I have spent entire weekends floating between Twitter, Facebook, and television. I have binged on video games, blowing whole vacations on a single, shallow title. I have squandered beautiful days, sprawled on the couch, flipping from one trashy TV station to the next. And invariably, after gorging myself on this useless glut, I feel bloated yet unfull, overstimulated yet unsatisfied–and, above all, guilty for wasting time.
Brian Lam (of the Wirecutter) has a similar love-hate relationship with digital media, and he’s doing something about it. Lam spent the past year instituting his own media “outage.” He ruthlessly excised frivolous, mindless, time-swallowing technology from his life. He stopped reading “id-provoking” web junk, cut back his social media engagement, and spent the extra time on “real life” experiences: friendship, skiing, model-boat-making (really!). And, tellingly, Lam has never been happier.
But Lam isn’t advocating an Internet-free existence–a complete outage. It’s more like a “brown-out.” As he explains,
See, for the first time ever, the trade off between living a powerfully exciting life close to nature and adventure and having the basics of civilized, boring life are largely gone. We don’t have to abandon civilization and our friends and our work and technology and run off into the woods to live a simple, powerful life.
If a complete Internet fast isn’t possible for you, but you know you need less media “junk food,” what can you do? A few simple suggestions:
- Create something first. Each day, before consuming any content, make something of your own. I try to write one blog post each morning, first thing–before scanning my Twitter feed or triaging email. This sets the tone for my day and short-circuits my tendency to procrastinate. Even if I spend the remainder of the day stumbling around the Internet, at least I can say I got something done.
- Go long(-form). As Lam observes, our media-snacking makes us poor consumers of long-form content (like thoughtful movies or full-length books). Discipline yourself and restore these more meaningful media to your information diet. You might make the bedroom a book-only zone. Or intentionally program your TV time (rather than just watching “what’s on”). Maybe you could work your way through the AFI’s Top 100 Films instead of catching the latest “reality” TV fad.
- Use social media to fill in the gaps. Make your real life a priority over your digital self. Visit the family. Take that adventure trip. Go to the museum. Share a great meal with friends. Chances are, you’ll still have time for social media–at the edges of more worthwhile experiences. Bonus: if you actually have a life, you’ll have something worth tweeting about.