redefining my relationship with the internet

I’m redefining my relationship with the Internet. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been doing some serious self-reflection and as a result, some serious simplification. I didn’t think I was spending a crazy amount of time on my phone, at least not compared to others, but after tracking my time spent staring at my screen, I realized it was taking up an average of 5+ hours every single day. Even worse, a good bit of it was entirely purposeless—I was just swiping and scrolling just because that’s the habit my fingers were in.

Not only that, but my mind felt cluttered. I love the ability to get such a wide variety of perspectives online, but it was coming so quickly and constantly that I could barely form a perspective of my own. I wanted to read more deeply but how could I when I was spending all my reading hours on articles and hot takes? I wanted to spend more time outside but found myself in the cliché trap of looking at others’ outdoor adventures on Instagram instead.

Last month, I hit my tipping point. I’d been thinking these things for a long, long time but finally hit the point where I said, “I’m done.” I started implementing some serious changes that have helped me to be significantly more intentional about how I use the Internet and especially my phone.

  1. Blocked Twitter. I completely blocked myself from Twitter using Freedom. While I have gotten a lot of value from Twitter in the past (e.g. learning from people whose perspectives are not present in my everyday “real” life), I found that at this point in my life, it was just adding to the noise. The one time I tried opening Twitter and got a screen that said, “You are free from this website,” it was the most relief I’ve felt in awhile.

  2. Unfollowed irrelevant accounts on Instagram. I unfollowed over 400 accounts on Instagram. If it wasn’t a friend, adding true value to my life, or aligned with my current goals, it was out. (Sadly, this included several book-related accounts. As much as I love hearing about what others are reading, recommendations lead me to lots and lots of impulse buys. I have enough books already. I want and need to read the ones I actually own before adding to my collection.)

  3. Muted Instagram Stories. I muted all Instagram Stories that were not from friends. Stories are fun, but they often end up being a very passive way of consuming mindless content. If I’m specifically interested in seeing someone else’s story, I can intentionally seek it out by going directly to their page.

  4. Unsubscribed from marketing emails, accounts, and blogs. I unsubscribed from all emails trying to sell me something. Even if I like the company. Even if I will likely buy from them again. My current goal is to save as much as possible, not spend. Again: if I need something, I can intentionally seek it out.

  5. Unfollowed (almost) everyone on Facebook. I unfollowed (not unfriended) every single person and page on Facebook except for my closest friends, my immediate family, and local news (I get national and international news from podcasts and directly from the news outlets themselves). I stayed friends with most people so I still have the option of getting updates from them if needed, but honestly, I don’t need or want an automatic daily digest of every little thing that’s happening in an old college acquaintance’s life. It’s wonderful to have the ability to stay connected, but I want to do it on my own terms.

  6. Deleted old podcast episodes. I cleared out my backlog of podcast episodes. I had a long list of episodes I wanted to get around to listening to eventually, but months later, I still had not. It started feeling like a chore to get through rather than something enjoyable. Yet again, if I really want to, I can intentionally re-download them to listen when I’m ready.

  7. Implemented Screen Time tools. Apple included new “Screen Time” features in iOS 12 and I’m making good use of them. I set limits on how much total daily time I could spend on social media, as well as set a “downtime” schedule where I can only use my phone for texts, calls, and checking the weather.

  8. Rearranged my phone. I put all of my apps in one folder except for Messages, Phone, and 8 functional apps that are in line with my goals (e.g. working out, writing, projects). I also turned off the app suggestions by the search bar. If I need a specific app, I can easily access it by searching for it, but—take a guess—I have to be intentional.

Smart phones and the internet are both great tools. I’m not interested in entirely cutting them out of my life (most days anyway). However, I do want to get back to a place where they are just that: tools for a specific purpose. I don’t want to use them mindlessly.

It’s only been a month and I’m still working on staying disciplined, but so far, I can already tell a distinct difference in my mental clarity, anxiety levels, and spiritual health. I feel more in touch with myself—physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m writing a lot more. I’m more productive. It is so much better. I don’t want to go back.

Further reading and resources:

It’s Time to Put the Internet Back into a Box in the Basement
Center for Humane Technology

Brittany Stoess
a safe place to be

When it comes to writing, where’s the line between honesty and self-absorption? Between oversharing and sincerity? I don’t think highly enough of myself to believe that everything that happens to me is interesting (it’s not), but also, I’ve learned a few things through my experiences, and I’d like to think they might be valuable to someone else.

The writers that I cannot get enough of are heartbreakingly, stunningly honest. They pour out the rawest parts of themselves on the page for a stranger like me to read, and I don’t know that I trust people enough for that. I don’t know that I trust myself to be strong enough, to not let it break me. Where does that leave me?

Maybe that’s what I’m trying to carve out here: a safer place (at least the illusion of it—it is still the internet) to experiment and explore and be a little more vulnerable than I can be on social media. Maybe not the inner workings of my heart, soul, and journal entries, but still, something deeper and quieter than the never-ending feeds and breaking news and scroll, scroll, scroll.

I’m just tired. Tired of the noise, of the constant extremes. It’s as if the internet has divided into two camps: one that only wants to be happy, “follow your bliss” 24/7, and another that believes if you’re not constantly devolving into cycles of burning rage, you aren’t doing it right (looking at you, Twitter). Can we just be okay with the fact that humans cannot permanently live in either of these emotional states? To recognize that, collectively, 2017 was an awful year, but also, it’s okay to acknowledge that your personal life went pretty well? We can experience more than one or two emotions. It’s okay to hold a whole lot of feelings about a whole lot of things in tension.

A few things to help guide this space:

  1. This is for writing, not for marketing. Honest writing is the goal here, not making money.
  2. Along the same lines: I’m not interested in adding to the noise or creating content for the sake of clicks. I’ll share when I have something worthwhile to share (even if I sometimes think it’s only worthwhile for me).
  3. I don't have answers, only stories. I’ll probably write more about myself than I feel comfortable doing because, well, that’s all I’ve got.
  4. If you aren’t interested, that’s okay; just keep moving along. (Pro tip: don’t hate-read. It does literally no one any good, especially you.)
  5. The comments will mostly stay closed, but please feel free to send me an email anytime. I’d love to connect, and will do my best to respond in a timely manner (but be forewarned that I am the worst with email, and if I take awhile, it’s not personal)

I hope to show up here a whole lot more in 2018. The more I write, the more I realize just how much I need to. Even if that’s all I get out of this, maybe that’s enough.

Brittany Stoess
into the wild

For the past several years, I’ve been very focused on the “adventure” side of things: being brave, challenging myself, and trying new things. Lately, though, I’ve started digging more into the “wild”—not in the “let’s go crazy” sense but more like tuning into what it means to be in the wilderness (literally and metaphorically) and to love and respect wild places.

In 2018, I want to explore the topics of environmentalism and realistic ways to live more sustainably. I want to dig deeper and find a different angle of approaching the topics and issues that matter most to me. More than anything though, I want to focus more on writing.

Visual content is something I love. I’ve always had a natural eye for what looks good, and I enjoy creating and sharing that with others. Lettering, illustration, photography—they all bring me joy, and I will continue doing them. It’s satisfying to wrestle with a design or a photo edit and finally get it just the way I want it. But writing? Writing is more than satisfying; it gives me a purpose and meaning. It’s my voice; it’s how I think and process and push my heart out into the world. It’s something I have to do, the one thing that I always, always come back to, no matter what other hobbies or interests I pursue. It’s maddening and more often than not, I hate the actual process of getting words down on paper. Yet when it all comes together...it’s magic. There is nothing else like it, and I don’t think I’ll find that kind of fulfillment anywhere else.

Here is where I feel most natural and free. This is where I’m in my element. I needed to expand and get out of my comfort zone; those lessons gave me courage and strength that I needed to grow. Now, though, I feel a tug back to my roots: words, mystery, and taking things at a slower pace in order to process more deeply and offer more meaning. Somehow, entering the wilderness feels a whole lot like coming home.

Originally published on Adventure & the Wild.

Brittany Stoess
may we love dangerously

Loving anything hurts. Love makes us vulnerable. It opens us up to—guarantees, even—pain, grief, and frustration. Love is not easy or soft; love is dangerous territory.

But love also heals. It brings joy. It bridges impossible divides. Love transforms; it has the power to change the world and ourselves. Love is worth fighting for.

And so, may we live and love dangerously, risking it all—pain, grief, and our reputations—for what is right. May we never lose hope that the light will always win in the end.

© Brittany Stoess 2017 (All Rights Reserved)

"May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger, at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears, to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort and to turn their pain to joy.⠀

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor."⠀

- Franciscan Benediction

 
Brittany Stoess
whole

Lately, I've struggled to find balance:

  • Love of travel + adventure vs. contentment + staying present
  • Healthy engagement + creativity on social media vs. the mental space of staying unplugged
  • Meaningful, collaborative nonprofit work vs. independence + freedom
  • Pouring myself into others vs. taking care of myself

It's hard when all the conflicting things are good and needed. It's hard to prioritize when they all feel so necessary. I don't have the answers, but I am learning.

I'm learning to not let what I'm "in the mood" to do be my guide, but also to discern between flighty feelings + deeper intuition of what I actually NEED.

I'm learning the value of both structure and going with the flow of everyday life. Too much structure and I feel rigid and joyless; too much flow and it's a chaotic mess.

I'm learning that I need to engage in both dreaming AND doing. Generating ideas is wonderful and a key part of who I am, but it's only when I take action that I truly feel fulfilled.

Structure/flow. Journey/destination. Both/and. Most of life isn't either/or, and it's not all that neat or linear. The more I learn, the more I think that maybe finding + maintaining balance isn't a thing; rather, it's a constant push/pull between all of what makes life so rich and beautiful. Instead of balance, we find wholeness instead.

Brittany Stoess