I often see posts from people who return from Internet sabbaticals proclaiming that they made an unexpected discovery — they didn’t really miss anything because nothing important happened while they were away. I don’t think that is an honest assessment of the offline experience. A more accurate description is that whenever you spend a significant amount of time offline, you miss almost everything — but that’s ok.
I just spent about 10 days with very minimal online interaction because we had a newborn in the hospital. I caught up on some reading today and realised that I missed a lot of great stuff. It made me anxious for a while — until I realised that the “I didn’t miss anything” crowd might just be a little bit caught up in their own reality distortion fields.
The secret to a healthy and balanced online life that doesn’t give you FOMO when you’re offline is not to deny that you’re going to miss a bunch of great stuff while you’re gone. The secret is to take a deep breath and realise that it’s ok to let the vast majority of information pass you by, as long as you really take in the things that matter. Don’t just retweet. Internalise. Write. Think. Figure out how the words apply to you. Make the time count, and then surrender the rest:
Surrender is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn’t have to threaten your sense that you are well-read. It is the recognition that well-read is not a destination; there is nowhere to get to, and if you assume there is somewhere to get to, you’d have to live a thousand years to even think about getting there, and by the time you got there, there would be a thousand years to catch up on.
Or as Chris Bowler so eloquently puts it:
If the quality is there, I’m thrilled to be weaned down on my quantity.
This is the only way I know how to make peace with the fact that everything happens while I’m offline.