Unplugging from the Internet
Going Offline for a Few Days at the Beach...
Unplugging from the Internet during a recent beach vacation reminded me how unnatural and unimportant most things vying for our attention actually are . . . and that this insight will do me no good unless I actually change my habits.
Going Offline at the Beach
This past week, we went to the beach, which I believe is one of the best vacation destinations for families with younger children: the kids can play in the sand or the waves, while the parents relax and get a tan — or if you’re a pale-skinned cracka like me, a sunburn.
I decided to unplug from the internet . . . for the most part. Now that an internet connection can follow you wherever you go if you have a smart phone — or if you drive a recent-model car, use a new high-end appliance, or engage with any number of internet-connected things nowadays — it can be difficult to go offline completely.
I left my phone inside whenever we went out, and I tried to limit my use of it to scanning emails and text messages once in the evening, with no social media usage (aside from reading a few Substack articles via email). And with the sole exception of reading “daily intel” summaries (also by email) from Mike Shelby’s Forward Observer — which gets you up-to-speed quickly on major news stories with a practical, rather than politically partisan, analysis of events — I avoided reading or watching any “news.”
Social Media Is a Total Waste
I was quickly reminded — I would say “reminded” rather than “realized,” because Lord knows this lesson has been made abundantly clear to me many times in the past already — I was reminded that social media is a waste of time, energy, attention, etc.
By “social media,” I mean all the usual suspects: Fakebook, Twatter, YouTube, and the parallel ecosystem of un-woke, free-speech promoting alternatives on the Right, e.g., Gettr, Rumble, etc. — and nowadays “Right” seems to refer to anything more politically conservative than the gender-studies department at U.C. Berkley, so by merely taking a hands-off, nonpartisan approach to content moderation, your platform is effectively “right wing.” (Lenny Bruce and George Carlin would be shocked to find their positions on free speech are now considered “alt-Right.”)
Social media platforms do have very limited usefulness. They have allowed regular people to share some of the facts that the regime-friendly mainstream media tried to bury (e.g., the actual peacefulness and diversity of the Canadian Freedom Convoy protests earlier this year), so these platforms are not entirely bad; but the ratio of good information to time-wasting shit is extremely low. For every one insightful statement someone makes on Twatter, there are a thousand people just stupidly chanting slogans and having unhinged emotional reactions like overgrown toddlers throwing tantrums.
Rather than trying to wade through the online shitstorms and make sense of everything yourself, it is far more efficient to pick a few heterodox thinkers to follow, and then let them sift through the online muck and find the pertinent information for you. Obviously, you have to choose whom to follow wisely, and you periodically have to double-check them to make sure they haven’t been captured by some new political movement — because we are ALL susceptible to that, especially in today’s turbo-charged hyper-partisan world where you can find yourself, by default, in a foreign political camp just because you have not climbed aboard the latest bandwagon celebrating some trendy ideology; and once you’re in a group that is unfairly maligned by the death-cult members of the newest political fringe movement, it can be highly tempting to identify with the group being unfairly attacked and rush to its defense. And any time you identify with a group, you open yourself up to the creeping influence of groupthink.
As social primates, being part of a group is inevitable, so the temptation towards groupthink is something about which even the most ardent free-thinker must always be vigilant. And if you are relying on others to filter information for you, obviously you have to be alert to any signs of groupthink (or other cognitive biases) on their part, as well as your own.
In an ideal world, you would gather and sort through all available information yourself, but there is simply too much of it for this to be practical. As a regular person, it is too easy to get lost in all the noise. By spending your time and energy navigating the virtual hall of mirrors where information spreads online, you devote inordinate attention to things that seem urgent, but are mostly unimportant.
As has become clear, social media platforms are optimized to capture your attention by any means necessary, in order to suck up your data and use it to manipulate your decision-making. Many people, such as Tristan Harris, have observed that the users of these platforms are not the customers; they are the product being sold. And if Truth and Reason get in the way of that transaction, then Truth and Reason are suborned and suppressed.
A few days away from these sites reminded me that for my own good, for my own effectiveness as a person, I need to stay away from social media — with the sole exception of Substack. Maybe it’s Substack’s long-form format; maybe it’s the type of person drawn to long-form essays and, just as importantly, the type of person who is deterred by long-form essays; but whatever it is, the quality of discourse on Substack is of a different kind altogether than the shouting matches on Twatter. It’s like comparing a plate of steak and vegetables to a box of doughnuts: yeah, they’re both technically food, but only one of them is nutritious.
Holly the “Math Nerd” wrote a piece on her substack recently about getting off of Twitter. When I read it, I found myself agreeing with all her points, but making excuses for my own continued use of the site. Which is exactly the same thing I did when I saw The Social Dilemma or listened to Tristan Harris on various podcasts he’s been on. And which is exactly what I did when I read about Tim Ferriss’s Low Information Diet in The Four-Hour Workweek. And which is exactly what I’ll continue to do until I actually follow Holly’s advice and get off of Twitter and similar sites.
When it comes to social media, I know what I need to do. Now, all that remains is for me to do it.
Most News Is Unimportant
Speaking of Tim Ferriss’s Low Information Diet, I was very much helped, emotionally and spiritually, by getting a few days of “news detox” under my belt this week. And since returning home, I have mostly avoided going back to it.
For one thing, the demand for emotionally-charged news stories often outstrips the supply of events that actually warrant such emotional investment. So the news media invents whatever is lacking and gives us “outrage porn,” which is to news what regular porn is to sex: a bad counterfeit that titillates but never edifies or fulfills.
Of course, if some fringe but politically influential minority gets taken in by the artificial news stories and demands immediate action from the sociopathic con men holding public office, then the “fake news” can quickly become real, albeit in a perverse and profoundly destructive way.
Today’s legacy news media features more stupidity and sensationalism than the supermarket tabloids did back in the pre-internet days, but with a fraction of the entertainment value. At least the tabloids knew they were ridiculous, and like the WWE does with its redneck soap-opera storylines, the tabloids seem to have fun with it.
As Chris Bray has pointed out, the agenda of most media pundits “is simply to narrow the range of acceptable voices.”
Even if you manage to get off social media yourself, if you read mainstream news stories, they will divert your attention back to the exact same garbage that you'd see on social media. For some reason, many of today’s top reporters get their “scoops” from viral tweets. Rather than finding unknown facts to report, thereby creating legitimate news stories, these internet sleuths report on what some small segment of the population thinks the news should be, in advance of the facts. Add to that the “clickbait” titles and the hyper-partisan, ultra-propagandistic, and stupidly shallow analysis found in most news articles, and you might as well be reading some moronic but cocksure teenager’s twitter history.
What’s the answer? For myself, I think I will
try to limit myself to following a couple of (so far) reliable sources of information presented in the format of daily intel briefings: (1) Forward Oberver (as previously mentioned above) and (2) The President’s Daily Brief, a podcast by former CIA officer Bryan Dean Wright. In addition to these sources, I will continue to read some of the writers I follow on Substack, like John Carter, Chris Bray, and Handwaving Freakoutery.
The President’s Daily Brief Podcast by Bryan Dean Wright
Our Modern World Is Anti-Nature
I think the real root reason for distancing yourself from social media and most news is that they are, like much of our modern world, profoundly anti-nature. Not just unnatural, but actively inimical of what is natural. And by “Nature,” I principally mean our own Human Nature.
Being in a natural setting — for me the top three are the mountains, the beach, and a starlit sky well away from the light-pollution of the city — being in these natural settings serves to ground you in something more real and eternal than the counterfeit cares and concerns foisted on us by our artificial culture. In 2022 AD, you can see these natural wonders and experience the same sense of numinous awe that people felt towards them in 2022 BC.
Our culture constantly changes, but some things stay the same. And the more natural a thing is, the more likely it is to last — or if it doesn’t last, then its lifecycle is endlessly repeated, so that each manifestation of it reveals some aspect of an eternal theme.
As a great 20th-century American poet sang on the Kansas song Dust in the Wind, “nothing lasts forever but the earth and the sky…”
Or as the Psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God . . . There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19: 1-3 KJV.) You could say the same thing for the ocean waves crashing into the beach, or the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
If you eat prepackaged, processed food for every meal, you can forget how good simple, natural foods are. After a while, you no longer even notice the artificiality of your diet. But just eat a bowl of freshly-picked blackberries or a charbroiled trout you caught an hour earlier, and you will taste the unmistakable difference between real food and the factory-made garbage you’ve been eating.
In exactly the same way, much of our time and attention is consumed by the artificial constructs that comprise our culture. These cultural elements are so ubiquitous — everyone around you engages with them as if they are completely natural and even necessary — that it is easy to forget that they are mostly arbitrary and entirely artificial. But after only a few minutes spent watching Nature display her beauty and grandeur, you immediately see just how meaningless most of our culture is.
What are the practical takeaway here? Spending more time in Nature, as well as prioritizing things that are consistent with our own inner Human Nature. Unplugging from the internet more often. Focusing on meaningful relationships and productive pastimes. Staying rooted in spiritual disciplines and philosophical and religious systems that have withstood the test of time.
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