Once you get over the irony that there’s an online community dedicated to helping people get offline, you realize that r/nosurf, a subreddit with 172,000 subscribers, is a very necessary refuge. Not because it’s offering any sort of never-before-considered strategies for those who want to become less reliant on technology. (Though, in fairness, they do have some interesting methods to lessen your reliance on your phone — more on that below.) Instead, it functions more like an AA meeting. Strangers drop in to talk about their latest effort to unplug, and usually, such posts end with a confession about how they failed but plan on endeavoring nonetheless.
Basically, it’s a place where people can go to feel like they’re not alone in how tethered they are to their devices.
Here’s a good example: Last week, a 20-year-old wrote that he’s been making an active effort to spend less time on his phone and social media in general. “I have deleted all of my social media apps off of my phone, and am currently working through the days of How to Break Up With Your Phone [a book by Catherine Price],” he writes. “I already find myself reaching for my phone/browsing the web less in my free time and reading/unplugging/doing other activities more.”
But — and this “but” is typical of most posts in the subreddit — he also admits that all his efforts fail when he’s tied to his desk for work. “Without a specific task being given to me that can take up most of my time, I find myself inevitably browsing the web again aimlessly,” he continues.
It would be easy to read some of the r/nosurf posts and decide that the forum is a bit pathetic. Not least because, as someone there notes, sometimes r/nosurf can seem like it focuses too heavily on suggesting a bunch of YouTube videos and a few different books can teach you how to reduce the grip the internet has on you.
But as someone who’s also attempted and failed numerous times to curb how much I scroll mindlessly, the frustration is very relatable. Going no surf is tough. Still, the members of the subreddit have some good tips for how, at the very least, to waste less time on the internet. Such as…
Reprogram Your Brain Rather Than Your Phone
Typically, when we think about shutting out technological distractions, we turn to more technology — e.g., apps that remind us that we’ve already spent four hours on YouTube. But according to one r/nosurf subscriber, a better way to go about conditioning yourself against mindless scrolling is to come up with something physical to do. “Every time you feel the urge to mindlessly go online, program your brain to do something else and remind yourself to look around and stay in the real world,” they write. “I use a fidget spinner. Whenever I want to go online and waste time, I spin the spinner instead and look around and remind myself that I don’t want to waste my time on mindless online garbage.”
Again, as silly as it sounds, this ain’t easy. “You’re going to have some fears arise about not being on the internet so much/deleting social media, about potentially becoming irrelevant, about missing the validation you’d get on your posts,” writes a since-deleted account (good for them). “You’ll come up with all kinds of justifications as to why you shouldn’t do all of this or that you can ‘handle it.’ It’s normal.”
Not only is it normal, it’s something this ex-redditor thinks you should lean into: “Realize, ‘Oh, this is the part where I would normally pick up my phone. Oh, this is the part where I would normally run to Facebook and tell people about it.’ Just be mindful about the pining you feel and sometimes boredom you’ll feel during this change — your world just got a lot smaller and it’s scary. You’re rewiring where you get your attention and entertainment from, so this panic is normal, but you’re doing this for a good reason.”
Plan What You Need the Internet For
Remember those days of the pandemic when you made plans to quickly get in and out of the grocery store? This strategy is a bit like that, but for the internet. Set an amount of time you need to respond to emails/messages and do that in one chunk a couple of times a day, or even just once if you can manage it. The same holds true for social media. If you need it for work, decide how you plan to use it before diving in. That way, you’re better prepared to treat the technology like a tool rather than a time-suck.
For those who don’t know, a grayscale screen is when the only colors of the aforementioned screen are shades of gray. Per several r/nosurfers, going gray is a great way to better appreciate the vivid colors of the real world. “I’m finding it has lost its appeal as a ‘fun’ thing,” writes zipiddydooda. “Instead, now it’s just a tool for calls and texts. There’s no bright and shiny colors anymore, and my brain is not interested!”
Use Data to Better Understand Your Usage
Okay, so maybe I was a bit too harsh on no-surf apps earlier. Because seeing firsthand how many hours you spend online via apps like Social Fever or OFFTIME can certainly scare you into curbing your usage. “It is VITAL that you do not feel ashamed of what you find out,” writes FullVinceMode. “You simply MUST lay the information out bare so that you know where YOU are. This is not about comparing yourself to others; this is about pure information about your usage. You must commend yourself every day for staring into the face of the beast and keeping on going.”
And when you can’t keep on going on your own, that’s what r/nosurf is for.