Do you ever feel like you’re drowning under the waves of information rushing at you online? Are you struggling to cope with the relentless streams of digital updates coming your way?
There’s just so much data flowing around to distract our attention that it’s impossible to keep up with it. Whether we’re catching the latest news, chatting to our friends on social media, buying or selling stuff, or answering emails, there’s hardly any breathing space to make sense of it all.
We justify to ourselves that it’s all essential – the latest update to Facebook, that recent Tweet, the critical reply to the urgent message received in our inbox. But, have you become so fixed on living your virtual life that you spend less time experiencing the real world?
The Side-Effects of Getting Stuck on the Web
Online, there are countless demands on us from many external sources. It’s easy to lose focus and forget priorities. For example, how many times have you intended to read just one article, only to end up clicking on yet another link and going on a journey through endless website pages?
Our clarity of purpose and thought can be clouded when we are faced with noise from all directions.
Clarity of purpose: Think of the activities you carry out when you’re logged into the internet. Unless you really zoom in on one specific job at a time, it’s common to lose your direction and dart between different tasks while opening multiple windows in your browser. Using the internet calls for laser-targeted focus to achieve results.
Clarity of thought: Being bombarded with constant pieces of information can affect our ability to process and make sense of what matters. We need time to digest and evaluate what we learn, so that it is remembered and becomes useful. Taking regular breaks to reflect on what we’ve just read helps to slow down this rapid intake of knowledge and gives us the ability to understand the key learning points.
Another side-effect of devoting large chunks of our time to the internet is that we, inevitably, take ourselves away from participating in the physical world and interacting with the people around us.
The 24 Hour Internet-Free Experiment
The other day, I decided to give up using my computer for 24 hours. Hardly a big deal really but I wanted to test my reaction to not being able to access the internet. Of course, I could have just disabled the broadband connection, but I wanted to take it one step further and go totally pc-free.
My usual routine is that I turn on the computer first thing in the morning and work at various activities throughout the day, switching it off in the early evening. It felt weird not hearing the buzz from under the desk in the corner of the room. It felt even weirder not going online at all for the day, if not more than a little unsettling. I realised that I felt ‘out of the loop’ with the rest of the world, as if I was missing out on some pieces of vital information.
Instead, I caught up with pretty unexciting household business. Mundane, yes – but definitely necessary. Those chores that had been put off until ‘another time’ were finally completed. It’s funny how these little jobs get pushed back when were staring wide-eyed into a computer monitor all day.
What was even more refreshing was the opportunity my ‘internet free’ day gave me to explore the world outside. I went to a local country park and simply explored the area for a few hours. My mobile was left at home as I really wanted to cut loose from any interference. It’s been too long since I’ve lost myself amongst the trees and walked the nature trails.
I’ve promised to do this more often as the benefits were immediate and immense. The quietness allowed me to think clearly on a few issues without interruption, something that’s sadly missing in the busyness of a usual day.
Bring on the Benefits of Being Offline
As I re-discovered for the first time in a while, escaping from the distractions of the internet gave me the chance to reflect quite deeply on a few issues, something I otherwise don’t regularly do.
- Loosening the hooks of the worldwide web gives us precious space to reflect
- You concentrate on your own being, instead of following the status of external contacts
- You ignore the conflicting drains on your attention: the emails, direct messages, and chat requests
- You connect with the people close to you in a meaningful way
- You filter out all the unnecessary details you don’t really need in your life
- You can think more deeply and clearer, uninterrupted
- You can be creative without being disturbed
How You Can Go Internet-Free
Perhaps, for some of you the prospect of taking a break from the internet is a little unnerving – maybe even scary. It might even be difficult for you if your work is mainly based online.
But, there are ways that you can build structure into your routine where you consciously step away from being connected, even if it’s only for a short time.
Set Blocks During the Day
Decide upon a few slots of the day when you’ll be online and leave aside other periods when you’ll attend to other tasks. Ideally, you’ll get away from your computer and experience more mind, body and soul restoring pursuits. If you must work during these offline times, try dealing with documents, making telephone calls, or explore your creativity in other directions.
After a Certain Time
Introduce a new approach where you disconnect after a set hour, say by late afternoon or early evening. This will also help organise your online activities so you get things done before you have to log out
A Weekend Retreat
Allocate yourself a block of time over the weekend when you don’t access the internet, anywhere between a few hours and the whole two days. With society regarding the weekend as rest days from work, take the advantage of meeting friends and family who are off duty from their own jobs.
Freeing yourself from the internet will depend on whether you can resist the temptation to pop back on outside the times you designate as ‘offline zones’. If you find it difficult to keep away from being constantly connected, then you might want to ask yourself why this is the case.
Don’t get me wrong… the internet is, for the most part, a good and wonderful thing. We’re an internet-obsessed culture. We all use it to a greater or lesser extent.
There is, however, the potential for any of us to get sucked into the online environment to the point where it swallows more of our attention than it should. When this happens, our involvement in the goings-on of the ‘real’ world and our interaction with those folk around us can be limited and suffer as a result.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the demands of the internet on you? How do you keep a balance between being online and staying connected to the real world?