Matthew Rozsa discusses why it’s important to spend time offline as well as on it.
For someone whose livelihood depends on the Internet, and who maintains some of his closest personal relationships almost exclusively online, why do I feel the regular need to take a break from cyberspace at least once a day?
It started when I found myself feeling stir crazy whenever I’d spend too much time stuffed in my apartment, clickety-clacking away on my keyboard as I worked on a new article or chatted with friends online. At first I assumed it was the fact that I was working/socializing from home, but when I tried switching up the locations – pulling out the laptop and checking my cell phone at the library, the university center, various friends’ houses, etc. – things didn’t improve considerably. It wasn’t until I started taking those periodic breathers that my anxiety began to decline in a meaningful and lasting way… which brings me to my three reasons why anyone who spends more than a few hours every day online should set aside at least two waking (and non-working/commuting) hours exclusively offline:
1. It’s the only way to fully engage with your surroundings.
If you find yourself checking your phone or in some other way dipping into the digital world when you’re ostensibly free from it (spending time with friends and other loved ones, eating a meal, going for a walk, etc.), then you aren’t fully experiencing any of those real-life experiences that are otherwise very enjoyable. This is why I still felt restless even when I took “breaks” from my job and online socializing that involved leaving my house: I might have abandoned my usual surroundings for Internet surfing, but for all intents and purposes I still plugged into the grid. Not only did that mean I wasn’t being relieved of my stress, but on a subconscious level I felt anxious and depressed because I realized I wasn’t really appreciating any of the things I was supposed to be doing.
2. It gives you a fresher perspective when you return online.
It’s easy to forget that being attached to the grid is exhausting. You are constantly communicating with dozens of people via text messages, tweets, emails, and instant messages, as well as bombarding your mind with stimuli through videos, articles, and other forms of entertainment. Even though these experiences can be very rewarding, they inevitably become tiring as well (see my earlier paragraph on the health effects of spending too much time online), and as a result it’s easy to overlook how numbing it can be when indulged excessively. By taking regular offline breaks, however, you not only replenish your energy, but give yourself a fresher perspective when you inevitably return to the grid.
3. It helps you separate illusion from reality.
Digital media is a means unto an end, not an end in itself. This may seem self-evident, but for a long time I would spend hours in front of a laptop computer, cell phone, or television, hypnotized into believing that the beautiful sights and sounds were somehow as real as my tangible surroundings.
Make no mistake about it, though: The Internet is a tool, nothing more. It is without question one of the most powerful tools ever created, a multifaceted medium capable of spreading information and facilitating all types of communication instantaneously… but in the end, everything you see there is an illusion, a sophisticated combination of pixels and binary. Spending too much time online is a bit like spending too much time on the road; the drive may be pleasurable in its own way, but if you spend all of your time on the highways and backroads without ever stopping your car at a destination (predetermined or otherwise), you’re missing the point.
On that note: Thank you for reading me online. Please make sure to share it on Facebook, Twitter, and all your other social media pages.