experiment challenge from kottke:
Last week (approx. May 7-14), I stopped using social media for an entire week. I logged out of all the sites and deleted the apps from my phone. I didn’t so much as peek at Instagram, which is, with Twitter and old-school Flickr, probably my favorite online service of all time.
I went through a similar challenge in 2016. In June, we took a 10-day trip to the Philippines. Not wanting to give up access to news and social media (e.g. Twitter, Feedly, Instagram) while I was on vacation, I contemplated paying Verizon for international data; whether to purchase a Global Mobile data-only SIM card for my phone; pay for VPN access and protection or setup my own VPN through my home server and use all of the free available wifi I could find; or risk it all by using whatever wifi I could find, but with no extra protection. As I contemplated cost, hassle, and ease of use, I also critically thought about what I’d really be missing out on by not having internet access for 10 days and it really boiled down to missing e-mails from my close circle of friends, the latest election and local news, and podcasts. I ended up going with a hybrid of my third option—opting to use whatever wifi I could find and limiting my internet use to specific websites and services.
After the 10-day trip, I was surprised at how easy it was to give up full internet access and how much of it I didn’t need in my life. I missed it as a convenience, but I didn’t feel like I just had to have it at any point during the trip. Wifi and hotel internet access were spotty most of the trip. My wife, who is a rebel and had no concern for security, struggled and fought with weak wifi signals at every turn. When there was a stable wifi connection, I limited what little time and bandwidth I had to my local newspaper, direct Twitter feeds (no login required), the front page of Reddit, and visiting my favorite RSS feeds actual websites (e.g. Slashdot, kottke, Daring Fireball, etc.).
On a normal day in the states, I catch-up with my Twitter feed multiple times per day, I check Gmail’s as I receive them, and my evenings are spent catching up on my 96 RSS feeds, multiple sub-Reddits, online forums, etc., probably amounting to two or more hours per day of internet use. While on vacation, I used my phone to check the internet for 20-30 minutes per day.* When I did return from vacation, I spent the long weekend of the 4th of July slowly catching up on the e-mails, RSS, Reddit threads, etc. that I had missed while away.
Since that vacation, I’ve made a more intentional effort to limit my internet use. I’ve pared down my RSS feeds (I’m down to about 50-60) and the sub-Reddits I follow (down to 4-5 subs) and I’ve muted or unfollowed toxic/obnoxious people on Twitter and Facebook. Most evenings, I try to limit my internet use to an hour. By cutting the feeds, subs, e-mails, and communities that I followed, it has helped to free-up time on the weekends.
I can’t say that making these changes has improved my focus, productivity, or health, but I do feel a lot better about myself not wasting time online.
* Without internet, I ended up playing a lot more Bejewled, Sudoku, and Alto’s Adventure. I broke a lot of personal best records in all three.