How to Surf The Internet
Without Losing Your Soul
I started Life Beyond Logic a few months ago to explore philosophy as a way of life. There’s nothing new about this idea. In fact, it dates back to the origins of philosophy itself.
But I wanted to try it out on a new platform. So while Socrates used dialectic and Thoreau used writing, I wanted to use the online world of social media as the medium for living philosophically.Read the original post
Over the last few months, this site has evolved in ways I never could have imagined. But I’ve also begun noticing something paradoxical about the project. I’ve begun to see that there’s a threshold point at which online interaction turns from enhancing to diminishing aliveness.
For the last two weeks, I took a partial Internet fast, spending my days immersed in yoga. Instead of waking up to Facebook, I woke up to meditation and mantra. Instead of focusing on emails and tweets, I focused on breathing and the shifts in my inner state.
Here’s what I discovered: if we are not careful, the endless corridors of virtual space can draw us out of ourselves. Facebook, Twitter, blogs (including this one), and news sites – all these online spaces can create a subtle shift in our inner state. They shift our awareness from within to without.
Emerson, Thoreau, and others all worried about this shift. Emerson saw it as a threat to self-reliance and authenticity. Get too lost in the external world – in gossip and news – and you can easily fall into the trap of conformity. “The sour faces of the multitude,” he says, “have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and the newspaper directs.”
To evade conformity, we must go inside. “The great man,” Emerson declares, “is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” What Emerson’s describing is the ultimate philosophical act – living with an inner awareness, even amidst the chaos of “the crowd.”
So for this week’s experiment, let’s explore bringing this inner awareness into the virtual space of the Internet.
One strategy for overcoming this problem is Internet abstinence. To return to that yogic state of inner awareness, I could always stop posting on Life Beyond Logic and shut down my Twitter and Facebook accounts.
But that would be too easy. The more challenging task is to explore keeping the inward awareness that Emerson describes while surfing the virtual waves of the Internet.
So here are four practices to use this week as we explore the art of inner web surfing:
- 1. Enter Consciously – It’s easy to shift from real to virtual space without awareness – to flip open the computer and lose yourself in YouTube videos or email. See what happens when you make this transition consciously. Before you fire up Safari or Internet Explorer, take a few breaths, close your eyes, and go inside. Become aware of the shift in your conscious reality.
- 2. Surf With Your Feet, Not Your Head – I know, this sounds crazy. But the key problem with the Internet is that it’s an ungrounded space. It’s a purely external world that has no tangible physical reality. Here’s one way to stay grounded in your inner space: bring your awareness to your feet. Try it right now. See if you can read the rest of this post with your awareness on the connection between your feet and the floor. By continually shifting your awareness back to your feet, you anchor it to the inner world of experience.
- 3. Breathe – You’ve heard me talk about this at length a few weeks ago in the Breathing Experiment. The more you breathe consciously, the more you stay grounded inside.
- 4. Exit Consciously – Just as we tend to enter the Internet without awareness, we leave it without consciousness. So when you’ve finished surfing through emails, status updates, and tweets, put down the computer and take a few minutes to go inside. Focus on your breath and the sensations in your body. This is the time to shift back to the inner world of experience.
What do you think? Is it possible to lose your soul on the Internet? What techniques do you use to move through this online space consciously?
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my new free ebook “Finding Reality.” It’s a book about Thoreau’s lessons for living deep, deliberately, and in the moment, even in the midst of the digital world created by iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s short, it’s practical, and, best of all, it’s free.
Nick Carr is one of the leading experts on the effects of the Internet on our brain. Here’s his most crazy insight — the Internet not only changes how we act and think. Its impact goes even deeper. It turns out that it changes the very structure of the brain.
To me, this confirms just how important it is for us to learn to use these technologies consciously.
So far this week, I have been living the experiment with amazing results. I’m still surfing the web. But each time I open Facebook, TweetDeck, or FireFox, I have been working to maintain an inner awareness.
Just as the breath plays an essential role in meditation and yoga. I’ve found that the breath — consciously inhaling and exhaling — is the most powerful tool for making sure that my time on the Internet enhances, rather than diminishes, aliveness.
How’s it going for you?