What Quitting the Internet Was Like – Part II


This is the second half of a two-part series.

Part I includes:

  • The Addict Just Before Rehab
  • Day One: Withdrawal
  • Day Two: Joke is On Me

Nightmare + the Itch

Proof of the internet’s power?  On Day 3 of no-internet, after a 5 a.m. stroll with my walking buddies, my eyelids begged me for another hour of sleep. Despite my delirium, my urge to hop on the computer for a quick dopamine hit still ranked highest. On my pillow, disgust for the internet’s influence carried me off to Sleepville.

An hour later, I woke in a panic. I’d just dreamed I’d gotten a phone number for someone I desperately wanted to meet. The catch: I had to break my sobriety and originate the call from Gmail’s Google Voice inbox plugin. I swore to my dream-self I’d only use the calling feature and ignore the emails. When the call went to voicemail, however, I unconsciously settled right into the routine of opening and bouncing between responses to several messages. When I realized I’d been sucked in – despite contrary intentions – the astonishment and horror broke me out of the dream.

waking up from a nightmare about defaulting to pavlovian internet behavior despite intentionally trying not to proves how much control the internet has says top travel blog half the clothes author Jema

“Will the Pavlovian conditioning ever fade?! Can I override my brainwashing?!” photo: Victor Bezrukov

Similar feelings of repulsion surfaced when I helped my nephew with his online typing practice. Just seeing the Google Chrome interface made me itch for a dopamine hit. A few days later, during a long game of cards, I found myself wandering back to the office on auto-pilot. For a few seconds, I stood in the middle of the room wondering what I was doing there. Then I realized I’d been on an mindless quest for a quick pick-me up.  I was like a rat returning to push a reward-dispensing lever.  When I remembered I’d destroyed the lever, I stood frozen in confusion before returning to the card game.

Week 2: Still Not Sober

At the end of seven days, I let myself look up the weather forecast, a phone number, and some driving directions that were professionally important. And proved to myself that any internet use was still deeply intertwined with a knee-jerk desire for a dopamine hit.

On day eight, I needed real-time info about LAX. Reading through an airport news article, I felt my pulse quicken as sidebar flashes competed for my attention. Is that what nicotine quitters feel like when someone offers them a light?

Nearly two weeks in, I sat in my friends’ Seattle living-room while the storm of the century raced across the Pacific. Getting up-to-the-minute forecasts brought on an urge to check Facebook and a vague, semi-automatic desire to check email.

The Good Stuff

In between disappointing Pavlovian urges, I had a few awesome moments.

On day four, I realized I was more aware of my spending than I’d been in years. Without the ability to leaf through my digital-financial footprints, my consciousness about each choice skyrocketed.

not being able to "do it later" by looking online, quitting the internet raised the awareness of top travel blog Half the Clothes' author Jema

Note to self: don’t forget the $20 cash you spent at the farmer’s market. Oh yeah, and that coffee on the way to your meeting. Oh – and don’t forget the gas pump didn’t print a receipt. $19.50, $19.50, $19.50….” photo: thethreesisters

On day seven, I got a faint taste of the kind of long term dopamine that used to fuel my life in a healthy way. An article I’d been wanting to write for ages finally came pouring out my fingers awhile I was supposed to be packing for a camping trip… but who’s counting?.

On day eight, I was bored. For the first time in working memory. Nothing appealed, save for the internet offerings of entertainment and/or a quick, easy sense of accomplishment. Which I couldn’t have. Why is boredom a good thing? Because without dark, there is no light. Without soft, no hard. Without cold, no hot. And without boredom, no enthrallment. Lack of enthrallment played a big role in my choice to quit the internet.

Breaking Free

My first taste of freedom arrived in the middle of week three. I looked up business-lending info for a friend, called an Australian mate on my internet phone, and researched the best method for cleaning the fireplace glass at my buddy’s cabin bDip a wet, flat piece of wood in ash and rub it on the glass. – all without a single urge to seek a dopamine hit via email, Facebook, or random info consumption.

On day twenty-two, the same excellent phenomenon occurred while researching a future travel idea. Boom!

Many features of the internet are designed to trap users in endless cycles of use for others' financial gain, discovered top travel blog Half the Clothes' author Jema

“Oh you better believe I can slip out of the grip of the internet’s behavior programming!”  photo: tmolini

Why I Wasn’t A Stickler

When I decided to quit the internet, I envisioned a stretch of 30 days completely free of any online activity. I prepared by thinking through the dozens of pieces of my life that intertwined with the world-wide-web. From credit card bills and my gmail calendar cdiary to you commonwealth folks, to tickets, recipes, and regularly accessed info, I readied myself for full isolation.

However… on day two I got a dog-sitting request texted to my phone. In my rush to cut the cord, I’d missed at least one thread. I quickly logged on to set my house and dog-sitting status to “not available.”

As little things like this continued to pop up (needing phone numbers to businesses, looking up weather before taking a ten-year-old out into the wilderness), I decided the point of being offline was not to set a record or survive a grueling marathon of disconnectedness. I only wanted to break my addiction.

Internet addiction is a real thing, with consequences paralleling other types of addiction, argues top travel blog Half the Clothes.

Not going for the Guinness Book.  Just trying to get off the hamster wheel of email, updating, tweeting, and pinning.  photo: amenclinicsphotos ac

With that in mind, as long as I was quick, intentional, and careful, I allowed myself to check library due dates, find phone numbers, acknowledge receipt of a bookmooch item, look at maps, do professional research for an offline project, etc.

I skipped Facebook status updates of course – a new haircut and my nephew telling me I’m “not really THAT old. You can still do most kid stuff.” And the best barista in Tucson still hasn’t gotten the online props she deserves. I didn’t always turn to Google Maps: plenty of miles were covered while referencing an old-school, difficult-to-fold sheet of streets.

By and large, I stayed offline.

Rehab Graduation

I’m six full days out of “rehab.” The details of my lifetime sobriety plan are still being firmed up. For now, every other day I’m giving myself up to four 15-minute inbox battle sessions.

Proof I need a solid plan before allowing myself any additional internet: on day twenty-eight, as I opened my laptop to access a spreadsheet, the Pavlovian urge to seek a dopamine hit via email or internet-wandering surfaced again.

Internet addiction locks users into a crazed and constant pursuit of more dopamine hits, argues top travel blog Half the Clothes' author Jema

“Oooh! ‘10 Small Dog Breeds Who Are Secret Geniuses‘ – click that one! Please, please, please? Wait… oooh! An email. Ugh. Bank chore. Can we look at Fluffy’s new photo album? Can we? Please?”   photo: travis johnson

But before I finalize a plan, I’m going to figure out why this happened. How did an over-achieving, uber-optimist fade from her take-no-prisoners productivity and vivacity?

If any of this resonates with you, stay tuned! dAnd for the rest of you, my deepest apologies. This post is fraught with a repulsive amount of narcissism thanks to my inability to package my personal experience in a universal and timeless way. Please forgive my lack of talent and my American willingness to broach personal – and frankly somewhat embarrassing – subjects publicly. The desire to allow others to learn from my mistakes drives me to publish what would otherwise just be an email to my best friend. Your patience and tolerance are appreciated.

References   [ + ]

a. while I was supposed to be packing for a camping trip… but who’s counting?
b. Dip a wet, flat piece of wood in ash and rub it on the glass.
c. diary to you commonwealth folks
d. And for the rest of you, my deepest apologies. This post is fraught with a repulsive amount of narcissism thanks to my inability to package my personal experience in a universal and timeless way. Please forgive my lack of talent and my American willingness to broach personal – and frankly somewhat embarrassing – subjects publicly. The desire to allow others to learn from my mistakes drives me to publish what would otherwise just be an email to my best friend. Your patience and tolerance are appreciated.


2 comments

  • November 7, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    Truly delighted to see you writing again. You and I have just scratched the surface of an obviously important friendship. Glad to see your “addiction” is ~under control~, and looking forward to more conversations.

    In reference to “Reference point #4″… Thank you for your transparency. It is deeply appreciated and the primary reason I read your blog. No apologies needed 🙂

    • November 8, 2016 at 4:16 am

      Thanks for the kind words, John. It’s great to be able to focus again!

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