How and Why I’m Rejigging My Life To Drastically Reduce Screen Time

Seven years ago, I returned to social media. Somehow, after graduating high school, I’d managed to live six years without it. Here we are, some 950 posts and a one-time six-month hiatus later…. During the past seven years, I had several Kickstarter campaigns, wrote and published a book, filmed a documentary, ran two eCommerce fashion brands, and even dipped my toe into the crowded waters of coaching—becoming a thought-leader coach with an online course.

With my six-year post-high-school delay, some would say I was a late starter at online entrepreneurship. Although not in the tech world per se, I was never far from the edges of it with most of my pursuits. Further to that, there is no question that I would not be where I am today without the digital world, and yet, I find it harder and harder to keep engaging with it—and less motivation to post or to even tune in.

Being online with its many social interfaces, by and large, has provided opportunities and financial rewards, and it has helped maintain valued friendships that otherwise may have faded away. I can’t deny that my phone, laptop and many apps are useful tools; many well-meaning people created them and many well-meaning people use them for great causes

That said, I once heard, or more likely read online, that Paulo Coelho had, pinned above his bed, a quote from a Brazilian novelist that read, “If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule: Never lie to yourself.”

Now, the once exciting prospect of finding digital Nirvana feels more like I’m lying to myself every time I use it. I’ve learned much from those I follow on Instagram. I’ve already acknowledged the professional advantages and, yes, some new gadgets, apps and technologies are exciting. Not to mention, streaming movies is undoubtedly better than trying to rent one only to find out that, after a two-week wait, the DVD freezes then skips ahead, spoiling the climax.

Beyond that, however, I’m left feeling more put off than I want to be. More outside of myself. You may have noticed this shift with my “What I Think About When I Sip My Beer” or “Why We Moved to A Farm” blog posts.

That feeling has grown. Markets continue to surge and the world’s wealthiest experience incredible gains while the less fortunate fall further into economic turmoil, obesity, mental health issues, and opioid addiction. While we absolutely should be tuning into current affairs and engaging in pro-active discourse, striving for a better understanding of each other and our world, censorship, hate and deep fakes run unhinged. Once a place to freely question and explore our wonderings, social media has become a cesspool driven by bots and indignant, enraged anonymous criticism and judgement. Left or Right, woke or (un?) woke—all I see between the lines is fear, my own included. I see this as a result of a holistic breakdown in trust, fuelled by those who profit and those who, as Clay Shirky says, “preserve problems for which they are the solutions.” While the internet’s fibre optics surely connects us more than ever, its content tears at the (moral) fibres of our global community.

Never are my conversations with people in person ever what I see or experience online. Never. Ever. The “asshole factor” is lessened. The hyper-aggressiveness is less. Tribalism is less. But you probably know all that because, as a human on planet Earth, you have likely noticed that people are generally kinder when they have to look you in the eye.

My parents raised me to believe we are right to want good for ourselves, our neighbours and countries, but “how” that good is achieved is part of a collective process. That process, rooted in debate, respects individual opportunity outside of big government, and has led to remarkable things for many over the past couple hundred years. We developed because we treated individuals and groups fairly.

Although our living rooms remain, to some extent, cordial—safe, if not warm, places to converse with each other—our chat rooms do not. Our online conversations have become a cancer.

I hear myself sounding more pessimistic each revolution around the sun. But I am an optimist at heart (I am, after all, an entrepreneur…). Still, I’m hard-pressed to get excited about tech-billionaires selling six-figure space-ride tickets, the quadrupling of unicorns (private start-ups that have a valuation of $1B) and near-record IPOs. While the specialness of realizing a childhood dream is not lost on me, neither is my mounting and unhealthy cynicism toward it.

So, before the negative energy leads me away from myself, it seems the answer to “making sense of it all” isn’t going to be found on Google or in my app store this time…or even with my shaman.

For 16 years, it now appears, I have ended up chasing some form of digital relevance. Or, maybe better put, measured against. A like, a comment, a rush of dopamine will never be satisfying by whatever slice of my own little non-fungible slice of paradise to which I’ve become accustomed. Proclaiming as much on this blog is proof enough that I am as my psychographic digital profile would suggest. And yet, curiously, there is a small part of me beckoning in whispers; I can’t quite understand it and can’t quite keep it at bay or ignore it any longer. Whispers that seem to want a solitude that can’t be found in a mediation app. A soul journey that can’t be found in my astrological sign, whether my Instagram feed is saying Mercury is in retrograde or even checking in on my Akashic records via Zoom call.

Instead, the whispers suggest that within me already exists a terrifying and empowering vastness of quiet knowledge that stretches beyond the ethernet.

Rather, a discipline that involves resisting the pull to more knowledge, wisdom, healing, information, and connection is, in fact, the cure to my world-weariness of late. The seeking of less. The seeking of enough-being-enough. It is a seeking of presence and solitude and maybe even silence.

So where does that put me?

Let me first say, for whatever angst my own posturing online has caused, I’m sorry. Realizing now, although probably all along, that I’ve used objects first to talk about myself, to find comfort with who I am and what I’ve accomplished, and then, frequently, to signal to others that “I post, therefore I am.” This epiphany I owe to Genevieve Bell from an interview in “Offscreen Magazine” that I read offline.

Nor do I believe technology will continue to solve many material problems. For a time, at least on a certain level, the solutions to the big problems may have had (and will likely continue to have) tech components. These, however, are fundamentally social solutions, problems of the soul for which the web cannot completely provide results. That remains a search within. The success of that cannot be quantified or measured or maybe even fully realized; it can only be felt and lived one present moment at a time.

Conversations in the digital-world-scape have become so familiar that I’m not sure we fully see anything anymore. Of course, we tend to follow our own confirmation biases down the rabbit hole; however, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that we are so accustomed to typing an emoji, LOL, some quick comment (nasty or otherwise), that we aren’t aware of the people on the other side of those words—or even the power and meaning of the words themselves. It’s just routine. And, as a result, we do not have real conversations.

A conversation online can quickly become a spider web that leads only into a fatal trap—where we think we’re being heard, but we’re not; we think we’re creating connection, but we’re not; we think we’re sharing useful insights, but hate comes in response. Good friends online can certainly create a safe space for community, but this form of “friendship” can also reinforce our isolation—and not the type I’m craving!

As the poet John O’Donohue says, “We become addicted to the methods and programs of psychology and religion. We become so desperate to learn how to be, that our lives pass, and we neglect the practice of being. Having has become the sinister enemy of being.”

That last paragraph has almost nothing to do with this post, but it felt good sharing it.

Okay, so where does that really put me?

Recently, I was in a record store, and bought some old records and CDs. Does that mean I’ll use Spotify less? I’ll certainly try. I traded a few dozen email newsletters for magazine subscriptions—the paper kind. My phone, which no longer has email or social media or internet apps, now sleeps in my office not my bedroom, and I’m looking into buying an actual camera to take pictures. Emails will be, for the most part, relegated to my laptop, and posting for my projects will be consigned to a virtual assistant—for now. As for shows, sadly, I don’t see VHS in my near future. And I’ll hop into an Uber when I can—and try to engage the driver during the ride, and not my phone. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll buy a few maps as well.

Beyond that, I’ve dusted off my Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well—which means more hot drinks, and overall comfyness, togetherness, and turning down the lights in exchange for good old-fashioned candles.

It’s an experiment.

Sincerely, I just don’t know if I have it in me to keep posting, to keep so intertwined with the internet of things. Although I am certainly not so disillusioned as to imagine the pace of change, driven by technology, slowing down—a consequence I may have to pay the price for down the line.

And while I think about my digital future, I still feel a strong sense of responsibility to share what others may find interesting and helpful. A contradiction, I know; I have mixed feelings, and you’re reading this in real time as I work through them. So, from time to time, I may feel inspired to say something, and that will likely show up as a blog or occasional Instagram post.

There is still a good chance I’ll come roaring back, hungry to post more than ever, but for now, I’m logging off.

 

Health & Strength

Joel

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