According to The Death Clock, I have between 884,397,364 and 1,487,555,734 seconds left to live. In years, that’s somewhere between 28 and 47 years. Obviously that’s based on a bell shape curve, I could live much longer than that (My family is known for long lifespans), or I could be hit by a bus on my walk home from the coffee shop tonight. So it goes. In our last foray into the philosophy of Memento Mori, I proposed that a non-morbid appreciation for our own mortality is profoundly important to our overall quality of life. Having laid that baseline assumption, I am going to take time from my life to consider some of the ramifications of my finite time.
The Consequences of My Addiction
I want to begin this conversation authentically. It’s important to understand that I am profoundly addicted to the internet, as the title of this post implies. I spend hours on Reddit and Youtube every day. I am constantly scrolling to the next thing. I often find myself forgetting the last thing as soon as the next video loads. So far I have managed to maintain a degree of professionalism around my addiction. I will budget time for my addiction, rationalizing that it’s okay to spend my evening scrolling YouTube, as “I have earned this by working hard today”. But, that’s the same logic alcoholics use to rationalize their binge drinking. Out of morbid curiosity, over the course of a week, I measured my total time spent on YouTube and Reddit. The results were disturbing. I spent 3 hours on Youtube and 2 hours on YouTube per day. That is 5 hours of my day, dedicated to scrolling.
Let’s do some math. Let’s be optimistic and say that I have 47 years left to live. If I were to continue at my current rate of consumption, I will have spent 85,775 hours scrolling social media. Broken down by years, I will have spent just shy of 10 years of my life dedicated to consuming cat videos, memes, and askreddit threads. While that number is disturbing, it does not even come close to the average of 9 hours per day clocked in by our current generation of teenagers. This new age of technology is becoming stark, dystopian, and evil. While we quarantined during 2020, the major tech companies experienced 30-60% stock surges. Because we had nothing else to do but feed their coffers. I’m sick of this system of subtle oppression. I don’t want companies who profit off of slave labor to make money from my internet addiction.
The Dissolution of Value
Leonardo de Vinci is one of my role models. Leo lived to the age of 67. During his life, Leo helped found the modern study of anatomy, pioneered hydraulic engineering, mastered multiple musical instruments and languages, introduced the world to scaled aerial-dynamic prototyping, produced the world’s most famous painting, and engineered the worlds first mechanically triggered firearm. And that’s just a few highlights of his accomplishments. While its obvious that Leo was an exceptionally intelligent person, his notebooks reveal at least a portion of the magic which projected his contributions into reality. Leonardo was always doing something. He did not make a distinction between recreation and work. His work was his recreation, and his recreation often became a source of income.
I spend 5 hours per day watching YouTube and scrolling reddit. Neither YouTube nor Reddit are bad services. Youtube helped me start this blog and provided me with the foundational knowledge for my career. Reddit helped me find answers to most of my engineering and automation questions and pushed me into my hobby of custom ergonomic mechanical keyboards. I would never give up any of those experiences. But, only a small fraction of my internet time has been dedicated to personal growth. The lions share has been purely dissipative. I don’t like this about myself. It’s not that I want to spend more time working. Nor do I think that every moment of life needs to be strategic or task oriented. But, there is something uniquely toxic about unintentionally spending my life scrolling.
This week has been the single hottest week on record for the month of June in North Idaho where I live. It has been excessively hot. And, to make matters worse, we don’t have air conditioning. In an attempt to escape the heat, my wife and I have been going on evening drives almost every night, just to escape the heat. In doing so, we broke our normal patterns of scrolling, and instead spent significant time simply enjoying nature from behind an air conditioned car window. The picture above was taken on one of our evening drives through the rolling hills of the Palouse.
Leonardo never had this struggle. He had the ultimate cheat code. He had relatively few distractions. He didn’t have notifications pinging him while he lay on his back, painting the Sistine Chapel. I want to build something as important as the Sistine Chapel. I want to create value. Real Value. I’m not Leonardo. I know that. I don’t have his unique set of skills, his connections, or context. But, I do have the potential to create substantial value. But, I keep falling short. That sunset over the Palouse reminded me that I am not living up to my potential. I could be producing something truly profound. But instead, I scroll, generating ad revenue for Google and Facebook.
Times, they are Changing
Could I interest you in everything
All of the time?
A little bit of everything
All of the time
Apathy’s a tragedy and boredom is a crime
Anything and everything
All of the time~ Bo Burnham, Welcome to the Internet
I scroll because I can. Perhaps at one point it was a deliberate choice. Now, it’s more of a reflex. I scroll, because I get a little squirts of dopamine every time I do. I scroll because my attention is never quite centered on the task at hand. If I want to be like Leo, I’m going to have to change. I will need to fight that reflex to scroll. To check my phone. To check my phone. To check my phone. Again. FUCK. My addiction is profound, and companies are making money off of every minute. The manipulation is sick.
Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook have been pressuring me to purchase an Apple Watch. I was looking for a watch, and I wanted something cool I could use instead of always checking my phone for the time. I have an apple laptop and phone. So, it made logical sense to get an Apple Watch. It makes sense. Because I want to check my phone. But I shouldn’t always be checking my phone. So I thought, “maybe if I put my notifications on my wrist, I can then check that instead of my phone”. But here’s the thing. Notifications on my wrist still feed that drip, that urge to check what’s up. It’s still pushing me towards disruption, and away from my purpose. So, I got a 15 dollar water proof watch. It’s an off brand. It tells me the time, starts and ends a stopwatch, and rings an alarm when I want to be woken up. It cost me 15 dollars, and it never distracts my mind.
My phone now sits in my backpack when I’m not actively using it. It no longer lives in my pocket. That would be too easy. To get to my phone, I now have to grab my backpack, unzip the front pocket, pull out my phone, and then turn on the screen. That takes effort. Enough effort that I can interact with my compulsion to check my phone. Before, I would reach into my pocket, turn on my phone, and instantly get pulled into the compulsive dopamine drip. Somewhere around the time I finished opening up a social media app, I would realize my mistake, and then sheepishly put my phone back in my pocket. But, the damage would still be done. I would have lost my flow. Lost my single minded focus on the task at hand.
Now, I can check the time without my phone. No excuses there. If someone important calls, I’ll hear my phone ringing. Otherwise, it will wait till I check in at 4 PM. I’m tired of the addiction cycle. I have been free of my phone for 2 weeks so far. I have realized that I love to read books. I have realized that I hate commercials. I have realized that I love playing guitar. I have realized that I don’t NEED entertainment. I have realized my love for poetry, writing, and programming. I have realized my love of creativity. I talk with my wife about philosophy.
I reject the total coercion of my attention and the devaluation of my time for the sake of advertisement revenue by Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai, and Mark Zuckerberg. They already have too much power, too much influence, and far too much control over my life. Now, my interactions with them will be on my terms alone. Maybe someday I’ll have built something to rival the works of Leonardo De Vinci with the mountain of time I am reclaiming. Even if that aim is unattainable, at least I now know how it feels to be free from the constant itch. If you also struggle with treating your phone like a slot machine (Which is how it was built to be used), I encourage you to make your phone less accessible and replace your non-essential tech with more valuable pursuits. It’s done me a world of good, and it might help you too.
Don’t cary your phone in your pocket. Get a dumb watch. Pursue creative and intentional behavior. Find relaxation outside of the consumption of media. Create more than you consume. Read the book, “Digital Minimalism”.