NoSurf: A guide for minimizing mindless browsing

Photo by Liam Briese on Unsplash

My introduction to the NoSurf community, ironically, happened as I was mindlessly browsing through Reddit, my favorite guilty pleasure, and stumbled upon the NoSurf subreddit, a community for people who want to become more productive by wasting less time mindlessly surfing the internet.

The NoSurf movement does not advocate for quitting the internet altogether. Instead, they advocate for cutting out negative internet use and mindless browsing.

After all, the internet and our digital devices are very valuable tools when used with purpose. I am forever in awe of the amount of information and knowledge available to me online, regarding any topic that might pique my interest, at a click of a button and within literal seconds.

That is indeed powerful.

However, our smartphones, social media accounts, streaming sites, and inboxes are intentionally designed to hijack our brain’s natural reward system, and our brain sees the internet as an easy pathway to trigger happy feelings. This hijacking is costing us our motivation and creativity, as we spend more and more time mindlessly browsing in a zombie-like state.

When your reward system is tuned to expect easy rewards from vicarious onscreen pleasures, why pursue difficult, messy real-world achievements?

What is mindless browsing?

Have you ever intended to quickly check for inbox, and ended up binge-watching YouTube videos for hours, and hours of your life has passed by and you have no idea how you got here, or who you are?

Mindless browsing refers to the use of the internet without really having a clear reason or purpose for why we’re doing so. Below is a checklist to determine if you struggle with mindless browsing.

A checklist for mindless browsing:

☐  Do you ever find yourself opening your browser, but you have no idea why?
☐  Do you turn to a screen whenever you feel anxious, lonely or bored?
☐  Once you are done your browsing, do recall any of it?
☐  Do you miss out on accomplishing important tasks because of browsing?
☐  Do you use the internet to simply fill time, or as an escape for when you feel uncomfortable?
☐  Is the first thing you do every morning check your social media feed or browse internet forums, such as Reddit?
☐  Do you ever find yourself typing your go-to website simply out of habit without meaning to do so?

Of course, sometimes it is nice to indulge in hundreds of cat videos or, my favorite, browse through /r/BlackPeopleTwitter, and laugh out loud without having to worry about the utility of such activity.

It’s fine to take a spin on the hamster wheel of impulse gratification every once in a while.

Chasing impulse gratification undermines our potential when it becomes a way of life. If you spend your every waking day binge-watching YouTube videos or refreshing your social media apps, then that’s where you miss out on a productive and purpose-driven life. As such, mindless browsing is, often, followed by feelings of guilt and shame at wasting so much time and spending our day unproductively.

When mindless browsing starts to interfere with our lives, or we use it for escapism, we need to take a step back and assess our relationship with technology and the digital realm.

From mindless browsing to mindful browsing

While it is agreeably challenging to practice mindful internet use, it is still possible to create a healthier relationship with technology that will help us think clearly, be more productive and creative, and minimize anxiety and cynicism.

Be intentional. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I browsing at this moment? What purpose does it serve?‘ By intentionally assessing your use of digital devices, it becomes easier to utilize it purposefully, instead of using it as a distraction.

Intentionality is what lets you dip into “fun” without making it a way of life.

You call the shots. It is possible to stay in control and don’t be ruled by our digital devices. When we purposefully decide to go on our favorite website or app for a bit, that is very different from compulsively pulling it up because we feel uncomfortable, or bored, or aimless. Use your phone like a hammer.

Cut back on your aimless browsing. Don’t treat digital like a cheap way to fill dead air with mindless clicking. Use digital when you need to, and put it down when you don’t.

Create physical separation. My phone is never more than an arm’s distance away from me for the majority of the time. That makes it easier to mindlessly pick it up and browse through just to pass time. Creating physical separation will reduce the impulse to reach for our devices out of habit. Put your devices away when not in use. If you are not using your laptop, put it away in a drawer.

Continue to cultivate a mindset shift. In order to cultivate a healthy relationship with our digital lives, we must understand how big tech companies have figured a way to hijack our attention and keep up glued to our screen 24/7, and then commit to changing that relationship. Continue researching and learning about how big data is hijacking our attention. 

Take digital breaks. Make it your personal policy to take a digital break daily, weekly, or monthly, or whatever. The point of taking a digital break, in my opinion at least, is to consciously set time aside to minimize the noise and allow time for silence, contemplation, and boredom.

Also remember: Triviality is suffocating. Does it really matter who did what at the Emmys last night? Does it matter that Twitter had THIS to say? Does it matter that some jackass in some other part of the world went online and said something stupid? If you want to think big, apply your mind to big things, over which you have some level of influence. Don’t scatter your thoughts among a million insubstantial flecks.

How would your life improve by practicing mindful browsing? 

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