Finding My Way Out of the Internet

Without Using Google Maps

Digital Overwhelm

The Internet has had me in its clutches for the past 18 years. We were a little late to the game and got our first laptop when I was pregnant with Luigi. I was a stay-at-home mom, and a very shy extrovert. On the one hand I needed to be around people, on the other I needed a lot of personal time and space.

So when I got the Internet–it was THE BEST!! I could have friendships without the difficulties of leaving the house or the scariness of putting myself out there at the risk of rejection or awkwardness. And I could read and read. Any subject was available.

Compulsive viewer

I tend towards compulsive behavior with media. When I was a kid, I read all the time. I didn’t really watch TV because I had decided it wasn’t cool and it was an embarrassing pastime. However, when I reached adulthood I was okay with it for a while. I started watching TV, then watching a lot of TV. Dude and I would have marathon Sundays starting with Ren & Stimpy over breakfast and ending with liquid TV or 120 minutes depending on how long we could stay awake.

I was getting to the point where I wanted the TV on all the time. I didn’t like that feeling, so I unplugged it and moved it to the closet. Being controlled by something I didn’t think I could moderate was no fun, so the best thing for me was abstinence. It was difficult for about a week or two because there were shows I was in the middle of. But then my compulsion listed. And I was free. No longer did I care about the outcomes of the fictional television lives anymore.

Throughout my kids’ childhoods, we have had TV off and on. It nearly always stayed in the closet, it was nearly always small. TV doesn’t have a grip on our lives.

But when the Internet entered–all bets were off. I understood how the first TV watchers felt. Everything is there!

And yet I hated what it did to me. Unlike TV, I couldn’t simply toss it in the closet. There was a lot of social good to me. Research, shopping, friendships. And as time went on, societal dependence grew.

Having felt a compulsion towards the internet for years, I don’t know how to break it, for a few reasons.

  1. I don’t have one of those defined addictions. There is no compulsive gambling, gaming, shopping, or porn in my life. I use the Internet for research, news, and socializing. A lot of each.
  2. It is so integral to life. I started college in 2005. It becomes harder to separate wants and needs the Internet when in school.
  3. I am a huge procrastinator, and I feel like I should be working, so I am at my computer to work. But I surf to avoid working, but I can’t leave the computer because I definitely won’t work then… it is a vicious cycle.
  4. There are a lot of truly positive things so it is hard to just disconnect and walk away.
  5. I don’t want to. And then I forget about even trying… and so it is a hard habit to break.

Breaking away

Now, as I move into a new phase of life, how do I fill my time? I am too shy, lazy, and broke to go out often. Plus my kids are homebodies and I like to be around them. So I spend a lot of time at home.

Being at home quickly feels lonely and boring. I have never been a hobbyist although I admire those who are. So many hobbies feel solitary, and I hate not having some connection to the outside world. That is what Facebook and that is provided for me, that connection. Even if I am sitting in my living room, I don’t feel alone if the computer is with me. I am Mrs. Kravitz peering out through the blinds, and social media is the window.

I have been set up and falling back down again, so I can’t say that this is a definite change. However, there is one big difference this time– No more dissertation, which leaves me with one less reason to avoid life.

In a practical sense, these are the things I am doing to mark this new time in my life:

  • I will not turn on my computer Monday through Thursday. There is a little sign on my computer that says “no” on it to remind me. I have so much more muscle memory at this point to come home and open the laptop. In order to break this habit, I have to make the deliberate shift in procedure. Although I do store my laptop in my closet, I am putting up more barriers around it. I charge my laptop while I’m using it, and then when I am done using it, I turn it completely off, place it in its laptop case, zip it up, put it on the bottom shelf of the bookshelf in my closet, and put the no sign on it. I had great success with this plan this week.
  • On Friday through Sunday, I will give myself occasional social media breaks. My goal is to have this structured, uninterrupted Facebook time. That would be a 30 minute block of time dedicated to checking social media and then I would be done for the day. This will help me be more intentional compared to having little snippets of time throughout the day.
  • Some examples of positive Internet usages for me include watching a video with family, working on the family budget, taking online courses, working on my blog. These are the types of activities that I am trying to direct myself to when I am using the Internet in lieu of mindlessly scrolling and surfing. So my two-pronged approach is 1. spend much less time on the Internet in general and 2. use more of the time spent on the Internet doing more enriching activities instead of just using the Internet to fill a void. Sometimes I keep a notebook next to me to write down distracting sites, but in general I am trying to limit my time so much that I don’t have time to come upon distracting sites.
  • It is important to me that I don’t simply fill my non-scrolling time Reading, watching videos, or finding other ways to be online, so I am actively guarding against this.

The tricky balance comes because there are other useful reasons for the Internet besides mindless surfing. I am trying to be more intentional with that time as well. I am only allowing myself to have relevant tabs open when working on a project instead of allowing myself a full rabbit hole of Internet tabs.

While I am making progress taming my computer habits, there is one huge stumbling block remaining: the phone.

I don’t have Facebook or twitter Instagram on my phone. There aren’t any games on it really. I have had Quora and I currently have Reddit and the browser and my email. I find it very easy to fall down a rabbit hole on Reddit or the news app. The phone is small and fits in your hand and is feels less obtrusive then a laptop status and so it is easier to allow it to devour a lot of your time. But in the same way that I don’t want my time to just shift to watching videos or reading books, I don’t want my time to be sucked away staring at a tiny phone screen.

I have taken some steps to curtail my phone usage. I deleted Quora. Although I should delete Reddit I am not ready to take that step. I plan to move my phone out of the bedroom. I use my phone as an alarm. Rin has offered me his old phone that has a good alarm and no Internet connection. I know I could buy a proper alarm clock, but I like to change the alarm sound often and I want to solve the problem with what we have on hand.

Freedom is in sight

So this is post-doc me trying to figure out who I am, how I want to spend my time, and how I don’t want to spend my time. Getting my Internet use under control is a major step towards finding myself and finding some peace.

To demonstrate my dedication to this new lifestyle, I will include a picture of the long hand version of this post. I have worked on it by hand often on for the past week. Usually I would open Word press and write some and surf some and write some and surf some. This time, I only had a notebook, a pen, and my thoughts. I am currently getting this into the Word press editor using the Macbook’s dictation software so that the process goes faster and I am less tempted to stray into new tabs.

Some clarifications

I am not saying that the Internet is bad, just that it is unhealthy for me at the levels and methods I have been using it. Nor am I implying that reading is bad. But I have a tendency to hibernate and avoid doing other things while I escape into fiction. While this is okay occasionally, I can go overboard with it and I don’t want to.

Thanks for following along in my journey to find out what dr. me looks like. I hope I can become more intentional and less avoidant. Although I am not yet ready to commit to a blog schedule, know that I am not going completely off grid and will continue to update as I can.