How to Surf The Internet
Without Losing Your Soul

Surfing

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.

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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.

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Update: All the More Reason to Surf the Internet Consciously
posted May 18, 2011 by Nate

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?

Responses

  1. Liz E. says:

    This post really resonates with me, and it makes me very aware of exactly how easy it is to mistake web connectivity to real connectivity. I am particularly challenged by this because I am linked to the Internet all the time through my phone, which alerts me to new email instantaneously and lets me check FB any moment of the day. I think this can be really distracting for me and certainly keeps me from being present in so many different settings. So for this week, I’m turning those email notifications off and logging off FB on my phone. Being honest, I will probably still abuse the internet on my computer, but at least the internet won’t be stalking me when I’m shopping, exercising, or hanging out with friends. Thanks!

    • Nate Klemp says:

      Liz,

      I’m so excited to hear that you are taking the Life Beyond Logic Internet challenge for the week! I’m trying to do this as well and, you’re right, it’s pretty tricky. I find that all my habits and routines keep me locked in to the world of the Internet.

      Let me know how it goes!

  2. Brice Howe, CLC says:

    Nate, once again we’re paralleling each other. My own fear in launching my website last July was that I would be on the computer more than I wanted…my fear has come true. Sunday, I just sent out a notice that I’m cancelling my Fan Page and I’m making strides this week to unplug/simplify even more. So here are my TIPs and changes I’m making:

    1) I set a timer to go off every hour and then spend a minimum of 60 seconds moving, stretching, breathing, hand-weights, squats, doorway pushups, STOPPING, etc. (The timer also acts like a ‘Task Master’ standing over me with their stop-watch; I get so much more accomplished.)

    2) I write down the tasks I want to complete on-line and do those first before veering off into Never-Never Land.

    3) I’m only going on-line twice a day; once in the a.m. and once in the p.m.

    4) I’m not clicking on any ‘links’ that are not pertinent to my life goals. This is an important one because I started using the computer as a tool but like my own mind, if I don’t keep aware, it will take over. This one is also important because I think it is the most addictive…egos/minds ‘want to know’ so they just keep clicking and going and watching and reading until their satiated. Here’s my truth…most of that information will not forward my life’s goals and all of it will be available any time if I do need to access it.

    What I’m doing with the other time I’m saving (a minimum of 4hours) is I’m getting social: i.e. sending letters/note cards to friends; attending community meetings and events, calling instead of emailing, etc. This is ‘feeding’ my soul as opposed to sucking the energy from my soul.

    Thanks for your work; it’s significant and always a great reminder of who I am and can be.

    All the best,
    Brice Howe, CLC

    • Nate Klemp says:

      Brice,

      This is such a great strategy. I am especially intrigued by the timer method. I’ve been thinking about that for a while but have never tried it. I think I will this week.

      Yeah, you and I sound like we are in a similar position — trying to write about how to live well using the medium of the Internet (a tool that can so easily distract and disorient us from life).

      I’ll let you know how the timer strategy works!

      Nate

  3. Brice Howe says:

    Hey Nate:

    Here’s another link to a WeeklyTIP I wrote specifically about using a timer as a ‘tool’….it’s called ‘Sixty On Sixty’: http://www.truthisparamount.com/blog/?s=sixty+on+sixty

    If the link doesn’t work, just go to my site (truthisparamount.com) and search ‘Sixty On Sixty’ on my WeeklyTIP page.

    Let me know how you fair. :)

    All the best, Nate.
    Brice

  4. Nataraj says:

    Dear Nate,

    One thing I have realized is the Bermuda triangle of Web….space between and among Facebook, Twitter and Gmail…is very dangerous and coming out of it difficult….So I have made it a point that I never go there during office hours….and I have e-egg timer when I go on internet for browsing or thru ‘Bermuda Triangle’ at non office hours. Once the 25 min bell rings…I generally try to quit the go….but your thoughts of conscious breathing and observing the presence in feet are interesting….but I felt it was difficult…you need something to bring back…when you stray…

    But your thought/ idea itself is interesting….and has many pluses…let me try to do this for week and give you a feedback..

    I enjoyed your blog….and have subscribed for newsletter ….this is my first visit to your blog…..

    Regards

    Nataraj

    • Nate Klemp says:

      Nataraj,

      I love your description of the web as a “Bermuda Triangle”!!! It certainly can be.

      I’m really interested in the timer idea as well. I’ve been working on that with my blog these days — i.e. giving myself a limited amount of time for Facebook, Twitter, etc.

      Let me know how it goes!

      Nate

  5. Istvan says:

    Nate, this is the most timely reminder for me, too. I realize more and more that the time I spend on the internet is far too much. I just sit down to check my mail and then by opening all the links I am bombarded with – and they are usually fun, intriguing and also educational, impacting my work. Just recently I answered a friend (vial email of course) that I being fed up with all these virtual communication and what I need is personal contact and we met. However, I met one of my favorite teachers from High school and although we had great connection at that time (too many years ago!), he realized who I was but was not very interested. I later connected with him on the internet and a friendship of a sort has been formed – of course a virtual one. And it is not likely that we will ever meet face to face. He is too busy I think. And with you or Ryan i could never have personal contact if only because of the distant and the ocean that separates us.
    BUT! – your post is a timely reminder to cut back my time on the internet. So thanx!
    istvan

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