Thanks to smartphones, we never have to be separated from the internet and everything on it. But that doesn’t necessarily make us happier.
Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go on the New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content. It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. You’re not going to be able to control yourself. So the only way to fight that is to take yourself out of the equation and remove all these things. What happens is, eventually you forget about it. You don’t care anymore. When I first took the browser off my phone, I’m like, [gasp] how am I gonna look stuff up? But most of the shit you look up, it’s not stuff you need to know. All those websites you read while you’re in a cab, you don’t need to look at any of that stuff. It’s better to just sit and be in your own head for a minute. I wanted to stop that thing where I get home and look at websites for an hour and a half, checking to see if there’s a new thing. And read a book instead. I’ve been doing it for a couple months, and it’s worked. I’m reading, like, three books right now. I’m putting something in my mind. It feels so much better than just reading the internet and not remembering anything.
It’s worth remembering that people have complained for centuries about how new media affects us. And people have been worried about the internet’s impact on our attention span and social skills for more than a decade.
Conventional wisdom is still a little ahead of science on this one. Psychiatrists are considering adding internet gaming disorder to the next edition of their field-defining Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But Ansari’s comments are focused on email and social networks, which is discussed less frequently despite some psychiatrists arguing they can be the target of another type of obsession. There’s some evidence that part of our brain is always turned to our phones, even when they’re tucked out of sight.
But perhaps the real takeaway from Ansari’s story is that leaving the internet doesn’t mean our lives have to be less connected. He still keeps up with important news, he’s just bowed out of the churning blow-by-blow atmosphere that’s become particularly all-consuming within the past. “I’m not choosing ignorance. I’m choosing to not watch wrestling,” Ansari added.
So remember, if you don’t like your relationship with the internet, you don’t need to wait for science to give you numbers to justify your choices — you can simply take a page out of Ansari’s book and do something about it.