What does quitting social media and the internet look like for 3 months

In the summer of 2018, British author Johann Hari planned a three-month “digital detox” to see if he could survive without the technological conveniences so prevalent in modern life. But before he could stop himself, complications began.

Simply buying a phone without access to the Internet has proven to be almost impossible. A target salesperson in Boston suggested a phone with “Very slow internet. Maybe you can get your email but you won’t…”

Harry interrupted him, “…e-mail is still the Internet.” “I’m going away for three months, precisely until I’m completely offline.”

The target man wasn’t the only one spoiled by Harry’s plans. Harry writes in his new book “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – And How To Think Deep Again” (Crown), released January 25. . “The idea of ​​being completely offline seemed to them so strange that I had to explain it over and over again.”

But after feeling overwhelmed by social media and constant news alerts, Harry insisted on trying.

Johann Harry gave up his smartphone and laptop and moved to a remote part of Cape Cod without an internet connection for three months.
Courtesy of Johann Hari

He writes: “I did it in desperation.” “I felt that if I stripped everything down for a while, I might start to be able to look at changes we can all make in a more sustainable way.”

On average, we spend about three hours and 15 minutes on our phones each day, touching them about 2,617 times per day, according to research firm Dscout. But instead of improving our lives, our constant contact seems to have made it worse.

I did it in desperation. I felt that if I stripped everything out, I could find changes we could all make in a more sustainable way.

Johann Hari, on why he underwent a digital detox

Our attention spans are shorter than ever, with most people only able to focus on a single task for an average of two minutes and eleven seconds, according to researchers at the University of California, Irvine. And once we’re interrupted — with email alerts we send out to get attention, and social media apps beeping with updates — it takes at least 23 minutes to regain that focus.

Harry, now 42, rents a small place in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the northern tip of Cape Cod. He didn’t have a partner at the time, a full-time job or kids, so taking the break affected no one but himself. Eventually he found a cell phone without an internet connection, a device called the Jitterbug “designed for the very elderly, and it functions as an emergency medical device,” he writes.

On average, we spend about three hours and 15 minutes on our phones every day, while our interest grows less than ever.
On average, we spend about three hours and 15 minutes on our phones every day, while our interest grows less than ever.
Getty Images / istockphoto

A friend lent him an old laptop that didn’t have WiFi “Even if I woke up at 3 am and cracked and tried to get online, I wouldn’t be able to do it, no matter how hard I tried,” Harry writes.

Harry spent his first week in “a haze of stress relief,” he writes, sitting in coffee shops and reading books, occasionally talking to strangers, and often alone with his thoughts. He also felt something he hadn’t experienced in years: calm.

It was a strange sensation considering all he did was “leave two blocks of metal behind,” Harry wrote. It was as if his phone and laptop were “screaming, colicky babies, and now the babies were handed over to the babysitter, their screams and vomits gone out of sight.”

But he also panicked. What emails was he neglecting? What trending topics on Twitter did he miss? What texts were you waiting to read? There were days when Harry instinctively reached for his phone pocket, as if he was scratching an imaginary limb.

IT adds: By 2007, the volume of information flowing on the Internet was the equivalent of 174 newspapers per day.  This number roughly doubles every 2.5 years - which means today's information equals roughly 700 newspapers a day.
IT adds: By 2007, the volume of information flowing on the Internet was the equivalent of 174 newspapers per day. This number roughly doubles every 2.5 years – which means today’s information equals roughly 700 newspapers a day.
Getty Images / istockphoto

A total of 31 percent of U.S. adults admit they go online “almost constantly,” according to a 2021 report from Pew Research — up from 21 percent in 2015 — in part because there is more data for consumption. In 1986, Harry wrote: “If you collect all the information that is criticized for the common man – television, radio, reading – it comes to 40 sheets of information per day.” By 2007, that number had risen to about 174 newspapers per day and “nearly doubled every 2.5 years,” according to Martin Hilbert, the University of Southern California professor who helped determine the increase.

By this account, today’s information equals roughly 700 newspapers a day.

“It’s just too much information for any biological brain to consume,” Hilbert told The Post. So, instead, “We only read short snippets of different content. Seventy percent of tweet headlines are not read by those who (retweet) them.”

We now read like dinners piled high at an all-you-can-eat buffet, our plates piled high and we never really tasted or enjoyed any of it. The proportion of American adults who said they read at least one book for pleasure over a 12-month period has fallen to an all-time low — from 61 percent in 1992 to less than 53 percent in 2017, figures for last year were available. Reading for pleasure decreased from 28 to 16 minutes per day among Americans from 2003 to 2018; In the meantime, we have increased the time we spend playing games and using computers for leisure time to 28 minutes per day as of 2018.

American adults who said they read at least one book for pleasure over a 12-month period fell to an all-time low.
American adults who said they read at least one book for pleasure over a 12-month period fell to an all-time low.
Getty Images / IM

Why is reading books important? Aside from reducing stress and extending life — 30 minutes a day can add two years to your lifespan — reading books “train us to read in a certain way, in a linear way, focused on one thing for a long time,” Harry writes.

Anne Mangen, a professor of literacy at the University of Stavanger in Norway, told Harry that we are more likely to “scan and scroll” when we read on screens. We don’t focus deeply, but instead only curate the most relevant information, prioritizing you over quality.

Early in the digital detox, Harry was stuck in this mindset.

He wrote, “I was checking Charles Dickens the way you might scan a blog for vital information.” My reading was comic and extractive: Well, you got it, he’s an orphan. what’s your point? I could see that this was an idiot, but I couldn’t stop.”

But then it started to slow down. He would buy three newspapers every morning and read them, after which “I wouldn’t know what happened in the news until the next day,” Harry writes. “Instead of a constant explosion throughout my waking life, I got an in-depth, coordinated guide to what had happened, after which I could turn my attention to other things.”

Once we're interrupted — with email alerts we send out to get attention, and social media apps beeping with updates — it takes at least 23 minutes to regain our focus.
Once we’re interrupted by our email alerts tweeting to get attention, social media apps beep with updates – it takes at least 23 minutes to regain our focus.
Shutterstock / BigTunaOnline

In late June 2018, a gunman killed five people at a newspaper office in Maryland. Normally, during a tragedy like this, Harry would stick to social media, texting friends the moment it happened. Instead, he didn’t hear about it until the day after the massacre, and knew “within ten minutes all the details I needed to know, from a dead tree,” Harry wrote.

“I’ve come to realize that my normal situation of eating the news is causing panic; this new pattern brought about by perspective.”

Over time, Harry realized how little he really needed the internet. Six of his friends had his phone number, so he could be called in case of an emergency. If he needs medical attention, he can call 911. If he’s curious about something, he goes to the local library. If he wanted to know the weather tomorrow, ask the locals at a downtown café.

The most important thing he missed was social media. But not to keep up with friends and colleagues. “I’ve been looking at Twitter and Instagram to see how many followers I have,” he admits, the internet’s most popular habit. “I didn’t look at the feed, the news, the buzz – just my own stats. It was like I was saying to myself, ‘You see?’ More people are following you. You matter.”

After the detox, Harry expected to be inundated with emails, but in reality,
After the detox, Harry expected to be inundated with emails, but in reality, “the world accepted my absence with little interest,” he wrote.
Courtesy of Johann Hari

When he returned to the connected world in the last week of August 2018, Harry expected his inbox to be full of emails, from employers and friends typing in with urgent requests, even though he left an automatic reply explaining that he was completely unconnectable for the summer. Instead, he found almost nothing. It took him an hour or two to read everything he had missed in three months.

He writes: “The world has accepted my absence with derision.”

Today, Harry hasn’t completely changed after his digital detox. But now he’s more reluctant to let his attention be ruled by online distractions.

He writes, “In my life before I fled to Cape Cod, I lived through a hurricane of mental stimulation.” “I would never walk without listening to a podcast or talking on the phone. I would never wait two minutes in a store without looking at my phone or reading a book. The thought of not filling every minute with motivation made me panic, and I found it strange when I saw other people not.”

casing
Harry spent three months without an internet connection.

He’s since adopted a few tools to make sure he doesn’t fall back into those bad habits. He has a ticking plastic safe, where he locks his phone for at least four hours every day. He told The Post that he takes at least half a year off social media, “and proclaim I do it every single time, so I’d feel like an idiot if I showed up again a week later.”

He explains that these techniques are called “pre-commitment,” a way to “secure your intentions and prevent yourself from unraveling later.”

Easier said than done, especially for people who have jobs that require them to be online. Locking your phone in a safe won’t work with anyone who needs to bring back text messages from their boss.

“There’s no point in giving people sweet self-help lectures about the benefits of class if we don’t change the way we live to make it feasible,” Harry told The Post. He points to France, which enacted the legal “right to disconnect” law in 2017.

“Every worker has the right to have written working hours, and the right not to check their phone or email outside working hours,” he says. “This is just one example of the collective changes we can make as a society that will radically improve our focus.”