It’s not just Facebook, although Facebook is certainly a big part of the problem. After all, you need to know if someone has liked your status in the past 30 seconds, or commented on your new profile picture, or posted a link to ”10 Hilarious Chairs That Think They’re People.” I used to leave it open in a tab in my browser, so I could see immediately if any one of these things had happened. I would work for a minute or two, click over to see if anyone had posted anything new, work for another minute or two, and click back over, etcetera ad infinitum.
Even I could see this was an untenable situation. So now I don’t leave it in an open tab. Instead, every few minutes, I open a new tab, pull up Facebook, check it, and close the tab again.
But, as I said, it’s not just Facebook. I check my email constantly. I scour Twitter. I study Quora and The Oatmeal. If I have a few minutes spare, I may even read the news.
Everything about my behavior is classic addiction. I remain on these sites even when I’ve exhausted everything that is new on them. I feel an emotional reward -- a little shot of gratification -- with every new email or notification. I feel anxious when I’m away from my devices for too long.
The first step, they say, is recognizing you have a problem, and I definitely recognize this. And because this problem is greater than myself, I take measures to strengthen my willpower.
At night, I leave my computer and phone on the other side of the house; if I happen to wake up at 4 a.m., I’m much less likely to take “just a quick look” online. Sometimes when I go out, I leave my phone behind on purpose. Sometimes -- not very often -- I even go camping in places with no reception.
On these occasions, I go through the typical stages of detox. After an initial phase of withdrawal, things begin to change. My head lifts up. I look around. And I notice… there is a world around me. It is full of life and color. It is, believe it or not, fun.
Another strange phenomenon emerges simultaneously, and it is, simply, this: The universe doesn’t fall apart if I don’t answer an email. People survive if I don’t notice their Facebook post. Life does not end when I disconnect. In many ways, it begins.
And yet, I continue to return to my addiction, over and over again; and the cycle of being sucked into the digital vortex and forcing myself back out of it replays itself, over and over again.
This eternal battle, dear reader, is why I am frustrated, saddened, even dismayed by the creeping advent of the newest scourge to hit our civilization: WiFi on planes.
Come on, airlines. Don’t do it. You are the last bastion of enforced disconnection. You are a mini-camping ground in the sky. You are my excuse to watch seven movies, read four books, and drink a plastic bottle of wine or two. Not only do you not have to provide me with Internet access, I rely on you not to.
My smartphone may be out of flight mode the moment the wheels touch the tarmac on the far end -- but, until then, give me this gift: that my seatback is in the reclining position, my tray table is open, my plastic bottle of wine is beckoning, and computer is resting peacefully in its case, under the seat in front of me.