Whether we like it or not, the internet is here to stay – and with it our phones, social media, and countless apps, alerts, and algorithms that tap into our every thought. Best-selling author, podcaster and speaker, Emma Gannon is an avowed internet addict, but believes we need to reclaim our humanity and treat people better online, instead of constantly focusing on ‘scaling up’ or “growth” of our subscribers.
“Before, we compared ourselves to our neighbors. Now, we compare ourselves to everyone else,” observes Gannon. “It’s very confusing to know what you want to do with your life.”
Gannon, who has over 100,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram, wrote Disconnected: How To Stay Human In An Online World, which explores how people have immersed themselves in the digital world and how we need to remember “hope, humanity and heart,” reconnecting with ourselves, rather than our social media personas.
It follows her first book, Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online, published in her late twenties, when she recounted her Internet experiences as a millennial born the same year as the World Wide Web.
Now 32, after further research and seeing what was happening to her and her friends and their relationship with the internet, she felt it was time for another book. “There’s research now to support theories that our memories are stronger when we’re in the moment. I now think back to huge gaps in my life when I don’t really remember much because everything goes through a screen, a photo or through me, packaging it as an Instagram post.”
The digital world has become more toxic in the five years since her first book, she acknowledges. “We used to think that online and offline were two separate beings, when in fact much of our internet behavior seeps into real life.”
Online toxicity can make us more anxious and aggressive towards each other, she notes. “People’s fuses are shorter now. We also just spent two years online. We were just becoming people behind screens, which takes away our humanity.”
Many of her well-followed friends are leaving social media, she points out. “The irony is that when you attract popularity for being yourself, then you attract the negative side, the people who don’t like you, and then you sugarcoat yourself so you don’t become yourself at all. The other side is that people just get we had a blast and read all the internet before bed but i think we’re just tired every time you swipe down to refresh your feed it’s like a slot machine .
Gannon admits she was – and still is – addicted to the internet. “That seems too strong a word – and maybe it’s not quite right because it’s not a substance we use – but the withdrawal symptoms of needing to be near my phone, this idea of needing that dose of dopamine in the morning, I From an early age I could tell I was more obsessed with the internet than a lot of my friends.”
Now, she says she has a great connection with the online world, thanks in part to the mini prompts she created for herself. “The book is a daily mini-prompt: Do you have glassy eyes? Do you feel physically anxious when scrolling? I became really aware of my physical self and the need to take more breaks and the power to be compassionate with yourself.”
Gannon advises readers to “work on [their] digital hygiene” – a phrase she equates to “emptying your fridge of all moldy bits”; a sort of “Marie Kondo technique of removing things that don’t bring you joy”.
“I follow accounts of interiors I love and people who inspire me,” she says. “Look in your list who you follow and mute them if necessary. When you mute someone, they don’t even know it, so it’s all about taking control back.”
“Have a reason to pick up your phone,” she suggests. “Do I text a friend? Do I get groceries? Do I need to email? It’s an active thing, not passive scrolling, which a lot of people find themselves at do. We call it ‘doomscrolling’.”
Gannon recommends having separate personal and public Instagram accounts, one for friends and family, the other for business. “A lot of people my age have made the internet their job over the past decade, which has had incredible positive effects. But the downside is, why would I want to share every aspect of my life with people? strangers? It’s nice to have a bit of private space for you and your loved ones.”
“Edit your notifications” is another suggestion. “I was getting a ping every time my cousin sent me something that I really didn’t need to watch at the time,” she says. “Prioritizing what I should watch and what I don’t has changed everything for me. I’m a big fan of airplane mode, which means no one can pass and not everything fits.”
Setting numerical limits can also help. “Put an out of office, not just for emails, but also in your WhatsApp where you can set an automated response,” she suggests. “Don’t answer right away. We are living in this emergency [environment] in that if someone doesn’t get a response within a day, they think you’re dead. It’s about setting that boundary.”
“Make sure you don’t get all the notifications,” she adds. “I don’t get any more on social media. I just go there when I want to see if I have any new messages.”
Gannon wants us to question our e-personalities. “Do you do something because you think it looks good, or because it feels good?” she asks. “Sometimes people take on a new job or go on vacation because they’re thinking about Instagram posts. Research from Expedia found that young people are now booking vacations based on their Instagrammability. Take a moment to think about how it affects you.”
Not that she wants us to be too hard on ourselves. “Sometimes I just want to sit in front of the TV and scroll through my phone a bit if I’ve had a bad day,” she admits. “Just be aware of how you use it and slowly make your own changes.”
One idea is to reach out to people you haven’t spoken to in ages. “It could be people you might have a pretty superficial relationship with online, sending each other emojis or likes from time to time. It doesn’t have to be a handwritten letter, but make it a long message. some note cards and tell them what you appreciate about them.”
Gannon is optimistic about the future. “People are getting landlines back and starting to write letters again. Soon we’ll realize what we missed and we’ll have more offline connection.”
Disconnected: How To Stay Human In An Online World by Emma Gannon is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £9.99