5 practices for a healthier use of the Internet

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“My only regret is that I didn’t spend enough time on the Internet. – No one, nowhere, ever

The Internet in 2021 is not the infinite library / the creative web / the utopian symposium that we were promised. With every click, we’re betting our time, attention, and mental well-being for a jackpot of intermittent neural rewards – for entertainment and distraction, for cringe and catharsis, for pathos and hathos and bathos – all injected directly into our brain reward circuit at 60 Mbit / s.

In “There is no Red Pill” and “Righteous Bullying,” I wrote about some of the dangers the Internet poses to mental health: the lure of addicting news searches, rabbit holes conspiracy and collective intimidation. The irony is that, for all the suffering it inflicts, the Internet is not an absolute evil. Sometimes that can be a real lifeline.

After a lifetime of misdiagnoses, the internet is where I learned about intrusive thought OCD – a discovery that allowed me to find a qualified therapist for proper diagnosis and exposure-response prevention therapy. who treated my disorder. When my symptoms are at their worst, I have found distraction and relief in games, webcomics, and forums. And during the current pandemic, video conferencing has allowed me and many others to continue treatment during times of isolation and anxiety. The internet can be a horrible place, but I can’t deny that it has played such a vital role in my healing journey. For this reason, I can neither exclude it from my own life nor condemn it as an absolute evil.

Our problem, then, is that while the internet is a powerful and at times transformative tool, it also offers unlimited access to vast reserves of psychologically harmful content – intended not to educate us or improve our lives, but to trap us in it. compulsive cycles of unhealthy “engagement,” wooing toxic relationships with other users while maximizing profits for platform owners. Thus, the challenge of healthy living in the Internet age is not to reject technology, but manage our engagement with it.One of the best ways to do this is to change the tools we use to interface it.

I will recommend practices, programs, and applications that have helped me control my own internet use. I can’t promise this will work for everyone, and this post can age badly; any of these programs could disappear in six months or automatically algorithmically evolve into dangerous AI. But I hope these suggestions will at least provide a starting point for researching programs and practices that work for you.

1. Try to make internet access less convenient

The first and easiest thing to do is make Internet access less convenient. It’s the digital equivalent of wearing a rubber band on your wrist and breaking it when you’re about to repeat a bad habit; Putting even a small barrier between yourself and unhealthy behavior can help you pause, reconsider, and make a healthier choice. Turn off your modem when you are not using it; change your device’s connection settings so that your wifi is disabled by default; delete your saved network password, so that you have to re-enter it manually; move your browser icon from your desktop to a secondary folder; and turn off your phone when you get home at night.

2. Calm those comments

Consider using the Poetically Named Shut Up: Comment Blocker – a digital guardian seraph that gracefully and gracefully removes endless, unnecessary comments that hang from the bottom of each post. I cannot recommend this program highly enough. While you aren’t normally tempted to actually participate in these undead anti-conversations, you’ll be shocked when you realize how much time and mental energy you’re wasting browsing the barely cohesive snipes of trolls and spambots. . If you really want to read the comments, you can resurrect them with a right click.

3. Consider installing a blocking service

If you find yourself regularly tempted by a specific website, especially at inconvenient hours, a blocking service can add an additional barrier to access that can prevent you from derailing. You can do this by playing around with your firewalls or filters, but I’ve found the easiest way is to install the BlockSite browser extension, which will automatically redirect you from a specified URL to an image of. a disapproving elderly person or an upset pug. The free version of BlockSite offers very limited functionality and can be easily bypassed by disabling the extension; but sometimes this extra step can prevent you from accessing distracting, harmful or addicting content.

4. Use an ad blocker

Blocking ads, especially video ads, saves time and bandwidth, while hiding user-targeted “sponsored” search results designed to lure you into Internet limbo. Adblock and Adblock Plus (unrelated, albeit with the same name) are free options that are both effective and versatile; I have had good results downloading and running both, so if one is missing an ad on a particular site, you can switch to the other. Some browsers also offer automatic ad blocking, which brings us to …

5. Try a different browser, homepage, or search engine

Consider changing your default browser, home page and / or search engine. Shifting to a different service with better business practices and greater transparency can help you escape the manipulative click-through content cycles of services like Google and Facebook.

DuckDuckGo is a simple Google alternative that can provide more useful search results because it won’t show you endless articles written specifically to exploit Google’s search algorithms. You.com, currently in development, organizes search results as a table, not a list, making it easy for you to sort and browse multiple results from the best sources. The tool is instantly intuitive.

For alternative web browsers, Firefox is a well-known and reliable alternative to Chrome and Safari that is just as easy to use. If you’re a little more tech-savvy, the new Brave browser offers powerful customization options, along with comprehensive automatic protection against cookies, ads, and invasive tracking software. To note: I’m a little wary of recommending Brave to the uninitiated, as it still offers untargeted advertising and confusing cryptocurrency integration, but both can easily be turned off in settings.

The discourse between our organic human brains and the deluge of digital stimuli on the Internet is a new phenomenon, which is evolving at an exhausting rate. From its utilitarian origins, the Internet has procedurally generated new complications and new traits to the detriment of the well-being of its users: toxic speech, user monetization, and algorithmically generated content. Ultimately, we can no longer afford to view the Internet as a purely benign medium of information exchange; emerging companies and systems have developed sophisticated practices to exploit such naivety. We need to carefully consider how we personally interact with the Internet and consciously adjust our preferences and practices to ensure that we can enjoy its benefits without being trapped in its traps.

Copyright Fletcher Wortmann, 2021.

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