I’ve spent the last week without my computer, and for the next month we won’t have internet at our house.
There’s a lot I need to do online. At least three times an hour I have the thought- well let me just look that up online. I have a problem where I love to look up everything! I look at annual weather maps, google information about the “time traveler” John Titor, and read articles on the growth and future of Bitcoin and decentralized currencies.
If you’re seeing a theme here, then I’d like to know. All I see is randomness, and honestly, uselessness. I’ve allowed myself to indulge every random thought that happens to pop into my head with a thorough google search. What’s worse is that the searches lead to other questions or strings of information that, of course, seem pivotal, so down the rabbit hole I go. Again and again.
Unfortunately, that’s just scratching the surface. When the gigabytes of data on my phone dwindled to zero, I realized I had essentially no use for my phone. I couldn’t text anyone except people in NZ, which is pretty much just my brother Tyler. I can’t call my mom, answer e-mails, post on Instagram, look for directions, pay my credit card bill, listen to new music, or access necessary apps. When the data was gone, I felt struck with panic. I couldn’t live like that for more than a few days, let alone for the rest of the billing cycle.
It seems so dramatic to write that. But the truth is, you’d likely feel the same. I tell myself that I’m an addict that can stop whenever she wants. That if I really wanted to disconnect, I could. But that feeling of emptiness I experienced without data shows a scarier reality. One which I’m not sure will ever change. As a student, my work was done online. As a professional, it is also done online. As a writer, it’s written online. It makes me wonder where my physical life begins and my online life ends.
I recently went out and bought some books, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I’m currently reading “Thrive” by Ariana Huffington. “Thrive” talks about how the world we live in is placing too much value on all the wrong things. We go out to dinner with our phones in hand, and spend time talking to people online instead of focusing on the important person across the table. I’ve been in restaurants where I saw a big table of people, and every single one of them is on their phone. I think half the time it’s an unconscious thing. You see one person pull their phone out and then, one by one, they all follow suit. Suddenly we have an epidemic where relationships online are given as much or more of a priority than relationships in person. Is this making us happier? Or even more disconnected than before SOCIAL media?
How can we set our priorities straight?
Ariana reasons that the important things in our life can be found by writing our own eulogy. Thinking about death puts your whole life into perspective. What would you want to remember? It’s when you ask yourself this that your previous goals may seem shallow. Do you still desire Instagram fame? Or something more meaningful, like deep, human connection?
When the internet was first started, what it needed was more input. It needed us to create and add information to the system so that others could access it and it could grow in usefulness. Now, the internet is oversaturated with information, and we are like children walking through a shiny, colorful amusement park. There is so much to distract us, so much that takes us away from our purpose or things that bring real meaning to our lives. It’s hard to filter through it and find the gems. It’s hard to use the internet to our advantage, while not letting it take advantage of us.
What it really comes down to is losing time. The other day, I was listening to a Youtube review of the classic book, “On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca. The book talks about time and how it is the most sacred thing in our life, because it is our lives. When we give time to something, we are giving it a piece of us and our life here on earth.
Seneca says that people are so frugal with their things, but so generous with their time. Thinking back, it makes me sad to know how many hours I’ve wasted reading or watching things online that don’t add real value. Various wise philosophers and religious practitioners have said that the greatest human flaw is that we live like we have an eternal lifespan. Each choice we make is not premeditated. We only occasionally ask ourselves if what we’re doing is worthwhile. More often than not, we spend and spend time without the fear that it is being misspent. Would you be so careless with your finances?
The Youtuber that reviewed the book asked the viewer, “If we went to a movie and didn’t really enjoy it, why don’t we just get up and leave?” That idea really struck me. I am the type of person to stick it out because I made the effort to drive to the movie, pay and sit down. The thing is, I didn’t even consider leaving. I will just sit in the mediocre movie, analyzing it and critiquing its flaws.
Why? I could get up and leave to do something more productive with my time. I could exercise, read, talk with friends, or even sleep for god’s sake. We always hear people say that there isn’t enough time in day. But Seneca’s premise is that there is sufficient time on this earth. It only feels like its slipping through our fingertips because we aren’t spending it wisely. Time is the most precious resource we have, and we have the right to be selfish with it.
My call to action here is to reassess our priorities, especially with technology. Can we make what we do purposeful? I chose to read this book because it gives me perspective. I chose to sleep because I am a better, healthier being when I am rested. I chose to use my phone because whatever I’m using it for is adding meaning to my life or working towards a personal goal that aligns with my truest self.
Being purposeful means knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s easy to open your phone for one reason, and then get totally sidetracked and realize you’ve been flipping through your Instagram feed for the last 20 minutes. The mindless forays online can be nice, but how much time is too much time to dedicate to it? If you were to die tomorrow, would you want that time back for something else? I would.
I know I’ve developed the habit of checking my phone first thing in the morning when I wake up. Today I bought an old-fashioned alarm clock (I even saw an ancient one with a CD player!!). My plan is to use that instead of my phone to wake up, so I won’t be tempted when I see all the notifications while turning off my alarm. I plan on having breakfast without technology and spending the last hour before bed reading and writing without any artificial lights. (Your devices are known to cause insomnia, so it’s just healthier to wind down away from them.)
Dear readers, please consider joining me on a similar venture. It’s possible that we will be derailed at some point, but it’s the daily effort that’s so important. Every month, let’s check in and ask ourselves what’s important in life and where we are spending our time. The ultimate goal is to create healthier habits that will increase our happiness and ensure each activity we do is purposeful. Remember, our time on earth is not eternal.