While sighing like a conservative old man at the excesses of young people culture, I think we should abandon a cynical, pessimistic attitude towards the digital age in the past. I can proudly declare myself a lover of the internet. It brims with memes and assurances that at a given point, you aren’t alone in your existential crisis. On a more serious note, the internet enhances public knowledge and fuels our economy. Educational environments are energised and diversified through online resources. It creates opportunities for anyone, from entrepreneurs to average citizens wishing to showcase their talents.
Take blogging as an example. Through an online platform, we can share our opinions and start conversations. We can capitalise on the knowledge of others and in turn, turn our own into advice and information. Moreover, connecting across the world with likeminded individuals would be much slower via messenger on horseback; the world is faster and more immediate on the internet. This isn’t for everyone. I, however, and other people from my generation thrive in an environment of constant change and growth. Moreover, as much as people like to separate the internet from the ‘real world’, they are increasingly interconnected and influence each other on a daily basis, often for better rather than worse (for instance, the proliferation of delicious vegan cafes and cruelty-free products reflects increasing awareness of ethical concerns among the general population).
That being said, the online world has many drawbacks. Moderation must be practiced; the occasional break is beneficial to virtually all of us. Of course, digital entrepreneurs, influencers and the like rely on the internet for their wage – whether you agree with such a career path or not, time off equates to less income. But these people are likely to have found their thing. Provided they’re doing what they love, extensive breaks are rendered unnecessary, except for in extenuating circumstances
A few months ago, a friend of mine told me that she has little to no internet access for two-three weeks throughout her annual holiday to France. My heart skipped a beat; I thought hard but could not remember the last time I stayed offline for more than a couple of hours. Sure, the internet adds value to our lives, for the reasons mentioned above. I disagree with people who shower technology with blind hatred because it contrasts with ‘the good old days’. However, a balance must be struck with everything. Spending excessive hours online impacts our mental and physical health, reaching the proportions of an addiction for many. And it’s hard to deny the existence of unreasonable pressures and a tendency to compare yourself to others among innovation, self-help resources and solidarity in times of hardship.
Taking an internet break need not be switching off for months and retreating into a cave or living in a forest (ironic because I am in a forest of sorts in these photographs, but that is entirely coincidental). In my case, a weekend, a couple of hours each day or evening is all I need. So, for what reasons may such a break be beneficial?
You can prioritise other aspects of your life
This applies to anyone who doesn’t sustain themselves through the internet, i.e., most of us. I’ve talked about prioritisation before, the best way to reduce the amount of stuff on your to-do list and emphasise what matters. Recently, I took three weeks off from blogging because I had to prepare for an exam. Except for an occasional post on Instagram, I was completely switched off. When studying, work and projects unrelated to your online endeavours must be prioritised, staying away from the internet prevents burnout and shifts your focus to what’s important in that moment.
You can avoid procrastination and time wastage
The internet is one of the most lucrative distractions out there: think YouTube, social media, checking emails. Unplugging declutters your schedule and frees up time you didn’t know you’ve been wasting, Even when doing something internet-related, such as writing a blog post or editing photos, I turn off my WiFi as a means of disciplining myself. After all, we know from how ‘quickly checking twitter’ usually snowballs into hours of mindless, unproductive scrolling. Hence, if you ever fall behind and find yourself unable to complete your to-do lists, analyse whether an internet break may be a way to overcome such a hurdle. And if in need of online access for purposes like research and study resources, try blocking distracting websites or limiting their use to a specific amount of time each day.
You can try new things and re-discover old passions
Undoubtedly, as it plays such a big part in our lives, we may wonder what people did with themselves before the Internet came into existence and struggle to imagine life without it as a source of entertainment. However, there are plenty of options. And the more you explore them, the more you recognise how limited online usage enhances your life. You can read more books, learn a language, join a club or a society, write, travel, spend more time in nature, attend interesting events – just to name a few things. If a hobby you abandoned due to insufficient time calls your name once more, check where your hours are going. Be honest with yourself about your internet usage: what is valuable, and what is a distraction, a bad habit of sorts? Ask whether your time online is well-spent, whether it furthers your goals, makes you happy, connects you to meaningful people. If not, consider rediscovering those old passions. On occasion, we need to step back to discover what’s been missing from our lives.
You can improve your mental and physical wellbeing
If you’re on the verge of taking a break from social media because of your mental health, do it. The internet is overwhelming and a direct cause of many people’s struggles, being an unrealistic benchmark for comparison and teeming with intermittent negativity. Over the years, I’ve become an expert at shielding myself from the pressures created by the online world and developed an attitude of skepticism towards displays of perfection, but at times I still need to distance myself from the excesses of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. If you struggle with your mental health in any way, the internet can burden instead of bringing joy. Unplugging in these circumstances is the utmost act of self care.
Similarly, unplugging benefits your physical health. Fill those extra hours with movement, an extra gym session or a new sport!
You will have more time to spend with your loved ones
Real connections can be built online, but ‘in real life’ family and friends deserve the majority of our attention, especially as the holiday season – a time for gratitude and coming together – unravels. It’s important to be as present as possible and enjoy every moment. Spending time with loved ones is an essential building block of a wholesome and fulfilling life. And we can all agree on the hardships of trying to communicate with someone who seems permanently distracted by technology. If isolated from the people who are important to you, I would recommend unplugging and then re-introducing the online world in such a way that doesn’t interfere with your immediate relationships.
Ultimately, unplugging is a way to prove to ourselves that the world doesn’t end when we aren’t connected to the web 24/7. If anything, overcoming your fear of ‘missing out’ may open up new opportunities, illuminating your surroundings with a new, refreshing light. You should search for your own balance between the Internet and the ‘real world’. This differs between individuals, ranging from extensive breaks to allocating ‘time slots’ to the former as I do. Ensure the time you spend online is productive, proactive and moderate. The world isn’t black and white: the Internet and social media are neither an evil to be avoided, nor the only thing worth caring about. Instead, it is an asset and a tool which can strengthen us as individuals and societies as long as a mindful approach is adopted.
Let me know in the comments – do you like to unplug from the Internet, and for what reasons? What are your favourite methods of ‘surviving’ a social media detox?
Lots of love, Maria ♡