What do you do instead?

You live.

Saturday. It’s 1 in the morning, cold with light snow covering the ground. My ex and I have just returned from a super fun party a bit early, and I’m sober. We bundle up to go for a walk. No, we’re not crazy. I live for challenges, and I need to go on this walk.

We walk downtown. As we’re crossing at an intersection- cars approaching in the far distance- my ex turns to me and asks if I want to lie down in the middle of the road. I do, so we do. It’s quiet. Peaceful. I feel the vibration of the cars approaching in the far distance. A very new feeling. We get up a few seconds later. We keep walking.

What do you do instead? You find it in each moment.

I hate the list of things to do offline (first link I found on Google) that often gets posted online. It’s… so uninspired, thus uninspiring. It doesn’t take a genius to suggest reading as an alternative to social media- Oops! Reading, for all intents and purposes, is a valuable pursuit, but it gets tiring seeing it recommended over and over and over again as some magical fix for getting offline. Get offline, and reading becomes fun- Wrong. Some days, hell most days, the last thing I want to do is pick up a book and turn the pages. And yeah, demons hate fresh air, but it’s almost always too cold, too hot, too this and to that for a walk. There are a million reasons we tend to ignore cliché recommendations posturing as good advice; mostly they are uninspiring.

We are longing for something else. Craving things- things before the Internet- that seem to have vanished, and you feel this most acutely when you log off, especially in the beginning. It’s gruelling to face the vast empty space that remains, of time, attention, and emotion. It’s hard to get offline, when everyone is online.

But you still want to unplug. So, what do you do instead?

You commit.

You commit to do anything else but waste another moment- let alone hours– of your life tapping away at a screen. You commit to never again fight sleep just for another hit of dopamine via a funny tweet, and it’s 3:23AM. You commit to never ignore someone in a conversation reading through a Reddit conversation. Not because there will be something magical waiting on the other side for you, but because you’ve realized tapping away at a screen endlessly while ignoring people around you isn’t how you want to get through your days, and by extension your life.

This approach has worked really well for me.

It has been a while since I gave up the pretence that if only I got off the Internet, my life would magically become better, more interesting, more connected. If only it was that easy. It’s, in fact, the opposite: Social media is easy, real life is hard. I say this not to scare you, but to remind you to have patience and compassion for yourself as the online world keeps pulling you back into its endless stream of distraction as you try to face time spent offline, and you are left wondering, what do I do instead?

Simple (but not easy).

You commit to putting on one piece of clothing at a time until you’re sufficiently dressed for a walk at 1AM in the cold, not because it’s fun or magical, but because you might just get inspired to lie down in the middle an empty intersection and feel the vibration of cars approaching in the distance. A new feeling.

Until next time,

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