It’s Not About Quitting The Internet

When I first found /r/NoSurf we had about 4,500 members. I wondered why the number was so low when nearly everyone I knew in real life seemed to be hooked on the internet. Whether through Instagram, YouTube, news, or video games.

After talking to some people on reddit I realize that the impression people had was that NoSurf meant quitting the internet. Much of this impression comes from the fact that other popular online movements which append a”No” in front of something, advocate completely eliminating that thing from your life.

I want to clarify that NoSurf doesn’t mean eliminating internet use altogether but only negative types of internet use.

Here are a few examples of negative internet use:

Mindless browsing:

  • We watch video after video on YouTube or go on endless Netflix binges.
  • Before going to bed we open up Instagram or Imgur and scroll through endless pictures
  • We skim through the latest articles without really reading any of them.

Mindless browsing means that we use the internet without really thinking why we’re doing so. We don’t really have a clear reason or purpose for that behavior. This is a very dopamine driven activity that leaves us with vacant or zombie like expressions. We usually snap out periods of mindless browsing feeling guilty and ashamed at wasting so much time and spending our day unproductively.

Escapism:

There are many situations in life that can create negative feelings.

  • Sometimes we’re home from college or on summer vacation very bored with nothing to do.
  • We might have just moved to a new city and be feeling very lonely.
  • We might be very stressed from work.
  • Depressed from a relationship ending.

The dopamine high we get from the internet becomes a way for us to temporarily numb these feelings. We use it as a way to escape. The problem is that once we step away from our screens we’re still reminded of our feelings.

Procrastination:

There are often some really hard tasks in front of us. Projects for work, problem sets for class, deadlines to meet. During these times when we’re stressed about what lays in front of us is paradoxically when we’ll use the internet to procrastinate most. We’ll read news articles online, check email, scroll through social media all to distract ourselves from the anxiety of the hard, stressful tasks in front of us. Procrastination is really just another form of escapism.

Random googling:

Sometimes we get the urge to randomly google things.

In our recent commitment thread /u/kodezen comments:
“My commitment: no googling random, non-essential things that come into my head while I’m working. If I remember something that’s truly important, I will write it down on a sticky note on my computer and look over the list of things to get done/look up online after my work is done. No more interrupting my focus and working in scatter-brain mode. “

to which /u/thevillaincassiopeia replies:

i do this too much! some random thing that pops up and I google and click click click until I get lost track of time and get absolutely nothing done for the day

Endless research:

We might get interested in learning to program. We spend hours researching the best programming language for beginners to learn, what books to read on the topics, and even trivial topics like what’s the best keyboard for programming. We end up spending very little time actually practicing and writing code.

The same applies everywhere. If we decided to start photography, we might research and compare every detail about what camera is best to start with. We read endless reviews by users and watch videos by “experts”. But we don’t actually end up taking any photographs.


These are just a few negative use cases of the internet I’ve observed in myself and others. If you have any specific ones of your own or think I missed a one just let me know.

Going Forward

When we start to recognize our negative use cases of the internet and focus on chipping away at them we slowly refine our internet use until only the good parts remain. We might fire open Yelp to find a great restaurant and then use Venmo to pay a friend for our meal. We can use Khan academy to brush up on our algebra or Stack Overflow when we’re stuck programming.

In this way, the internet becomes what it always meant to be. A powerful tool to make life better and easier. Not an endless hamster wheel of mindless distraction and shallow entertainment.

Exercise:

Start to identify and separate your internet use into different components or boxes. You can do this mentally or on a piece of paper. You can ask yourself a few simple questions:

Which websites and apps make my life better? Which ones are actually tools that solve problems in my life?

Which websites and apps do I actually need for my life? Which ones could I not have a career or be a student without?

Which websites and apps make my life worse? Which ones make me feel like I wasted or a lot of time? Which apps and websites make me feel shitty after using them?

The NoSurf Software Guide

This is my RescueTime report from slightly over a year ago.

I was spending almost over 7 hours a day nearly motionless, staring at a small, glowing rectangle. The thing is, I wasn’t even aware of how much time was slipping by until I installed this software. It showed me in objective data, the hard truth of how I was choosing to spend my life. That moment was shocking and terrifying but it was also the jolt of motivation I needed to start changing my life.

A year later, I have a happy relationship with the internet. It is no longer my enemy, it is my ally. I never could’ve gotten to this point without software to help. So in this guide I’m sharing the tools I found helpful in kicking my internet addiction. I’ve also added recommendations shared by members from our community.

It’s important to note that software isn’t a silver bullet. It can however, make the journey back to healthy internet use a lot easier and faster. Due to that, I highly recommend and encourage members to use software tools.

Step 1: Time Tracking Software

When asked how much time they spend on their devices people tend to underestimate their screen time by as much as 50%. This is because using our smartphones and computers has become automatic habit. The majority of our screen time flies under our conscious radar.

By using these tools, you’ll have an objective measure of how you’re spending your time. This will help you build awareness and encourage more conscious and intentional use of your devices.

I recommend using:

Step 2: Software To Block Distracting Websites

Not all apps are trying to hack your brain and steal your time. There are some apps out there that are trying to do the opposite. They help you resist distraction and stay focused.

For Windows and Mac

For blocking specific sites, timed blocks, and scheduled blocks:

Other blockers:

  • Pluckeye is designed specifically to block adult content. It can however, also be used for blocking other sites on the internet.
  • K9 Web Protection can block entire categories of the internet. It’s not very user friendly but still worth looking into.

For Smartphones and Tablets

Step 3: Other Suggestions To Remain Distraction Free

Focused Writing

Modern word processors were designed for business people to quickly send memo’s and emails. Hence the cluttered and cumbersome interfaces. I recommend switching to and editor specifically designed for writing. They’re clean, minimalist interfaces designed to help you get into the flow and just focus on writing.

Distraction Free Youtube

The YouTube sidebar algorithm makes it nearly impossible not to get sucked into. You can use browser extensions that can eliminate the sidebar, comments, and other distracting things on YouTube.

A Minimalist Web Browser

I’ve recently stumbled upon a web browser called Colibri that takes a minimalist approach to web browsing. Unlike other browsers that let you upon as many tabs as you want, Colibri lets you open just one. This forces you to focus on doing just one thing at a time. While frustrating at first, I’ve found that it eliminates my tendencies to distract myself by opening up a random tab to quickly check something, to quickly skim through multiple pages, or other forms of multitasking. It’s a calm, focused approach to browsing which is quite refreshing to use.

I hope you guys have found these suggestions useful. If you have any of your own, please let me know and I’ll update the guide.

How The Internet Changes Your Brain

When I was younger, I could sit and read for hours. I still remember getting Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix and reading the 800 or so pages in one sitting.

Fast forward a few years to my freshman year of college and this ability was completely gone. I remember struggling to get through just 30 pages of reading that I had to do for my sociology class. My mind would be swimming by the time I got to the end of a page and after finishing a paragraph, it seemed like I had already forgotten what I had just read.

What was happening?

At first I thought that the college material I was trying to get through was just a lot harder than what I read as a kid. But that wasn’t it. That winter break I picked up the same tattered copy of Harry Potter I had read so many years ago.

I could barely read it for half an hour without my brain feeling like it hit a wall.

It wasn’t just my ability to read either. Other things had changed too. As a kid I was a great student. I was always reading books and learning new things. I had a fascination for the world around me and I loved to build things with my hands.

As I had gotten older I had slowly started spending more time on the internet and my old interests started to fade. It started with AOL instant messenger. Then playing video games with my friends. Finally to the point where I was just surfing Facebook and random websites in college.

I never made any connections with my internet use and the other changes I had experienced. Until one day it finally clicked. My best friend from college gave me a copy of The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. With each page I turned came the dawning realization. The world around me was still the same. It was my brain that had changed…

I knew that it wasn’t just me either, I saw the effects in everyone else around me. I would go around giving my copy of The Shallows to everyone I knew. Then I realized the irony of the situation. For my friends to know why they couldn’t read books anymore…they had to read a book, which they didn’t have the attention span to actually do.

I decided that I would type up a short summary of what I learned so that people could understand the basics. Then once they had learned enough to reset their attention spans, they could read the books on their own time. So enough chit chat. Let’s dive in.

Part 1: Neuroplasticity

Scientists used to think that our brains were fixed and unchangeable. They thought that brain development was like pouring concrete into a mold. Once it solidified, it was set like that for the rest of your life.

Now we know that the brain can change. This concept is called neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity:

the capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behaviour in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction.

via the Encylopedia Brittanica

For NoSurf, we can simplify and adapt neuroplasticity into:

Our brains will physically change and adapt to the habits we perform every single day. As a result our cognitive abilities, personality traits, and emotional states can all change depending on our habits.

This concept of neuroplasticity should be exciting to you. It means that if you’re currently someone who can’t focus, procrastinates, or doesn’t feel that smart in general, it doesn’t mean that your stuck this way forever. Your brain can improve and get better!

But before it can do that, you have to cut out the bad habits that are causing these issues. The bad habits like social media, gaming, news, and pornography.

If you’ve been doing those things for a while, you might’ve the following changes:

1. A reduced ability to focus and pay attention to things
2. Increased boredom or procrastination leading to mindless surfing
3. A reduced ability to feel motivated and excited for non internet based activities

These changes are simply the result of repeated interactions with the internet.

So How Does The Internet Change Our Brains?

The Net delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli – repetitive, intensive, “interactive, addictive – that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions. – Nicholas Carr, The Shallows

We can assume that the neural circuits devoted to scanning, skimming and multitasking are expanding and strengthening, while those used for reading and thinking deeply, with sustained concentration, are weakening or eroding. – Nicholas Carr, The Shallows

When we browse social media or similar sites we get continuously bombarded with memes, clickbait, and gaudy advertising. Our brains become molded to information that arrives in 140 character tweets, 10 second snap stories, and instagram posts.

We start to form neural pathways that allow us to multitask, jump quickly from one piece of information to the next, and skim through lots of material without really retaining any of it.

These adaptations come at a cost. While these new pathways for internet use develop and strengthen, old ones start to fade. We become scatterbrained, frenzied, and continuously distracted. The parts of our mind responsible for deep focus and sustained attention atrophy and weaken.

Key takeaway:

Our minds melt and we turn into screen zombies starved for dopamine.

Part 2: Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel motivated to do things. Dopamine is what gets us off the couch to study for our final exams. It’s also what makes us pull out our phones to check Instagram.

Dopamine is the driver behind the pursuit of all rewards. These rewards can be positive ones:

  • pursuing our college degree
  • training for a marathon
  • asking someone out on a date

but they can also be negative ones:

  • eating junk food
  • surfing social media
  • playing hours of video games

For most of history the things that released dopamine were physical and tangible. With the internet, we’ve found that just pixels on a screen are enough to light up our hunter gatherer brains and deliver hit after hit of dopamine.

Because our philosophy on internet use is pragmatic, our suggestions are to focus on avoiding the most serious offenders first. The platforms on the internet that cause the most dopamine release are below. You can think of these as the mental equivalent of eating KFC, McDonalds, and Taco Bell everyday.

Social media platforms like:

  • Snapchat
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Facebook

Video games (some games are much worse than others):

  • World of Warcraft
  • Hearthstone
  • League of Legends
  • Overwatch

Others:

  • YouTube
  • Clickbait sites
  • Pornography
  • GIFS/Memes sites

Dopamine Desensitization And Stimulation Threshold

Note: This is a theory I formulated from reading a few books in this area, most notably Irresistible by Adam Alter.

Eating processed food everyday leads to obesity. What would happen if you consumed social media, video games, porn and other crap everyday? Is there a mental equivalent of obesity? Yes it leads to something called dopamine desensitization.

When our brains feel the effects of dopamine over and over again, they become desensitized to its effects. This means that overtime we will need more and more dopamine to get the same effects (motivation, excitement, passion, drive) as we once did. This makes it harder and harder for us to pursue the more difficult and positive rewards of life rather than the default to what’s easiest and makes us feel good in the short term.

This is because when we become desensitized to dopamine our stimulation threshold for performing activities increases higher and higher.

Stimulation threshold:

How stimulating (in terms of dopamine release) an activity has to be for you to find it enjoyable.

If your stimulation threshold is high, it means that other activities in your life will start to pale in comparison to the internet. These activities don’t release as much dopamine and can’t compete in terms of stimulation. So no matter how hard you try you’ll feel a lack of interest, procrastination, or low motivation to start things.

The way to make real life exciting and interesting again, is to reduce the constant flood of dopamine to your brain. Once this happens, your brain starts to rewire, literally growing new dopamine receptors. Overtime your stimulation threshold will reset back down to healthy and normal levels. Afterwards you will be able to read a book for hours, sit silently in meditation, and feel motivated for your academic and professional work again.

Conclusion

I wrote this post so that I could share some of what I learned with members of our community. The point isn’t to fear monger or suggest that we become luddites. It’s to raise awareness of a widespread issue in society and empower people to make their own decisions of what to do. I do hope that reading it has inspired you to change, to some degree, the way that you use the internet. If the material interests you, I highly suggest going further and reading Nicholas Carr’s book. I hope that it will change your life, the way it has changed mine.

The NoSurf Manifesto

The internet should be a tool.

We believe that the internet should be used as a tool to better our lives and empower us, rather than serve as a source of mindless distraction and shallow entertainment.

There is freedom in missing out.

We live in a world of excess and unending information. Every day our minds are battered by the storm of social media, fear mongering news, and mind numbing pop culture. In this world, intentionally missing out is better than experiencing it all and not knowing adds more to life than staying hyper-informed.

Real connection with real people.

It can be easy to mistake the likes we get, the comments we receive, and the daily friendly banter for meaningful connection with people, but they are only imitations of real social interaction. Real friendships are a multisensory experience, digital personas are just pixels on a screen.

Time is the most valuable resource we have.

If we reflect on the finite nature of our existence, one thing becomes clear: life is too short to spend staring at a screen all day. This means that every day we have to make a choice. We can choose to sacrifice the gift, so that we can scroll through social media, play videogames, and binge watch tv shows. Or we can choose to spend our time wisely. We can spend this time with the people that we love and care about. With the people that get neglected while we’re locked in our digital world. We can spend this time in the forgotten world of the outdoors, feeling the bright warmth of sunlight, and the cool dirt beneath our toes. We can spend this time alone, seeking insight about who we are and why we are here.

Focus, Memory, & Creativity.

In the modern world our focus, memory, and creativity hold more value than ever. We should not trade the abilities that have advanced humanity this far, for the common favors of skimming text, distracted multitasking, and shallow, unimpressive thought.

Creating more and consuming less.

We are not meant to sit by passively while others spoon feed us content for our entertainment and enjoyment. Deep down, our minds still crave the stimulation that comes with creating things. Let’s spend less time consuming mindless content. Let’s spend more time building, learning, and mastering things.

We are mindful not mindless.

When we use the internet, we do so with clear intent and purpose. We maintain a conscious awareness of what we are doing at all times rather than operating out of instinctual habit. As such, we don’t mindlessly surf in response to boredom or loneliness, or due to the desire to procrastinate and distract ourselves from what’s in front of us.

Passion for life.

The screens in our lives can be the clouds that block the sun. They can dull and color our worlds gray. When we put them down our minds start to wake up. We shine for the first time in years.

NoSurf vs. Adderall

On the spectrum of motivation, there are two poles. On the left, there is a rat laying immobile. Food is right in front of him but he is unwilling, no unable, to reach out and grasp it. On the right, there is a college student sitting at a desk. He has been there for 10 hours. In that time, he has completed a 5,000 word essay, submitted five internship applications, and completed two problem sets. He has enjoyed himself the entire time.

The rat on the left is now long dead. He lived in the 1990’s and was one of the participants in an experiment conducted by Kent Berridge, a neuroscientist from the University of Michigan. The rat had his brain modified so that he would no longer produce dopamine, the neurotransmitter that creates the feelings of motivation to pursue a reward, the desire to work for something, and the feelings of enjoyment we experience in the pursuit of those rewards.

The student on the right was on a drug called Adderall. Upon taking the drug his brain was flooded with dopamine, causing him to feel extreme feelings of motivation and desire to accomplish things.

On the surface, Adderall seems like a miracle drug. If it has the capability to make us superhuman why don’t people take it all the time?

Because Adderall, like all drugs, causes the brain to respond to its effects. In response to repeated exposure to high levels of dopamine, our brains will become desensitized to its effects. This means over time, the student will have to take more and more of the drug to get the same effect. He’ll start with 10 milligrams, then have to take 20, and if he keeps abusing it, eventually have to take 30.

The student remains unaware of the hidden danger of Adderall. He is mostly concerned with the side effects while on the drug but he doesn’t know that it can affect him when he is off of it.

His brain is now so used to elevated levels of dopamine that it will no longer be able to experience his ordinary level of motivation, desire, and enjoyment. His baseline levels of motivation, desire, and enjoyment are now lower than they were before he took Adderall. He turned himself into superman only to experience the effects of kryptonite. On the spectrum of motivation he has now moved leftward, closer towards the rat.

The only hope he has is to stop taking the drug and patiently wait until his brain rewires back and regains its sensitivity to normal levels of dopamine. Over time, he can slowly move back up the spectrum to where he was initially. Only then will he be able to feel motivated and energized again.

Most of you reading this will have never taken Adderall. However, you may have still been desensitized to the effects of dopamine.

The Internet & Dopamine

“The dopamine driven feedback loops that we’ve created are destroying society”

– Former Facebook executive, Chamath Palihapitiya.

The Alexa ranking is a metric of the most popular websites in the world. You’ll see that social media and pornography sites rank towards the top. Video games run on native applications, so they weren’t tracked on this list. But I’m willing to bet that if they were ranked, they’d enjoy the same status as social media and pornography.

These platforms are so popular because they intentionally give their users steady hits of dopamine.

Sean Parker, the Founding President of Facebook, recently admitted that Facebook was engineered to cause addiction. In his own words:

“That means that we needed to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever … It’s a social validation feedback loop … You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology … [The inventors] understood this, consciously, and we did it anyway.”

And it’s not just social media either. Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind games like World of Warcraft and Hearthstone, used techniques used in casinos to design the loot boxes in their new hit game Overwatch. Which means the teens playing the game are experiencing the same dopamine high that keeps adult gamblers hooked and shelling out money.

Dopamine is such a crucial component for success on the internet that companies are popping up in Silicon Valley to write code, specifically designed to cause dopamine release in their client’s apps. One such company even calls itself Dopamine Labs! (now called Boundless AI) To their credit, they stated that they work with clients that have a positive focus like education or fitness and they have also created an app called Space which helps reduce the addictive aspects of social media.

But the fact remains that tech companies have now become Big Tobacco. Their profit model is one built on getting their users as addicted as possible.

Over time their methods can cause us to become mindless zombies, being jerked like puppets. Be honest, we’ve all hit a point where we’ve watched several YouTube videos back to back, or caught ourselves scrolling through our news feeds before snapping out of it wondering…why am I doing this? Why can’t I stop doing this?

Beyond the vacant drooling expression we wear while mindlessly scrolling there is the compulsive urge, the borderline itch to check something, anything for that quick hit of dopamine. The tense waiting period between posting something and checking back nervously to see how many likes or retweets it’s getting. The need to refresh email just to see if anything popped up…even though it’s 2 am.

This is exactly what Chamath is talking about when he says “Dopamine driven feedback loops”. We are driven to perform these behaviors and chase their corresponding rewards, not through our conscious choice but through the release of the same neurotransmitter that drives all addictive behaviors whether cigarettes or crack cocaine.

Unlike the student on Adderall, users of these sites and apps get their dopamine in a steady stream. But steady streams can erode through sheer rock if given enough time. Likewise, these seemingly innocuous platforms can and will cause the same dopamine desensitizing effects in your brain.

That means if you’re a heavy user of certain areas of the internet, you’re slowly becoming less and less sensitive to the effects of dopamine. Over time, on the spectrum of motivation, you’re moving towards the left—closer to the rat that can’t reach out to grasp food.

Of course, you’ll never get to that point. Your brain’s functioning is still intact. It just won’t be able to perform at peak capacity. You’ll see the effects show up subtly in your daily life. The consistent procrastination on the work that matters. The decision to binge watch Netflix, when you know there are more worthwhile things you could be doing with life. The feeling that simple pleasures in the real world are dull and boring in comparison to what’s on your screens.

We all have a conscious awareness that something is off. That we have so much potential to do things in life but for some reason, the motivation to start doing these things, and keep doing these things seems to escape us. Occasionally motivation rises and lights a fire inside us. But it quickly sputters out and dies. The electric power of it that seems to surge daily in others is not to be found within us.

Before blaming our genetics, we should bring our attention to the hours we have wasted on the hamster wheel of social media, video watching, pornography, and video games. We thought that these things were merely harmless wastes of time but now we know that they’re not. They’re slowly leeching the life out of us. Our habits are slowly eroding and ruining our ability to create motivation for life in the real world. The desire to pursue the partner of our dreams, to cook a healthy meal and work out, or to create a great work of art has faded from our minds.

Unlike the rat, we have hope. Our capacity to experience the effects of dopamine remains intact, giving us the opportunity to recover from our stupor. Through our own capacity for thought and action, we can move ourselves up the spectrum of motivation, past the normal version of ourselves and towards a state that transcends our preexisting notions of what we thought we were capable of. Towards all the hopes and dreams that we had hoped to achieve but never thought were possible. The rat never had a choice but we do. Do we stay on the wheel, or get off to seek rewards in the real world?

Notes:
  1. The rat study I mentioned came from Chapter 3: The Biology of Behavioral Addiction in Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and The Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter
  2. When I mention Adderall use in this post, I am specifically referring to illicit use of the drug by those without legitimately diagnosed ADHD.

The $11 BlackBerry That Changed My Life

This story was submitted by one of our members, stdin_stdout_stderr.

On March 13th 2016, I placed a winning bid on a seven year old dumb phone from eBay.

At the time I had no idea that this one small action would mark the beginning of the rest of my life. But first, the back story.

Nearly two years ago from today, I was in the deepest stages of an internet addiction. It all started when my girlfriend at the time broke up with me. Saying I took it hard is an understatement: I was devastated.

Not knowing how to handle the situation, I started going on Reddit more often to take my mind off of things. One thing led to another and before you know it I’d gone from an hour a day of use to over five hours a day. I would lay in bed all day with my phone just scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling.

The scary part was that even after succeeding in reigning in my depression and establishing a positive outlook about the future, I still couldn’t quit. I WANTED to quit. I burned with desire. I was trying my hardest. But nothing was working. I would have a few days of success and then it would be back to square one. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

Then the fear set in. Fear that there was something wrong with me. Fear that I wasn’t going to be able to overcome this. Fear that this was what the rest of my life was going to look like. In desperation I started researching internet addiction online. The first place I turned to was my homepage which was, you guessed it: Reddit.

I still vividly remember the moment I typed “internet addiction” into the search box and saw NoSurf for the first time. The subreddit had just over 3,000 subscribers and was averaging about one post a week. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Here were a few thousand other people just like me. I was not alone.

I started devouring NoSurf related content. I read through every submission and comment on the entire subreddit. I read The Shallows twice from cover to cover. The more I read and understood what had happened to my brain, the more I grew inspired to try harder. I knew the stakes were high, and that gaining control over my internet use was critically important for my lasting health and happiness.

I accepted that I was going to have to step even further outside of my comfort zone than I already had.

You see I thought I’d tried it all. I had tried uninstalling apps on my smartphone. I had tried removing wifi access. I had tried different blocker apps. But I always found myself back on my smartphone. One thing I hadn’t tried, however, was getting rid of my smartphone altogether…

I saw a front page post made by a guy asking if anyone had ever used a dumbphone, and one of the commenters mentioned that they had great success with a pre-owned Blackberry. I decided it was now or never.

Off to eBay I went on a quest to find my very own dumbphone. I finally settled on a 2009 Blackberry Curve 9360. It could make calls, had a keyboard for texting, had email capability, and technically had a browser but it was something you would never ever dream of using in a million years. Reddit took over two minutes to load a page and the weird thumb scrolling cursor was awful to use. It was perfect for me.

I paid $9 for the phone and then $2 on Amazon for a replacement battery. One week later I was on my way to the wireless shack, 2009 BlackBerry in my left hand, and my iPhone 5 in my right.

15 minutes later I was opening the door of the store and walking up to the counter. It was my turn next and I mentally prepared myself with answers to any questions I might get asked.

When the guy asked me how he could help me, I told him that I’m here to downgrade from my iPhone 5 to the BlackBerry Curve 9360. He started laughing. I started laughing. The coworkers came over to see what all of the fuss was about. He asked me if I was sure I didn’t have the order mixed up and that I wasn’t trying to go FROM the BlackBerry TO the iPhone. More laughing ensued. I said I was sure, and the wireless shack worker got to work.

While he worked the worker told me that swapping phone service onto a new phone was free and that I could back anytime I wanted to register my iPhone again free of charge.

15 minutes later I walked out and had a hilarious realization. I had NO IDEA how to get home. I used the GPS on my iPhone to get to the shack and now that my iPhone was cut off, I was out of luck. I somehow made it home using the highway signs and the first thing I did was buy a dedicated GPS unit.

The first few weeks were fascinating. Some of my friends and family thought it was a great idea, some thought I was nuts, and some were oddly resistant to the idea, even after I explained why I was doing this.

Previously Reddit was my go to for long bus rides as a way to pass the time. Now it was Texas Hold ‘Em and Brick Breaker, the only two things you can do on a BlackBerry for entertainment. However, that got boring very quickly.

I started to just sit and BE during my bus rides and when I would wait in lines. Sometimes I would think, sometimes I would practice mindfulness.

As the days and weeks went on it was fascinating to see how pretty soon this became my new “normal,” and how I started looking at all of the faces basked in blue light as “strange.”

I started noticing how many people would spend lecture time browsing Reddit instead of paying attention to lectures they had paid a ton of money for.

I started noticing how my friends would pick up their phones the second there was a lull in the conversation. Facebook, Instagram, or SnapChat would be fired up and they would sign out of the real world for a few minutes before coming back while I waited.

I started noticing how everything had to be shared on a SnapChat story. The second something cool happened all of the phones would be pulled out and people would look at the event through their screens and miss it with their eyes.

It wasn’t long before I made the connection that I used to behave in the exact same way as everyone else, just that I couldn’t grasp how weird it all was until I took a giant step back by switching to a dumb phone.

Fast forward a few months and believe it or not I was back to a smartphone, but not of my own choice. My family had switched to a family plan with a different service provider and this meant my blackberry was no longer compatible. The plan came with four free smartphones and out of curiosity, I decided to try the smartphone out for a while before ordering another compatible BlackBerry.

I was overjoyed by what I found. The time away from my smartphone completely changed my relationship with the phone. I was able to use it normally again as a tool that enhanced my life, rather than as something altogether different that took away from it.

The numerous months away from my smartphone literally rewired my brain and made me able to once again own one without it sucking away hours and hours of my life. I’m obviously still very cautious given that I used to have an issue with the internet. I don’t have social media on my phone, I don’t have any games on my phone, and I don’t even use the browser on my phone. Just things like GPS, email, banking, and productivity tools.

But truthfully, it comes more from a place of realizing I don’t need to be constantly connected rather than from a place of being afraid I could get addicted one day again. Unplugging for all of those months I owned a blackberry taught me that life was just as good, if not actually better, without all of the extra frills on my phone I used to believe I couldn’t live without.

Now I don’t want to make getting a dumb phone out to be some magic pill that instantly solved all of my problems. I continued to struggle in other areas and took a ton of other drastic measures during this time that also contributed to my NoSurf success. Example: I removed home wifi access on my laptop on more than one occasion so that I could only use wifi at the library.

The significance of the BlackBerry is that it represents the first giant step I took out of my comfort zone. THAT is the true takeaway or secret if you will. The willingness to step out of my comfort zone and to partake in relentless, creative experimentation to see what worked for me on my NoSurf journey.

And now to fast forward to the present day…

It’s been over two years since I’ve discovered NoSurf and I have a ton to show for it. My mind is clear and healthy. I’m happy and fulfilled. I waste zero time. I’ve developed a ridiculous work ethic. I have an incredible woman I’m honored to call my girlfriend. I have a blue belt in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu that I received after more than a year of hard work/discipline. I’ve achieved laser like focus and become an incredible software engineer (way better than I ever thought I could become).

I don’t say any of this to brag or gloat. I would describe myself as humble and actually shy away from attention over accomplishments. I only share them with you with the hope that it can inspire you and help show you whats possible with a lot of hard work, persistence, and time devoted to NoSurf.

I would like to take this time in closing to share some brief words with anyone who is committed to pursuing their very own NoSurf journey:

It is important to understand that you will try and fail. You will get frustrated and you will feel like giving up. But it’s all part of the process.

With each passing day your brain grows healthier. Your focus sharpens. Your
willpower hardens.

I don’t believe anyone achieves anything worthwhile with only one foot in and the other out. You’ve got to give it your all. This means embracing discomfort and inconvenience even when it isn’t the easy or normal thing to do.

It’s not easy to switch from an iPhone to a 7 year old BlackBerry. It’s not easy to deactivate social media. It’s not easy to set up web filtering. It’s not easy to rely on the library for wifi access.

And that is the whole point. If it were easy it wouldn’t be worth posting about. A story of adventure in which the characters reach their destination in the first chapter wouldn’t be worth reading.

The difficulty involved in an achievement is the very thing that gives the achievement meaning. The struggle and the numerous failures are what make me proud to share this story with you today, and makes me overjoyed for every success story I see posted by fellow NoSurfers.

12 Lessons From Beating Internet Addiction

1. You’ll need more than willpower

Willpower is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. The problem is that like muscles, willpower can become fatigued when overused.

Exams, deadlines, and the other realities of daily life can chip away at our willpower leaving nothing left for resisting the devices in our pockets.

On top of all this you have to fight against the army of neuroscientists, designers, and engineers in Silicon Valley who are designing these things to break down any remaining willpower you have left.

This means that relying on willpower alone is a recipe for failure. You need to have a system in place that takes some of the load off your conscious mind. By giving your willpower a break, you can let it rest and come back stronger.

2. The Internet Is Just As Addictive As Cigarettes Or Alcohol

The tiny pixels on your screen are changing the chemicals in your brain just like real drugs. Social media, pornography, and video games can cause cravings that are just as strong as what a smoker feels for a cigarette or an alcoholic feels for whiskey.

3. Don’t Do It Alone. You Need The Support Of Your Friends And Family.

You need to talk to the people you live with about your issues. Until you do this they’ll have no understanding of what you’re going through and won’t “get it.” They’ll ask questions like “Why don’t you just stop going on Facebook or YouTube?” When you explain, and they realize it’s a real problem, they’ll be a lot more empathetic and understanding. They’ll be more than willing to take on a little inconvenience to help you succeed.

4. You’ll Have To Give Up Things You Like

The only difference between people who become healthy and fit and people who stay fat is that the former are willing to give up the foods they like to achieve their goal. Likewise, there is no way to have the conveniences, freedom, and ability of modern internet if you aren’t willing to give up aspects of it that you enjoy. You’ll have to give up to gain.

5. NoSurf Is A Lifestyle

If you want your brain to rewire then there’s no going back. You can’t take a break from Instagram or SnapChat for a week or so. All the negative effects return almost the instant you log back in. This means you’ll have to fundamentally restructure how you live your life and how you derive enjoyment. You’ll have to start reading books instead of watching YouTube. You’ll have to go out of your comfort zone and build a real social life. It’s a long slow process but the rewards are worth it.

6. People Will Think You’re Crazy

When you show up with a flip phone or tell people that you don’t use social media they might think your weird, different, or a little crazy. Don’t let the opinions of others prevent you from taking steps to a better life.

7. We’re all addicts

We think of internet addicts as pale, virgin, neckbeards but this stereotype no longer holds true. The internet has become so widely adopted that addiction to it affects nearly every segment of society.

I’ve always been an outgoing guy with good social skills. When I was at home though, I was always glued to my screen.

My best friend is a classic “Type A” guy who went to an Ivy League school and works on Wall Street. When we went on vacation, I saw him inside scrolling through his emails. I saw him wake up in the middle of the night to check his iPhone.

One of the most beautiful, popular girls I know confessed to me that she once took 74 selfies before posting it on Instagram. She said after finally posting it, she constantly felt the need to check how many likes it was getting.

These are the new addicts.

8. Software Helps. Use It.

Smokers have nicotine patches. We have web blockers. Use them wisely and they can really ease the burden of quitting. I recommend Cold Turkey.

9. Social Media Is The New Cigarette

In the 1960’s people smoked everywhere. In hospitals. In restaurants. At work. No one knew how bad it was for them. 50 years later we’ve all started using social media in the same absent minded fashion. We never paused to ask ourselves the question that smokers should have: Could this be bad for us?

10. Leave Your House

We do most of our mindless browsing when we’re at home. This trains our brain to associate our home with the rewards from browsing. As a consequence, we’ll start to release dopamine when we’re at home and find it much harder to kick our habit.

One way to battle back is to leave the house. Go to a coffee shop or a public library whenever you can.

11. There’s No One Size Fits All Solution

The internet is used by over a billion people. College kids, teachers, programmers, and a hundred other categories of people rely on it daily. Every one of these people has their own lifestyle and set of use cases for the internet. What works for someone else won’t work for you. You’ll have to be smart, patient, and creative in designing your own personal strategy.

12. You Don’t Have To Cut Your Internet Or Give Up Your Smartphone (But It Definitely Helps)

If you want to cut internet at home and switch to a flip phone go for it. It’ll make your journey a lot easier. However, don’t believe that if you can’t take such drastic measures that it means you can’t overcome your internet addiction. It will be harder but you can still win.

The NoSurf Smartphone Guide

The NoSurf Smartphone Guide is a way to set up your phone so that you have all the essential conveniences of modern life such as Google Maps, Uber, Venmo etc. while reducing or eliminating the effects of addictive time sinks and mindless distractions such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. The methods outlined in this post have helped me cut my smartphone phone time by more than half, from an average of 3-4 hours a day down to about 1.5 hours a day.

I’ve divided this post into two parts. Part 1 is for those who want to adopt a mindfulness based approach to smart phone use. Part 2 is for those who would like to go completely minimalist with their use.

The steps in part 1 mainly focus on eliminating triggers and making your phone easier to moderate.

Part 2 will allow you to flat out block anything on your phone that you don’t want to have access to. It allows you to design a system which creates constraints on your devices so that all your use is positive use. Once you set up the system, you’ll never have to try and moderate yourself again, the system does the work for you.

Part 1

Step 1: Track Your Time

I recommend getting some baseline statistics on how much time you spend on your phone and how many times you unlock it. When you implement the later steps, you should see these numbers start to go down. Once they’re at a normal level, you can let these apps run in the background and check in every once in a while to see that you’re on track.

Step 2: Do Not Disturb

Every iPhone and most new Android devices come with do not disturb mode. Do not disturb mode allows you to set up a schedule where notifications are automatically silenced. You can configure it so that the people in your life who are important, family, significant others etc. can reach you.

  • For iPhone got to Settings then General then Do Not Disturb Mode
  • Set it to run via schedule
  • Turn allow second calls from the same caller off
  • Add contacts who should be allowed to reach you
  • Set it to turn on automatically while driving
  • Turn it on manually when working

On Android the process will be similar but will vary depending on which phone you have

Step 3: Set up NightShift or install Twilight

The better you sleep the more willpower you have. So you definitely don’t want your smartphone emitting melatonin blocking blue light at night.

  • On iPhone go to Settings then General then turn on Night Shift
  • Android: Install Twilight

Step 4: Stop Syncing Email & Set A Schedule

Most of the mail you get on a daily basis is completely meaningless. Cut down on the “busy work” and get back to real work.

  • On iPhone, change your email settings from Push to Fetch
  • On Android, turn off Account Syncing

These steps ensure that you have to manually refresh to check email. This tiny amount of effort slowly reduces total number of email checks everyday and ensures that you’ll check when you really need to.

Also consider abandoning email on the phone altogether and using a service like Inbox When Ready. This allows you to batch your emails so that they’re all delivered at a specific interval, like once every hour.

Step 5: Go Gray

Our brains love bright and shiny things. By turning your screen to black and white you make your phone boring.

iPhone:

  • Enter Settings then General then Accessibility
  • Select Display Accommodations then set Color Filters to Off
  • Go back to Accessibility and scroll all the way down to Accessibility Shortcut. Select Color Filters
  • Now by tapping the home button three times you can toggle grayscale on and off.

Android:

  • Enter Settings then scroll down to the bottom and select About Phone
  • Press Build Number 7 times
  • This should enable Developer Mode
  • Return to Settings and scroll down to the newly enabled Developer Options
  • Select Hardware Accelerated Rendering then Monochromacy

Step 6: Group Chats

Group chats are a great way to stay in touch with friends. They’re also really easy ways to get sucked into meaningless discussions.

  • Keep them on silent
  • Turn off notifications except for direct mentions with the “@” symbol.

Step 7: Manually Turn Off Notifications & Eliminate The Visual Cue

Notifications aren’t just harmless annoyances to swipe away. They’re how companies train you to use their app. You definitely want to eliminate all notifications from social media apps if you insist on using them.

Note: optimal notification settings will vary based on app. For some apps I turn off all notifications. For others, I selectively turn on some notifications and others off.

  • Go into iPhone and Android notifications settings and turn off notifications for individual apps
  • On iPhone, open Settings then select Notifications.
  • Turn off “banner” notifications, the ones that pop up while you’re in another app.
  • For some apps, consider turning off the badge icons, the red notifications on the corner of apps are a powerful trigger.
  • Move apps into a folder far away
  • Put your phone somewhere you can’t see or reach easily

Part 2

The advice in the previous sections are for people who want to maintain some level of connection. If you want to take a bit more minimalist approach and really cut down on screen time I recommend doing the following. It prevents you from engaging in ANY and ALL mindless browsing.

Step 8: Identify Tools, Delete Distractions

There a few apps that make life easier or solve a problem. Then there apps that cause mindless browsing and compulsive checking. Keep the former and delete the latter.
Install tools like:

  • Google Maps
  • Uber
  • Yelp
  • HeadSpace
  • Banking App

Delete or disable:

  • Social Media
  • Games
  • Web Browsers
  • News Apps
  • Video Streaming Apps

Step 9: Lock Yourself Out With Software

Lock yourself out so that even if you are tempted you can’t access the apps you know you shouldn’t be using.
Prerequisite: You need a friend to set a PIN or passcode for you and then write it down somewhere they won’t forget. You’ll need to get back in your phone occasionally to update your apps or install new ones.

iPhone

  • Go to Settings then General then Restrictions
  • Get friend to enter PIN and save it
  • Disable Safari, News, Apple News, and the App Store
  • Also disable anything else you want to

Android

  • Install AppLock by DoMobileLab
  • Enter the app and set an unlock pattern when prompted
  • Once inside select “Advanced Protection” to install
  • Enter settings again and change from an unlock pattern to a numeric password
  • Have your friend enter the password
  • Lock Chrome, Google System, YouTube etc. (Only 5 locks for free version)

Step 10: Lock Yourself Out With Hardware

This is my kSafe. It’s a cool little device that let’s me lock up my smartphone when I need a break. All you do is turn the dial to set a time. Then place your phone in and hit lock. The kSafe will now lock up your device until the timer runs out. It’s meant for use with junk food but I found it works just as well for smartphones. It’s a bit pricey but if you’re a student or a professional it’ll pay for itself in less than a week.

Hope you guys found these tips useful. Also feel free to share any tips you guys have too!