What happens when you don’t go online for 24 hours?
When I had to drop off my laptop at the repair shop for the weekend, I decided to ditch my phone too as an experiment. What would happen if I went all weekend without looking at the internet?
The effects were subtle but noticeable and surprising. Just on the other side of the mild annoyance of withdrawals was an expansive spaciousness; a sense of possibility. In other words, the feeling of freedom that lies beyond addiction. (If you don’t think you are addicted to the internet, ask yourself—when is the last time you went a couple days without using it at all?)
Overall, the effects were super positive. I feel like I just got back from a spa day for my brain. I read almost an entire book over the weekend. My spouse kept remarking that she enjoyed the effects on my vibe as well. The change in day-to-day stuff was pretty subtle. I felt like the day had more space, like there was an extra couple hours in the day, simply because there was a couple hours that I wasn’t online. I kept finding myself absent mindedly reaching for my pocket to grab my phone only to realize —oh yeah, it’s not there—and then my attention would slide back into the present moment. Since I wasn’t looking at my phone every 15 minutes, I was just more present, I feel like I got more insight and practice into mindfulness than I would from hours of meditation.
Try It For Yourself
If you want to give it a go, just stash your phone in a drawer, your laptop too, and vow to leave them there all day. If you end up cheating and using your phone briefly, no big deal. The fact that you have to walk all the way over to your sock drawer, (or wherever) means you will still be using it a lot less than if it was in your pocket all day. (Full disclosure, at one point I did use my phone to call up a friend and invite him to go eat ramen.)
I suspect we were not meant to be tethered to the internet every single day any more than we were meant to work 7 days a week. I plan to take one day off from the internet every weekend from now on. I discovered it’s easier than you imagine. I felt like that teenager in White Lotus who loses his phone and then finds himself more open to the world and life.
It was invigorating—having much more free time, and attention, and a little more freedom to dictate how I wanted to spend each moment, rather than have it be predetermined by force of habit. Finding that the hard part of withdrawals was mostly in my imagination reminded me of quitting smoking: before I quit cigarettes, I had wanted to quit, and been meaning to quit for years! I just never quite got around to it because it sounded too hard. The fear of the withdrawals was what kept me from quitting more than the actual experience of withdrawals. When I finally went through the withdrawals of not smoking and the cravings arose, they were not the big bad wolf that I had built them up to in my mind. I would feel irritable, fidgety . . . and then a few minutes later it would pass. I realized I had built up a much bigger mountain out of the fear of quitting than was warranted. We as a society have done the same thing with our internet addiction: we pretend as though we are quite helpless, but that’s not really true.
If you’re like me you have probably thought about trying to curb the time you spend online in one way or another. What I like about the all-day digital fast is the simplicity. The rules are easy to keep track of. And I suspect doing a “online fast day” once a week will build moderation into the rest of the week without having to think about it too hard.
One thing I didn’t miss at all was the news. I’m normally a news junky. It’s just something I automatically consume, every day, as soon as I sit down at my laptop I check the main headlines of the day, and then follow them. Usually that is, now I am reassessing that habit. Earlier today I walked by a newsstand, glanced at the headlines, and realized with a shock that I had forgotten all about the news for the past 5 days. The news world kept going, more or less the same as usual (a mixed bag) without me worrying about it.
I know a famous writer who has written several critically acclaimed novels, a couple of them have been made into movies. He told me he doesn’t have the internet at his house, and he just has a flip phone for texts and calls, “I know myself, I get way to addicted to that stuff, I’m better off without it.” It’s probably not a coincidence he has the time and inspiration to be a successful creator. The secret is he’s not any different from the rest of us—we are all in the same boat.
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