon’s if I’m being honest) and, instead of feeling inspired, I feel like a failure. So, I go out into social media looking for sources of positive feedback and/or plain old distraction.

However, her solution feels somewhat gimmicky. If she’s looking for fodder for that second book, this would seem to be a perfect solution. The bookstore shelves are full of people who tried to give up one thing or commit themselves wholly to something else for 30, 40, 60, however many days. 

Plus, I’m not sure addressing this problem in such a heartfelt manner than offering a solution that is impossible for so many does much to advance the conversation. The internet is big, it’s scary, and it is slowly changing every single aspect of our lives. We all worry about what it’s doing to our relationships, our work, our brains (much less our childrens’ brains). However, opting out is simply not an option for most of us. I can’t tell my clients or my bosses I’m signing off email for 40 days.

Chances are neither can you.

So what can we do?

I’ve read (and tried) many a strategy in an attempt to address technology’s slow creep into every aspect of my life.

Technology-Free Tuesday A few years ago, I attempted to sign off the internet for one day a week. Calling it Technology-Free Tuesday, I would avoid everything but voice calls and text messages. I did experience a profound sense of awareness … awareness of every time I wanted to answer a question or deal with a nagging problem and couldn’t! I felt self-satisfied and more than a little superior at the end of every day but I think that’s about it.

I still occasionally spend entire days away from the internet when my life allows for it. I get busy with the boys or spending time with friends and before I know it it’s been hours since I’ve checked my phone or logged on to Facebook. It’s never planned and I’m never 100% screen free all day but I find these spontaneous respites much more enjoyable than the forced ones. My focus is on the ones around me because I chose that time – not because I’m forcing myself into some internet exile. 

Technology Sabbath As a family, we recently tried a technology Sabbath. No screens from sundown on Saturday until sundown on Sunday. The first morning I realized I had no source for Sunday morning news with iPhone news readers and Sunday morning talk shows forbidden. Then I realized I had no way to check the weather or look up my favorite breakfast recipe. Plus, I get a lot of work done on Sundays – all of which requires screens. I’m not sure if we ever had a 100% successful Sabbath and we haven’t even attempted one in weeks. 

Screen-free evenings  In January, my husband and I made the rule that we would be screen free from when he came home in the evening until when the children went to bed. This strategy has lasted the longest and I think has been our most successful. It felt good to purposefully focus on family time and led to some pretty rousing games of Candyland and one incredibly awesome Lincoln Log cabin.Still, when I have work that has to be finished or both of us have had a particularly stressful day, the screens come out. 

I’ve read other tips and tricks on how to control technology. In particular, there seems to be an ever-growing concern with how technology and the steady stream of instantaneous gratification affects our ability to focus. There are thousands of blog posts (oh, the irony!) filled with tips and tricks to regain focus and keep your technology consumption in check. Don’t check your email until noon. Don’t keep Facebook open. Turn off alerts. 

I’ve tried them all with varied success. However, due to the psychological predilections that steer us all, I fall back into my old patterns of behavior. I wake up and reach for my phone. I check and update and refresh. 

I’m beginning to wonder if my desire to “control” technology causes me more stress than the technology itself. I have entire friendships and incredibly important relationships that depend on the internet to survive. My work would not be possible without the internet. I use the internet to express myself.  I learn from the internet. I grow from the internet. 

Could I spend less time looking at zoo animals eat popsicles?

Perhaps. But fifteen years ago, I could have spent a LOT less time watching Crossfire or reading wedding magazines. Fifteen years before that I could have spent less time watching Mama’s Family (don’t laugh!) or obsessing over my latest crush.

Creating priorities. Managing your time. This is the work of adulthood. The internet has no doubt made that work harder but I’m thankful I have the luxury of free time at all. I’m thankful I even have an email address – much less the time and energy to worry about when to check it. 

The desire to control technology is a noble one. Like all things in life, conscientiousness breeds contentment. However, I worry swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction is not the answer. Maybe there isn’t an answer. 

As technology grows and the internet continues to affect every facet of our lives, I truly believe this discussion is important. In fact, maybe the discussion itself – and the awareness it brings to our own behaviors and habits – is the solution. 

In other words, see you tomorrow, internet.

What do you think? Have found ways to pump up the positive and decrease the negative effects of technology in your own life?