Once upon a time, a high school student tells a group of her peers and adults that she has deleted all her social media accounts for an unspecified period of time. She explains that she is spending too much time on social media, comparing herself to people online.
Everyone nods in agreement relating to the side-effects she listed for her decision.
‘What do you do instead?!’ one peer asks, ludicrously.
We all laugh.
Most of us turn to our digital devices often because the alternative sucks.
As I am writing this post, I’m doing laundry.
My niece and nephew ask me persistently, “are we going back to the laundry room? are we going back to the laundry room?” without taking their eyes off the game they’re playing on their devices.
Uninterrupted, they spend hours online playing games, especially, if the alternative sucks. Doing nothing for them is torture. Why do nothing if they can easily pick up their devices and get unlimited entertainment?
Still, if the opportunity is present, they would prefer the adventure of taking the elevator two floors up to the laundry room with me for all but two minutes. It is fun enough that they would abandon their game for it.
Apparently, kids would rather do the most mundane things, like go to the laundromat or go to the mall just to walk around than play games online.
There is, of course, something to be said about the increasing inability of kids to be bored and be creative to pass time. That is a topic for another time.
We adults are a bit different.
For one thing, we are not as easily entertained; going to the laundromat is not an adventure, it’s a chore.
Since most things have become chores and responsibilities as adults, most of us don’t feel very motivated to cultivate a high-quality leisure life in our day-to-day life.
Planning leisure feels like another responsibility, another to do item on our long lists of to-do items.
So we turn to readily available, and often mindless, entertainment to relax and unwind from a long day of adulting.
We have outsourced our leisure life to the media, corporates and now the internet. We watch TV, shop, constantly switch between apps and mindlessly scroll through our home feeds.We have settled for low-effort entertainment available at the tip of our fingers.
Pick up the phone, tap on an app, and an infinite amount of entertainment is accessible.
For those of us looking to minimize our digital addiction, it can be frustrating to find ourselves constantly going back to the digital world for entertainment.
When I get home after a long day, especially those long and challenging days, all I want to do is go on my favourite gossip websites and consume information that doesn’t require me to exert energy, physical or otherwise.
I have tried many things to combat this issue, but without alternative options, I end up going back to my tried-and-true digital distractions.
I can hide my phone. Put an app to block time-wasting websites on my laptop. I can even leave my devices behind completely. Then, what? I can trick myself for a day or even a few weeks, but the self-imposed, will-power powered resistance gets too exhausting.
There is so much will-power one can exert to not turn to the digital world for entertainment, especially when the alternative is uncomfortable boredom.
It wasn’t until I read Cal Newport’s book, and the section dedicated to creating a well-developed leisure life that I realized the issue is just as much my digital addiction as it is a lack of high-quality alternative activities to my digital addiction.
I want entertainment.
Oh, look, funny memes!
Since that realization, I have been consciously working on cultivating a leisure life that is enjoyable, that I look forward to, and that I don’t need to force myself to get off the internet for.
Of course, what we consider leisure is going to be different for everyone.
What do I enjoy doing in my free time? What activities help me relax? How do I want to spend my free time? What brings excitement into my life?
If digital distractions didn’t exist, what would I be doing instead?
Those are some questions we can ask ourselves to find out what works for us as we actively and consciously cultivate a leisure life that doesn’t depend on low-effort digital distractions for entertainment and to pass the time.
It is also important to realize that it is going to be an ongoing process.
It’s going to be a continuous struggle as your interests change, some of your leisure activities get boring, or you get enticed back to your favourite time-wasting websites.
The important thing to remember is to continue to tweak and adapt to these changes and challenges, and remain diligent with our free time and find ways to enjoy it without the noise from the online world.