Upworthy linked to a video a man recently posted to YouTube documenting his decision to give up all electronic devices for 90 days after realizing he and all his friends were on their laptops or phones whenever hanging out with one another. Freed from technology, he found himself seeing the world around him, going outside more, and feeling like his life was revolutionized. He was sending letters and seeing things and people IRL, but no emails, no phone calls, no internet.
The video presents a rosy perspective on this decision, as if we’d all be happier without the internet and our mobile devices. I agree that to really see what and who is around and be present is the vital thing to being happy in life, but I think the internet and electronics can aid in that process, they don’t have to hinder. The seemingly infinite variety of viewpoints and ideas that can be found on the internet if you look can be likewise revolutionary in a person’s life. The internet can also aid you in meeting people from other cities and countries who feel how you feel and think how you think. All of my IRL friends in New York now are people I met online.
I’m not a believer in denying yourself things in order to somehow become, magically, a better, more mindful person. I do think willpower is a muscle, and setting goals and holding yourself accountable for getting things done and resisting temptations that are unhealthy or wasteful is good.
Furthermore, and more controversially, the internet can expose people to humor, irony, and satire in massive amounts, and while this can lead a person to become more detached and irreverent, those don’t have to be ultimately bad things either. Detachment, and vitally, perspective, can be powerful, if scary things. Once you realize a lot of things that are supposed to be serious are, from a certain perspective, not that serious, your mind expands and you become more accepting of life and less stressed about things going your way and about trying to control the world, trying to make others think about things the way you think about things. You become, essentially, more chill.
If you become apathetic and listlessly negative as a result, then it’s a waste. It’s tempting to discount politics, social responsibility, and politeness when barraged by enough radical irreverence. But if one can start to view other people, appreciating other people, and all of your experiences as crucially important on a daily basis, and if one can view death as imminent, and live in the knowledge of that, one can view every day as a time to be present. To see every text message, every conversation, every activity, even washing the dishes or waiting for a train, as something you are doing, not negative, not a means to the food or TV or diversion around the corner, but the thing itself, what you are doing right now. If you become a Zen-like proponent of good humor and open-mindedness who nevertheless does give a shit about some things, you can be a force of good on the internet and in real life.