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Things to do on the internet that aren’t social media

Lent is upon us. It’s here. I’ve messed it up already by mindlessly popping handfuls of cashews and pumpkin seeds into my mouth at various times during this Ash Wednesday, so things can only improve from here.

Lots of people give up social media this time of year – I often did when I was active there. And I wholeheartedly recommend it! Not only is it so helpful for establishing/bolstering a spiritual life (magically available minutes and HOURS of time you thought you didn’t have every day) but, once you soldier through the dopamine withdrawal of the first 72 … or 96 hours or so, you will wake up to an incredible amount of clearheadedness, patience, and joy.

If not outright joy, then contentment. Sometimes they feel like the same thing.

And contentment seems mighty hard to come by these days.

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly envious person. Not because I’m uniformly virtuous, but as it happens, envy isn’t my primary struggle. A root sin, if you will.

But I’m more inclined to believe that the cultivation of envy – or if not outright envy, then discontentment – is at the root of the design of social media.

Can it be used well? Absolutely. Not by me in this present season of life, but I know people who can game the system and not get sucked in on a personal level while still delivering incredible, impactful content.

I wrestle with that on a personal level because it feels …. icky, for me, to create online content and not partake in the consumption of it. I know I know, people are there anyway! Gotta go where the eyeballs are! I understand it all…but it’s still something I wrestle with.

At any rate, because nature abhors a vacuum and because you don’t want seven more demons taking up residence in place of your little Instagram habit, here are a couple things to do on the internet that don’t require opening a social app.

First things first, are you still reading blogs the old fashioned way: by clicking directly over? I remember thinking years ago that it seemed risky to host all of one’s content on Instagram or on a Facebook page. In addition to becoming a time suck whenever you hop on there to drop a link, I suppose I intuited that there’s no such thing as a free lunch and that when you don’t own the keys to the place, it’s not actually your home.

Rosie has recently resurrected a good old fashioned blog link up for the express purpose of returning to those “simpler times” when you hopped from website to website, checking in intentionally on a few writers or content creators whose work interested or entertained you before moving on with your day. When it comes down to it, it’s really a matter of active consumption versus passive consumption: you’re seeking out the content you want to read and then, well, reading it. With a feed or algorithm curating your reading list, you’re being served rather than choosing for yourself.

Subtle differences, but significant.

Okay this one’s a little weird so bear with me…but my 5 year old, Luke (yes, the verb. That kid.) discovered a YouTube channel he calls “The rat a tat men” (Actual name: Survival Builder) and he cajoled me into watching with him yesterday afternoon and my mind was blown. These two brothers use ancestral techniques and primitive tools to build elaborate and touchingly beautiful underground houses, swimming pools, all kinds of incredible stuff. There were moments when I felt emotional watching their strangely mesmerizing process, which they post with the speed toggled to double or triple time to enhance the viewing experience. I think it was awe for the human body and wonder over how different – and how poor, in many ways – our current modern way of living and relating to our environment is.

This was a hugely important piece that helped coalesce my thought around the fundamental flaws of overconsumption of media of all kinds. Interestingly enough, a few days after I’d read it, a friend floated the idea of a not-too-distant future where the wealthy have the luxury of living a totally offline existence, should they choose, where they’re free to maintain or reject maintaining social media personas, seeking out news, making networking connections online, etc. Because they’re able to outsource it all, and knowing what we now know about the effects of so much online time on the brain, they opt out for wellbeing reasons. I find the idea fascinating!

Karen and I are going to continue our podcasting venture together under a new, coming-soon podcast that I’ll share here when it’s live. So watch wherever your pods are cast from and we’ll be popping up there soon.

Finally, anything Joshua Becker curates in his weekly roundup for Becoming Minimalist is always of high value. He has such a knack for finding great, thoughtful content. He generally publishes Inspiring Simplicity, his weekend roundup, on, well, the weekends.

Hope your Lent is off to a more observant start than mine!

6 Comments

  • Annette

    Jenny,
    Well said. It’s terrible and awful but I’m not giving up anything for Lent Because…..I always seem to go back the two three weeks before Easter into my “stuff”. Plus I need coffee.

    • Ana

      Deleting social media has been a weird and wonderful ride, I’m back to old school blogging and spending my time doing more real life things and it’s great. Always checking in with you, Jenny!

  • jeanette

    Good to see you on again. Congratulations on the anniversary and the Hawaiian trip your husband pulled off for you to enjoy together that special occasion.

    Your podcast sounds like you will be able to enjoy partnering, and I wish you both good success in that work.

    Your description of the difference between choosing content vs following content suggestions is important because it is the intentionality of one’s actions that creates our tendency towards holiness, and being led around by the nose will help us end up in the wrong places.

    I only choose my own things, I ignore suggestions. One place where it really gets annoying is on the TV version of YouTube. I watch the mass daily, and I hardly watch anything else on TV, so it is mostly my husband’s viewing that influences the recommended video list that pops up on the screen. Some of them are rather amusing, some pretty redundant. Of course the mass I watch triggers other very weird “religion” related things as well. It feels more like it is attempting with a great amount of effort to sidetrack one’s attention towards things that are utterly worthless. And as you point out, time wasters. You have to wonder about the character of those who write algorithms.

    I guess it is an advantage for those of us who lived BC (before computers) to sidestep these algorithms, because we spent our life differently before computers, and so we have the perspective advantage if we really pay attention. I think it is a good thing these algorithms are something people are more aware of now, so that they can make active decisions to be calling the shots on content, and not just letting themselves be passive readers/viewers.

  • Hannah sadar

    I’ve been clicking over the old fashioned way, on your blog 🙂
    When I gave up internet for 4 yrs, is be in line at the Wal-Mart check out, saving html s of your blog pages every 2 months or so.
    If I could only read one blog, it’d be this one.

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