Discussion: Breaking up with the Internet

I don’t like the Internet. I realised this recently. It’s rather inconvenient because I’m living in the middle of a global pandemic and I use it constantly. Want groceries? On to the supermarket shopping app. Need toiletries? Amazon. Need craft supplies? Ebay. And that’s just the day to day. Then there’s the social media, 24-hour news cycles and constant whir of WhatsApp. It’s relentless. I have always been a dreamer – I live my life with my head in a book or thinking about one. But in the post-COVID world, I feel like the balance has shifted. The demands of virtual communication have risen and risen and I am … tired. I wanted to see if anyone else is experiencing similar degrees of burn-out – I can’t be free of the Internet, but how can I manage it to be less overwhelming?

It’s hardly news that too much screen time makes you sad. Yet while we bewail how everyone is attached to their phones, it is simultaneously acknowledged that leaving someone on Read is the height of bad manners. I find this one really tricky since I have a toddler and have never wanted to ignore him in favour of scrolling. My screen-time soared when my son was born and the two of us spent hours with him pinned to my chest for epic cluster feeds and I’ve been working very hard to get it back down again. It doesn’t help that I like to keep my phone to hand when I’m with him because a) I’m a proud mummy who takes lots of photos and b) in case of emergency, I want to be able to contact my partner or if necessary the appropriate helpline. Recently though I actually bit the bullet and started leaving my phone upstairs to focus better on potty training and … it was wonderful.

Many years ago, I remember a discussion in my student Bible study group about the connection we felt to God. The conclusion we came to is that rather than a dial-up connection (ad-hoc), we should feel one more akin to broadband – constant. While this may be true in the spiritual sense, I am now feeling real nostalgia for dial-up. Not the speed of it or the way it tied up the landline (miss those too), but the fact that when you were offline, you were gone and you were done and they could naff off til tomorrow when you checked again. Whenever I’ve managed to get back to only checking my phone periodically, I was much better at doing so purposefully and not wasting time scrolling.

The most obvious solution would be to just abandon social media altogether. But I have a real love-hate thing going on there. I hate how stalkerific Facebook is and yet it has also been the instrument of the breast-feeding support group which guided me through the earliest days of motherhood. The local hand-me-on group has meant I have been able to get lots of great things for my son and also to hand things on in return. And there’s the Royal History Geeks Facebook page which is one of the few corners of the Internet that truly understands how I feel about the Tudors. Honestly, I would keep Facebook for that alone.

I think mostly though I’m tired of how much time people seem to spend sniping. Of the tendency to jump from zero to offended in no time at all. Of how people take things out of context. Of endless, endless messages which you then have to sort through and actually answer.  The temptation is strong to just go full hedgehog and hide from the world. But then it has been such bliss over the past few weeks to have people in our gardens again and to drink cups of tea and chat. To have warm enough weather to stay outside and have long conversations. I think I’ve just been missing human connection rather than virtual ones. I hope we’re out of the woods on this but just in case lockdown comes back to bite once more – treasured internet friends, what is your advice for keeping screen burn out at bay?

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2 thoughts on “Discussion: Breaking up with the Internet

  1. This is such a tough one! I adore the internet, and I think the key to going on adoring it is to curate my experience as aggressively as possible, weeding out things about it that make me unhappy. I’m also never on my phone and always on my laptop, and maybe that makes a difference too?

    1. This is a really good idea – I’m sick of scrolling. To be honest, I wrote this post mostly in January after someone went off the deep end because I was late responding to a WhatsApp message and then finished it after the admin of a Bronte Facebook group messaged me to try and pick a fight (sooooo weird!) – I think that during the pandemic things have been blown out of all proportion. I think I’m just fed up of the expectation that you’re constantly ‘on’. Sometimes I just want to hide and read!

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