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?

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