How to Live with the Internet in 2018

Image via Francesco Ciccolella's  Postsnowdencards .

Image via Francesco Ciccolella's Postsnowdencards.

“You don’t realize it but you are being programmed… You have to decide how much you’re willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence.” 

So said Chamath Palihapitiya recently. He’s an ex-Facebook executive who is remorseful for what social media is doing to our minds and our culture. I can’t blame him. 

In the last year—ever since Trump was elected—I’ve been making a concerted effort to spend as little time on social media, and the internet, as possible. Why? Well other than social media being especially toxic in 2017, I’ve found that social media and my cell phone habits are ruining my attention span and also making me feel sort of depressed. So I’m making an “effort” because I haven’t quit the networks or the internet outright. That’s hard to do when you run a blog empire and want to promote it. Also, like so many people I’m addicted. 

I think of learning to live with the internet as a process. Instead of just quitting outright, I’m figuring out ways to manage the time I spend on it. Does that make me sound like an addict? 

Maybe, but this is 2018, and this is new territory for all of us.  

With that in mind, here are few ways I’m learning to live with the internet in 2018 that may also help you.

Turn off the alerts. My phone only vibrates when I get a text or when I get mentioned in Slack. I get news alerts from one media company, Quartz, because they don’t abuse the alert system. I turned off emergency alerts on my phone as well, even before that whole Hawaii fiasco. 

Delete the apps. End the distractions. Log on on your computers instead. 

News apps that don’t overwhelm. Since I stopped getting my news from Twitter and Facebook, I’ve leaned heavily on Feedly and the Apple News app. Feedly is the best alternative to the long lost Google Reader (RIP!). It allows you to customize your news sources and has a pretty clean and boring design. That’s a good thing! News shouldn’t suck you in, slap your face, throw you around the room and make you anxious. It should make you feel informed and empowered. Feedly and the Apple News App do this for me. I also subscribe to a few newsletters as well (Bloomberg Politics, The Atlantic, Quartz, etc) because they allow me to consume news when I want to in a more measured fashion.

Put your phone out of site during the day. Studies show that even just having your phone in view will hinder your attention span. I drop mine in my desk drawer when I get to work. If it vibrates I’ll hear it, but I need to have it out of site to be out of mind.  

Read books and (paper) magazines. About six months before the election, I realized social media was really getting an unhealthy grip on my mind. My attention span was shot. I was constantly anxious and I hadn’t read a book in months. When I first started reading again, it was hard. After reading just a page or two, I had a reflex to check my phone. I’d put my attention span at maybe 20 seconds. I fought it though and slowly and worked my way up to two books a month. Not only have I calmed my mind by keeping up this pace, I’ve also learned WAY MORE (deep learning in fact) than I would have via social media. This sounds so smug, but I keep a Google doc of all the books I’ve read in the last two years. Every time I add a title and see the list, I’m reminded that slow and steady progress is the way. I also subscribe to numerous print magazines (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Conde Nast Traveler and the New York Times weekend edition). After quitting the networks, reading is the single best thing to remedy the maladies of social media.

As Palihapitiya says, we have to fight for our intellectual independence. I agree and think it’s the fight of our generation. I know at least for me, I’m far healthier with as little social media in my life as possible.

Do you have additional tricks for living with social media? Please drop them in the comments, I’d love to hear them.