How to break internet addiction

I have had a revelation. I have for several years believed it impossible to live in a home without Internet. However, I have to admit that my main reason for believing this is a little self-defeating. It wasn’t so much that my work depended on it, or the need for looking up directions or finding out when a store closes or searching for a phone number.

My main reason for believing that Internet at home was indispensable is because, when I have Internet, I find it very hard, if not impossible, not to lie in bed, phone in hand, reading the news or anything to occupy my mind for hours and hours.¬† Some would call life like that impossible, yet the reverse [no internet at all] is equally impossible. Like, my mind can’t possibly function otherwise. It has to have that outlet.

Last year, for the first time ever, I moved into an apartment that had no internet automatically installed. I had to sign up for a service myself. And I was going to do so, no questions asked, so as to avoid what I expected to be a premature death.

But I still had to survive the first day with no Internet. And do you know what happened? I didn’t die! I kind of couldn’t believe it. The revelation was so amazing, that I tried it out for a day or two longer, and I still didn’t die. And you know what else happened? There was no longer any point in reaching for my phone as soon as I woke up, nor to lie awake in bed at night, doing the same. I could no longer collapse when I came home from work and seek solace in mindless checking of the news or blogs. When I needed to go to the grocery store, or go to the bathroom, or go pray, I could no longer run to the Internet as some sort of anti-anxiety salve before doing so. And if I was reading a book, or writing something, I couldn’t reward myself for having read a few pages by grabbing my phone and closely inspecting the latest updates to see if there was some world-altering piece of news to come to terms with.

As you can see, I had Internet addiction. I had tried many apps for my phone and laptop that are supposed to limit how much time I waste on them, but either the apps didn’t work, or I’d disable them myself, or I would spend more time trying to find loopholes around the app than I otherwise might have spent on the internet without the app in the first place. It was not until I simply had no Internet at home at all that I found a winning solution.

Now, the only reason this scheme worked, of course, is because I had Internet at work. So I was able to check the news, and my email, and everything else, there. I could listen to any new music that had come out, and I did all my searches to find directions or phone numbers. Or book travel plans, etc. At work, I had nice, safe, secure Internet access, so that was really the only reason all this worked.

[Side note: even if you have kids or live with people who must or insist on having Internet, you can still do this: just don’t enter the Internet password on any of your own personal devices, ever.]

I have to confess, I didn’t become super productive due to the lack of Internet. I think that instead of spending hours in mindless scrolling, I just spent hours lying on the bed in daydreams. But that’s okay! Daydreams are lovely! They don’t stress you out, and they don’t strain your eyes, and you know, daydreams are your own mind and your own creation. It’s not blind, unhealthy, gluttonous consumption of other people.

Plus, I felt sooooo good. After just a week of no Internet at home, my mood and spirits seemed so buoyant. Of course it was because I wasn’t getting lost in the whirlpool of anxiety-inducing Twitter posts and news updates all day long — no, as soon as I left work, all that was over for the day, and it couldn’t start up again until I returned to work the next day. So the first thing I did in the mornings was just to think, or maybe to read, or write something. And I got dressed and had breakfast and took my combined walk + trolley ride to work before I got online. I would catch myself over and over again, surprise at how light and relaxed and happy I felt. I could not believe it.

And the other really wonderful thing that happened was: I started sleeping through the night. I don’t remember any more how long it had been that I’d been waking up every night around 2 am or 3 am. And try as I might, I couldn’t go back to sleep. Eventually, I’d reach for my phone, and stay on it and stay on it, hours and hours, until I was finally numbed back to a state of unconsciousness. And then wake up late and feel groggy and unrested.

As soon as I had no Internet at home, there was no longer any reason to reach for my phone at 2 am when I woke up. At first, I still stayed awake, staring into space, until sleep claimed me hours later.

But that was just the first few days! Soon, the amount of time I stayed awake started diminishing. I think it took about three weeks, but eventually, I’d just wake up for about five minutes, and then fall directly back asleep. And not longer after that, I stopped waking up entirely.

All this time, I was doing a research project left-over from my PhD. My original plan was to work on it at home after work, but this research requires constant use of Internet. Thus, I had to switch tacks and do the research after-hours at my work desk. This ended up being just perfect, though. At my work desk, I have to remain seated. This in itself is a big inducement to stay focused and get things done. If I had, as originally intended, done the research at home, I would most likely have lain in bed and fallen asleep, and there’s no way I could have summoned as much concentration. See, in my initial assessment, completing this research project served as a *valid* reason for why I absolutely had to have Internet at home. Like, there was no way I’d want to stay extra hours at work to get it done. But I ended up being forced to do just that, and that was the better choice all along.

So I had this whole nice system all worked out, and it was so great. Then coronavirus hit, and there I was, working from home and my fail-proof scheme failed me: I had to have Internet at home to do work. As a result, alas, I have slipped back into some bad habits of slurping greedily at Internet when I’m cranky, worried, distracted, etc.

But I have learned some lessons from my Internet break that are still standing me in good stead. First, I disconnected my phone from the Internet. See, it is so much more comfortable to cuddle with your phone in bed and scroll the Internet, than to do so with a bulky laptop. This reduces the amount of mindless scrolling quite a bit (at least, it did for the first few weeks, until I got comfortable with my laptop on my rib-cage again). But any case, there is no Internet at all on my phone. That means I miss out on some messaging apps, but oh well.

Second, I still sleep through the night. If I ever do wake up at night, I know not to reach for my laptop and start checking things.

Third,as much as possible, I avoid reaching for my laptop and checking the news as soon as I wake up in the morning.

Fourth, I have not been obsessively checking the coronavirus news, which I think must have done wonders for my mood over the last months. Well, fine, if you scroll back just a ways on this blog, you’ll notice that I was somewhat obsessively watching the Swedish coronavirus press conferences for a while — but I never kept a close eye on much of anything else — not how many cases we have, not what the projections are, nothing. I didn’t even get to fall in love with Dr. Fauci was many others seemed to be doing, because I never watched him. When Brexit or the murders of Our Three Winners or Trump happened, I spent days and days in a phone-scrolling fog, until I literally felt waterlogged and drunk from having consumed so much news and opinions, and having had the blinding phone screen so close to my eyes for so long. I didn’t really do that at all with coronavirus, and for that, I am relieved. After all, whether I kept a close eye on the developments or not, I couldn’t have changed anything — things are going to happen like they happen regardless.

[The real break-down came a few weeks after writing this blog post — during the Black Lives Matter protests, and attacks on peaceful protesters, police brutality all over the place, and what seemed to be the impending collapse of democracy. But when democracy is collapsing, you kind of have to pay attention.]



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