This is a story of my experience during the past 2 weeks when I have mostly stayed away from the Internet, allowing me to realize the things I was missing when connected.
When I was a child, my parents used to say the words “Don’t overdo it” to me. While in retrospect this was excellent advice, I was a child back then and did not understand the meaning of my mother’s wise words. Years later, at the age of 27, I understand her advice all too well.
In my 6 and 1/2 years as a blogger, I have been constantly connected to the Internet. Whether I was on my laptop or my iPhone or my iPad, I was constantly connected to the outside world. I didn’t realize that I had traded the joy of meeting people in real life for quick and meaningless Facebook or Whatsapp chit-chat. I completely missed the boat when it came to drawing a line between my professional and personal life.
Here are a few of the mistakes I made in doing this:
- I stopped meeting people in real-life and started interacting via Facebook or video calls on Skype.
- I stopped myself from saying what I truly felt, and started writing status updates to be acknowledged.
- I stopped listening to valuable comments and opinions from others, and started focusing only on “likes” and ignoring “dislikes”.
- I read a lot about life hacks feeling good that I was learning something new, but I failed to implement what I was learning in real-life.
- I started ignoring advice from experienced people around me (in real-life), and used Google to find answers to my questions. I also failed to realize that the answers I found via Google searches were written by people just like you and me who may or may not be giving the best advice.
This was just the beginning, and it took me 6 1/2 years to realize that I was becoming an Internet addict. Before you judge me too harshly, this didn’t happen overnight, but in a slow and gradual manner making it all the more difficult to notice.
How I used the Internet in the wrong way:
As a blogger by profession, being online is a part of my daily job and routine. Eight hours is the minimum amount of time I used to work online, and the rest of the time I was online for non-work reasons.
I started replacing my normal healthy habits with my online habits. And it all happened gradually over that period of 6 1/2 years.
What I failed to realize is that the Internet was consuming me. Something which should be used only for work and education became a significant part of my daily non-work routine. The Internet became my entertainment, my mode of communication and a way to stay in my comfort zone anywhere and everywhere.
In addition to all of that, one of the biggest challenges I faced was distraction. With the urge to consume too much information in too little time, I was reading too much and learning nothing.
I began my days checking emails and Facebook notifications, and ended them checking emails and reading articles online. Occasionally I would become so stressed with information overload, I would use sleep apps on my phone to try to put my mind into a restful state!
Most telling, perhaps, was the fact that I did not see any of this as a problem. Such is the life of an Internet addict.
How I realized my Internet addiction, and how I am working to conquer it:
I would be lying if I were to say that I am no longer addicted to the Internet after practicing new discoveries in my two-week attempt to “disconnect to connect!” But I am making sure that I don’t get all caught up in the Internet zone again in my life.
For the past two weeks I have been completely away from the Internet, and I have been living the real life of a real 27-year-old person (with no real job!) in the real world.
I have occasionally checked my email or used WhatsApp, but I have limited that to five minutes a day. For the remainder of the time I have been completely disengaged from the Internet. I have not even published anything on my blog, nor have I written anything.
Originally, this all happened unintentionally. But the resulting self-realization that has occurred has been highly illuminating. What I noticed about my Internet-addicted self was scary. But only when I disconnected was I able to truly realize what I had been missing in my life while hyper-connected to the Internet.
In addition to seeing the world as a bunch of “likes” and “dislikes”, constantly consuming useless, half-baked information, and developing a weird issue of “constant distraction”, I ultimately found it hard to concentrate on any one thing. In other words, my attention span was very short in real life, and it was uncool!
Somehow I had no issue making conversation with people online, but I lost touch with the ability to have real-life, face-to-face conversations with people who mattered more.
Imagine yourself not looking at your computer or mobile screen for the entire day, and having a conversation with someone who knows nothing about the online world. What would you talk about? How would you make conversation? What would your comfort level be? Could you look them in the eye and meet them face-to-face and heart-to-heart?
If you’re not sure how to answer those questions, you can probably relate to every word of this article.
This is my first post in 2-3 weeks, and I’m taking notes for myself for future reference. Here are few things that I’m doing and will continue to do in an effort to ensure that I make the most of my online and offline life, never returning to my online addiction:
Minimize Social Networking:
Social networking comes with it’s own taste of good and bad. For me, staying in touch with my social network is not only important but essential to my business endeavors. Being a public person, it is very important for me to stay online.
With that said, one issue that I am working on is using social networking for practical rather than hypothetical purposes. I have made friends online as we all have, but they are more like connections based on common interests, rather than connections based on personal knowledge about each other.
I have started to use my personal profile on social networking sites solely for my personal documentation, and beyond that I don’t use it anymore. Facebook in particular is the area in which I am being most careful.
BEWARE: Using Facebook too much not only affects your self-esteem, but it also brings about a narcissistic personality disorder. This can be avoided to some degree if you focus on having meaningful interactions with others via comments, etc., and completely ignoring “likes”.
Simply stated, limiting your personal Facebook profile to your close network of offline connections (friends and family), is a wise thing to do.
I have read a lot about the benefits and downsides of multi-tasking, and one thing that I have learned from my own experience is that online multi-tasking is good only for tasks which don’t require much brain-work.
Here’s the kicker: things which don’t require much brain-work do not deserve your time! These matters should be outsourced.
So I’m sticking to one task at a time. I will refrain completely from doing multiple things at one time. Why? Because my complete attention should be given to the single task at hand.
Read and watch to learn something new:
Another bad habit I formed was reading a lot without actually learning anything new. In this era of information overload, it is difficult to discern the good information from a very large sea of loose “information”.
I was being bombarded with news, articles and updates everywhere (Fb, Twitter, G+). In an effort to combat this, I began by taking the time to filter truly useful information from all the loosely compiled “information” out there, and then reading through the useful information as quickly as possible.
Half of this time I spent adding the decent information to my Pocket app to read later. Before long I would find that I had 40+ great articles waiting for me on Pocket to consume when I could.
Prior to doing all of this, I was missing out on the most important aspect of digital media, and that is the fact that I can control what I see on my social media feeds.
We don’t need quantity – only quality content is worth our dedicated time.
So I started going back to the old-school days, and I started taking notes in the old-school style (pen and paper!) so that I would also retain it. Additionally, I started reading information out loud. Later in the day I would take some time to think about the things I had read.
The goal of all of this was to process the information I had learned online, and then to put that information to use in my daily life. (I’m not referring to things like internet marketing skills here, but to life hacks or self-improvement tips which we spend so much time researching and learning online.)
I’m still working on a few goals, such as the following:
- Use my smartphone as minimally as possible. This includes having only essential apps on my phone – no Facebook or Candy Crush on my phone.
- “Unlike” all pages and brand pages on Facebook, and use it solely for seeing updates from real friends and people in my network. I can always consume news and updates via other mediums such as Zite and Google Alerts. In short, I want to use social media exclusively for talking to real people, and not to become an advocate of brand pages. I’m still subscribed to a few websites and pages with information and updates that are crucial for me in my professional role. All of the above also goes for all other social networks.
- Switching off the Wi-fi router after my work hours in order to live an Internet-free life.
There are few other things I’m working on which I will continue to share in the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile, remember that the only rehab for an Internet addict is the world away from online gadgets.
If you have also faced the problem of Internet addiction, I would be interested in hearing your story.
If you are someone who has found your way out of this addiction, I would love to hear your suggestions.
This article was originally published on my personal blog here.