On a whim I decided to spend all of yesterday offline. No email, no Facebook, nothing. I used to have a habit of doing food and other fasts, but its been a long time since I’ve done a fast of any kind.
Here’s what I learned:
- I was twitchy and cranky for the first 2 hours. I continually had the sense there was something I needed to check. But with everything off I was forced to ask “wait – why do I need to check that? And if I need to do it, why do I need to do it now?” I never had a good answer. NEVER. Email, facebook, twitter, looking up some obscure fact, could all wait until tomorrow, or whenever. There was no reason to be online, other than the habit of being online. It was fascinating to confront this same loop of logic again and again in my mind. Slowly my mind fell into a calmer loop of behavior.
- By three hours I’d forgotten about the internet completely. I was more relaxed and noticibly better at concentrating on things. I went to the gym, to the supermarket, and not once felt at a loss for not having something in my palm to fiddle with. I did notice how rare anyone makes eye contact with anyone else anymore.
- The Web didn’t notice I was gone. My ego might have silently believed I was missed (“Wait, I have to post/tweet/status about this! If I don’t the world will explode!”), but it was clear I wasn’t. There was no organized search party on twitter looking for me. No one even noticed.
- I had more attention to spend which made things more interesting. While watching the NFL I just watched the game, instead of frequently fiddling with the web while watching, and it was better. I didn’t feel the compulsive need to have a second thing to do. I noticed more things and enjoyed it more (I wrote about this phenomenon in Attention and Sex).
- My concentration improved. Without the availability of instant distraction my brain eventually settled down into a state of mind where I was more patient with my own thoughts. By the afternoon I had improved peace of mind and clarity.
- I am a calmer person today. I don’t know how long it will last, but I’d say I am 35% calmer and more relaxed simply from this Internet fast.
How I did it:
- The night before I turned the wi-fi off on my Mac.
- The morning of I turned my phone’s web connection off.
- The only cheating I did was to look up a recipe on an iPad.
- I told my wife I was doing it, which helped keep me honest.
It’s easier to do if your family and friends do it with you. The idea of a sabbath makes much sense, as its good for people to separate from daily things, and having social rituals around those fasts increases the ease and value of doing them. Thanksgiving was a good day to try this as there were people around (social) and activities like cooking and cleaning that required my full attention (concentration).
- I’m considering doing this regularly – possibly weekly, definitely monthly
- National Day of Unplugging is March 1, 2013