No. The irony isn’t lost on me.
And neither is the sighing and eye-rolling many readers will engage in when reading this title.
“Here we go, another article written by some faceless dude telling us the dangers of technology while being active online.”
Yeah, I know how it is. In no small part, because I’ve said something similar to that above sentiment numerous times. The internet seems to have a fair share of articles warning users about the dangers of internet usage and advocating for society stepping away from modern tech. (Granted, many of those articles are four or five years old, if not older, so there seems to be a strange abandonment of that ideal in the last five years. Food for thought.)
But even if you’ve read articles detailing scientific evidence and case studies to support limiting or abandoning modern technology, and even if you’ve been moved to limit your own usage in some way, you can’t overlook the fact that…
Well… You’re still here.
You’re still scrolling and upon reading this, you’re probably justifying your reasoning for being here. Or maybe you’re even thinking that we at DPW should be happy for the traffic (and we are, for sure). But in the end, you’re still on this site, so it stands to reason that all of those scientific articles failed in some regard if their mission was to inspire folks to turn away from modern tech.
I have no ideations about how impactful this op-ed will be. I don’t know if even a single soul will read it, or be moved enough by it to at least examine their lives to some degree. For all I know, this piece only serves a purpose in keeping me productive until my sleep meds kick in and I can go to bed. But even if the EIC of DPW is the only one to give this piece a cursory glance, I’m happy that I’m writing it.
Because I do believe that we need to abide by the title: I do believe we need to step away from the internet.
Now, there are many things that I mean when I write that line, but there are several things that I do not mean, and I’d like to clarify some of the most profound intentions. Without delving too deep into each one, here are a few things that I do not mean when I make the aforementioned statement: I do not mean that the internet is “evil”; I do not mean that the internet hasn’t done “good”; I do not mean that people who use the internet are odious; I do not mean that the internet needs to be abolished.
There are many things that I do mean, but I hope that simple list abated some fears as to what would be covered in this piece.
What exactly do I mean when I say we need to step away from the internet?
Well, at a very basic level, I mean what that action implies. To “step away from” something is a very useful idiom in that it actually conveys the purpose behind the projected image; namely, putting distance between yourself and an object/issue/person/scenario, etc. But what does that accomplish? Well, actually quite a bit.
Putting distance—literal distance, literal space and by proxy time—between oneself and a tool, like the internet, allows for a more honest perspective and assessment of that tool. By stepping away and allowing for an hour or two of quiet introspection and/or reflection, it is very easy to view the current use of the internet (a term that in this article encompasses social media, messaging systems, work/education-related sites, time-burners, among other things) for what it is.
But why should we reflect? What good will that do?
Well, honestly, it might jar some of you. To realize exactly how much of your life has been spent watching TikTok videos; to realize how much irreplaceable time you’ve given away scrolling Facebook, adjusting filters on Instagram, and getting into “fights” on Twitter; to fully appreciate that your days are lorded over, and your life controlled, by a little device in your hand—to realize all of these things—is an intense existentialist experience. It can be scary. It can be shocking and frustrating and maddening.
But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
In the end, it does come down to choice, and some people are more than happy to siphon off years of their lives browsing sites and inducing anxiety attacks from the 24-hour news cycle.
However, for those who acknowledge the time they’ve wasted and want to amend that situation, there are wonderful means of making that happen. And it’s pretty much a guarantee that living in the real world will establish a much more profound sense of meaning than a mostly digital existence.
For a person to get to that point of epiphany, however, one must take time to sit and be still, to sit and be quiet. And this is one of the key signs that the internet is bogging down your life: the thought of sitting in the stillness of your room with your phone turned off, with no music playing, and simply being alone with your thoughts—the idea of doing that is terrifying. I’ve read articles and testimonials that describe several individuals getting chest pains, and suffering from panic attacks at the mere thought of sitting in silence.
And the fact that this is a real occurrence, shows me that there is a very big problem in our culture, in our society, where it is seen as a near mortal sin to not be busy or consuming some sort of media at all points of the day. We are never explicitly told that this is the case, however, the genius of society is that ideals, expectations, and pressures may be passed along from one person to another without any conscious effort.
Think about it: what is the first thing you do when you wake up? Turn off your alarm on your phone then scroll your usual news/social feeds. Then, as you make your coffee and get ready for the day, you more than likely respond to messages and play some music to jive to while you pick out your outfit. Hop in your car and the phone is connected to the speakers via Bluetooth. Take the bus instead? Even better! Pop in those Airpods and listen to a podcast (we’d recommend the DPW podcast), to music, or scroll YouTube until you reach your destination.
At work, we work, but we also seek out time of inactivity, and in those spaces, what do we do?
We scroll our feeds, we share videos with our work pals, we update our Tweets and statuses, and on and on and on, ad nauseam.
Then work lets out and we go back home, still listening to music or news or making calls and talking to family/friends/appointments. As soon as we’re home? The TV clicks on, we search a streaming service, we look up cooking ideas on our tablets and laptops, and on and on and on, until we go to bed, where we scroll our feeds until we finally fall asleep.
Day in and day out, this is the routine and daily adherence of the average American.
It’s noisy, it’s aimlessly busy, and it removes any possibility of reflection or truly bettering oneself.
We as a society are hopelessly addicted to the internet. There is no patience anymore because everything needs to be instantaneous. There is no quiet because to be quiet is to be anxious because “I should be doing something, and sitting and thinking isn’t productive”.
And I think that’s a real travesty.
Because, if folks were to slow down, to regulate their usage of the internet with extreme prudence, and to really look into investing in the part of their humanity that craves the stillness and opportunity to dwell on difficult concepts, I think we would be amazed at the level of inventiveness and ingenuity that our society could create. I think that a lot of anxiety and depression-related symptoms would be remedied, and I truly believe that genuine human connection wouldn’t be so rare, or fragile.
So, I truly do mean what I said in the title, and I truly do advocate for you to take it into consideration: step away from the internet. Get some distance and time between you and the digital world, examine it and see it for the passing, incorporeal distraction that it is, and when you are ready, come back to the table—return to using the internet—within very strict bounds. See it as a tool to use, and not a master to become a slave unto.
And with that, I bid you all good night.
You can message me with any thoughts or criticisms you might have, and I’ll respond. But be patient. I’m not on the internet very often anymore.
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