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