I don’t know how I ended up here. It’s late in the day, I just wanted to relax for a little bit. So I went on Reddit, browsed around, then instinctually typed in facebook.com, then checked the news and clicked into a couple YouTube videos. But now it’s hours later and I finally wrench myself away from my screen for a second of self reflection: My eyes are sore, and I have a headache from looking into a glowing screen for hours. This was not how I intended to spend my day, I had goals, things I needed to do that would have moved my life forward, but now I’m exhausted, I have a headache, and I don’t feel like I have enough time and energy left to do what I need to do today.
How did this happen? All I wanted to do was relax for a bit but after all of that I feel everything but relaxed. My mind feels scattered, I find myself feeling negative about the world and the society around me. My body is not refreshed and energized, instead it feels lazy and sluggish despite being at ‘rest’ all day.
I used to be addicted to my screens and the internet. I recognized it a couple years ago and made a titanic effort to break that mindless addiction because I did not want to wake up one day as an old man and realize that I had spent the majority of my life looking at a screen. I also hated what the internet did to my outlook on the world. It was very noticeable how pessimistic I felt after an internet binge session vs after a week of no browsing.
It took an immense amount of effort, reflection and personal growth to recognize and break out of those habits, and it was not a straightforward process. I had many setbacks, I would maintain a healthy streak for a while and then something would happen and trip me back into old internet/screen habits, then I would get back on track. The progress was frustrating and not linear but over time I got better.
I realized along the way that I was using the internet as an easy, low effort, hollow crutch for unmet needs. My life lacked novelty, rich diversity of experience, and fulfilling social connection, so I turned to the internet to get it digitally. To break my internet addiction I needed to build a life full of interesting activities and real connections, a life that I enjoyed living and made me feel fulfilled so I wouldn’t look to the internet for that.
I explored a lot of different activities and things to add to my life in place of my internet and screen habits and ultimately picked up surfing, dancing, traveling. I also put in a lot of conscious effort to spend time with new and old friends in person instead of passively looking into their lives through social media. My journey to build a healthy relationship with my screen and internet use started in full force back in 2018 and finally by 2020 I felt like I was in a great place.
I no longer felt the same pull from my screens that I did 2 years ago because I had filled my life with things that were much more fulfilling than browsing the internet. I was going out dancing, playing board games with my friends, going surfing, visiting my family, reaching out to old friends and catching up over dinner. I no longer subconsciously looked to my screens as a crutch for my life’s unmet needs.
Lately, due to recent events that everyone is aware of and are probably sick of reading and hearing about, the world has rapidly changed. All of the things which I had added to enrich my life away from the internet have been suddenly shut down, for an unknown amount of time, because they involve going outside and seeing people in person.
Now I have nothing to do, and I live on my own with all of these screens around me. The internet feels like the only socially acceptable way for me to engage with my world right now, and I don’t know how long that’s going to be the case. However I can’t engage with my world through the internet because it’s too easy for me to get sucked back into my old destructive habits, and it’s already happened more days than I would like to admit. This blog post’s introductory anecdote was not a day from my life 2 years ago, it was yesterday.
I don’t want to lose my progress, I’ve come so far. I have been able to build up such a healthy relationship with the internet and screen use by filling my life with fulfilling activities outside of screens. But right now those activities feel impossible to do, and I’m left to face some of my biggest demons and most destructive habits unarmed.
How do I not relapse into bad habits, and come out stronger after this? I don’t know but I need to figure it out. Wish me luck.
Ironically I’m a web software engineer. I don’t hate tech or the internet, but I feel like it’s too easy to get addicited, develop unhealthy dependencies and unconcious habits around our devices/the internet, that end up making our lives worse instead of better.