Guest author Sam Hailes is a freelance journalist from the UK.
“What does this button do?” That was the cryptic yet clever final tweet from John Mayer in 2010 when he abandoned his 3.7 million followers.
5% off your food bill. That was the offer that LA restaurant Eva gave to customers who surrendered access to their mobile phone for the duration of their meal.
“Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage.” That is the error message that frustrates, angers and infuriates millions of people across the world.
What has happened to us?
15 years ago nobody banked online, updated their status or Instagrammed their food. Now, we’re all doing it. Even that last one (admit it). Plugging in to the Web has many benefits. But for some the whole experience has become overwhelming. Could interest in the Internet really be waning?
A growing chorus is rising up from people glued to their computer screens. They complain of distracting noise and nonsense dominating their Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines.
Quit The Web Or Quit Smoking?
If switching off sounds tough, though, you’re not alone. A 2011 survey found participants complaining that digital detoxing was about as difficult as quitting smoking.
Still, plenty of people are giving it a try. During the Christmas 2012 period, some 600,000 UK users deleted their Facebook accounts. Being online, especially when viewed through the lens of making and building friendships, may not be as cool as it used to be.
Web users are discovering three big problems:
1. Too Big To Keep Up
The Web allows almost anyone to become a publisher, and various guestimates put the number of active blogs at a whopping 450 million. And that’s just the ones written in English!
The sheer quantity of information has become overwhelming, and it continues to grow exponentially. That’s great for Wikipedia, but not so great for our brains.
2. Clogged Brains
The average American consumes 100,500 words a day. Three quarters of our waking day is spent consuming information. The effects can be stupifying as well as enlightening.
Have you ever had a day when you’ve done nothing but stare at a screen yet feel as if you’ve just run a marathon? Do you have more than 10 tabs open in your browser most of the time? Do you have social media apps on your phone, always running in the background?
While our brains may need to stop and switch off, occasionally, the Internet never takes a break.
3. Driving Us To Distraction
Whether you spend hours looking at pictures of cats or The Huffington Post, the problem is the same. You’re distracting yourself with information. The knowledge that there’s so much information out there just waiting to be consumed makes us jumpy. We barely digest one cute cat picture before moving on to a top 10 list. (Heck, I’m be surprised you’re still reading this!)
Is it any wonder that more people are switching off – even if only for a limited time? The feedback from those who’ve tried it is nearly unanimously positive.
Talking about the two week period when he denied himself Internet access, Mark Hooper wrote in the Observer:
I read more, I cooked more, I wrote a few postcards (and managed to forget to leave enough space for the stamp). I drew. I went on long walks. I drove to Hastings and ate chips on the beach. I watched more curling in the Winter Olympics than I would have thought humanly possible. I rediscovered the rare thrill of staying up until midnight on a Saturday night to see if my football team had won (we’re in the Championship) or – better yet – only finding out when I opened the Sunday papers.
But, most of all, I did nothing – and it was great. I could physically feel my head rising above the water again as the stream of information subsided. My wife told me I was more fun to be around, probably because I wasn’t tutting at my phone every 10 seconds.
Can digital detoxing help you relax, unclutter your mind and make you happier?
It’s no use asking me. There’s only one way to find out. Are you brave enough to try it?
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.