Overcoming online hedonism

Until recently, my friend Art did not have data on his phone – or, rather, he didn’t realise that he did because it was not switched on in his phone’s settings. But once he turned it on, all hell (aka: the world wide web) broke loose into Art’s life 24-7.

Now, instead of waiting to get home at the end of the day, where he’d have access to wifi, he was like a child in a lolly shop. At every opportunity – on the bus, in the train, on the toilet, while waiting in line – Art found himself touching base with his online world via his little device. How many likes and comments did his latest Facebook post get? Who emailed him in the last five minutes since he checked? Where was that restaurant his friend told him about…

This newfound freedom of being able to teleport into ether whenever the urge bubbled up was, in Art’s words, “utterly exhausting”. That’s because it wasn’t freedom that Art had found, it was enslavement.

Art is not an exception. Many of us will find our hands unconsciously reaching for our devices at any spare moment, at any hint of boredom or at any time we’re working on something that requires thinking and effort – like writing this article!

It’s the easier thing to do – hedonistic, even, given the instant gratification. But what price are we paying? Minutes, hours, days, years are whiled away by doing the hedonistic rather than the meaningful.

Sadly, once the online habits solidify, it takes much effort and willpower – and self-created boundaries – to help break the addiction cycle.

Alexandra Franzen, a writing teacher whom I admire for her generosity and sage advice, has a good set-up: on most days she flicks her phone to silent mode and  places it face down on the other side of her apartment; she has also deleted all her social media accounts.

Alexandra has laid these boundaries so that she can have peace and space in her life – and mind! – for all the things that make her time on the planet more meaningful – for example, like running a successful business, mentoring people who want to become better writers, giving her partner Brandon her full attention.

Similar to Alex, I have canned all my social media profiles. But when it comes to the internet, I’m more like my friend Art: I can’t resist the urge. I check my email when I’m bored, and give in to the itch of googling something that has popped up in my mind, usually when I’m in the middle of doing a task that’s taxing my brain.

My push notifications are already all turned off.Plus, I’ve also started a ‘Do not disturb’ practice, where I switch my iPhone onto this mode during my non-working hours – i.e. evenings, Fridays and weekends. On this mode, the phone will only ring if someone in my ‘favourites’ list calls me. Usually that’s immediate family and close friends. Soon, I’ll be working on my email habits, with the aim to check it no more than twice a day.*

There is no right way. If you wish to change your relationship with technology, only you can find out what will work for you.

As for Art, I have a feeling that the novelty of being able to jump into cyberspace at a whim is wearing off. But I can’t be sure unless I ask him. So I’ll do just that when I next connect with my friend in real life, instead of sending him a text this minute – since I really don’t need to know right now, do I?

*updated 11 March 2018

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