Profile viewed, invitation sent. Connect.

Recently, I struggled with social isolation as I drudged to establish myself in a new city with no family or friends, and with the added task of convincing hirers of my usefulness after a long maternity break.

Torn between household chores, a baby and my career-in-waiting, I was checking my accounts on various social media platforms almost every five minutes. For days, I had been doing that.

What was I looking for? Interesting news articles, job openings, people with similar qualifications or interests—in fact, anything and everything that could keep me from feeling USELESS, INVISIBLE and ALONE.

Almost always, on one app or the other, updates welcomed me. So I wasn’t alone.

I felt connected

In this ‘internet hegemony’, as I like to call it, I connected with a technical recruiter of Indian descent based in the U.S., on a social network for professionals. I read his short prose about how times have changed since the ’90s. At one place, he says, “Somewhere between ground main aaja (Come, let’s play) and Online aaja (come online), we all grew up.”

’90s kid, haan!

It clicked.

I sent him an invitation. Five minutes later, a beep on my smartphone alerted me that my invitation had been accepted. 

So, there I was. One more connection, some new friends on Facebook and more likes on Insta, yet lonely. No one to talk to or see in reality.

“Yeah… the tech guy is right. Somewhere between come, let’s play (or meet) and come online, we all grew up,” I thought.

To cut the rut of self-pity, I went on to check an online clothing brand. I ended up loading my cart before my eyes and hands were tired (of the phone). Since then, I have been receiving notifications that my cart is missing me. Should I be happy that I am being missed?

Frustrated, I went for a small walk with my daughter. The yellow sun was comforting, in comparison to the blue light of the smartphone.

The owner of my Airbnb apartment was parking her car. We greeted each other with a handshake and smiles. She had just returned from her Yoga class. We spoke about our kids and our countries. I invited (not the invitation sent at the click of a button) her over for coffee. She agreed to come next week. I felt ‘connected’. Almost instantly, I felt light. The handshake and the smile were magical.

Right then, I decided to go on some internet fasting.

And I am not alone, stuck in this rut. We all need internet fasting.

While intermittent fasting is in vogue, with people switching between eating and dieting, internet fasting is a challenge. Internet fasting is giving up on the internet for some time, much like intermittent fasting.

Mumbai-based nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar says, “Not intermittent, rather go for internet fasting.” She preaches against screen time and about how our smartphone addiction is killing us, smartly.

Researchers have revealed that the internet is highly addictive, much like substance abuse, and reduces the amount of grey matter involved in memory, speech and muscle control. 

Rearrange your digital life

After spending hours on your smartphone, you may feel you’ve lost the ability to connect with real people or read through a book. If you become anxious or irritable when separated from your phone, you had better go on internet fasting NOW. If not totally, then at least try rearranging your digital life.

Here’s how:

  • Make it a rule to check emails and social media at a fixed time, twice daily. Morning and evening should be good.
  • Use the smartphone only when extremely necessary. One of the best ways to kill your smartphone addiction is to be smart and get a basic device, which you can use throughout the day for making and taking calls. My father is one of the most worry-free people I know, and he consciously chose an old-age phone over a smartphone. “If someone wants to talk to me, he or she will call me. I need a phone for calls. Why messages?” says he.
  • Stop being available 24/7. Tell your friends and family to call if there is anything urgent. Anything else, including the forwarded group messages and the routine LOL, ROFL, etc. can wait.
  • Take the time to meet people, and keep your phone stashed away during these meetings. No photos or updates about who you met or what you ate or wore, please!
  • Disable notifications and uninstall some apps.
  • If, at bedtime, you always feel the urge to check your phone, it’s better to leave it in another room.
  • Start reading a book in bed.
  • Walk at least 100 steps post-dinner, and switch off all screens—mobile phones, TV, tablets, etc.—at least 60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Meditate daily.     
  • Take a tech break. Reconnect with yourself. You may enjoy a Vipassana meditation retreat where you leave aside your phone, and even books and writing material are out of bounds.
  • When taking a break from work, walk or talk to a human instead of reaching for your phone. Picking out a healthy snack or doing some stretching exercises is another great option.
  • Question yourself every time you pick up your phone: “Is it really worth my time?”

Internet fasting will give you more time to be physically active, pursue your interests and check your appetite, and you will feel healthier and happier.

Here, I should share something from my personal life.  

My sister stays in Kerala, also known as ‘God’s Own Country,’ in the southern part of India. She goes offline for a week or two before she is to visit our parents in New Delhi. She even stops answering their routine phone calls.

“Why be connected all the time? I want them to miss me. This brings out the charm of meeting in person,” she tells everybody.

Isn’t that a good move?

Jaadu Ki Jhappi (Magical Hug)

Remember how my small meeting with the apartment owner left me feeling happy? Somewhere in this virtual world, we have forgotten that humans are social animals. Our core is still the same. Our bodies produce the same hormones they did centuries ago.

It is up to us whether we allow our addiction to smartphones and the internet to hack into our happy hormones.

Studies have found that a ‘Like’ on Facebook or a message on social media releases dopamine, which plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour and makes us happy.

Exercise, eating good food or playing any competitive game also increases the level of dopamine in a person’s system. It is up to us whether we allow our addiction to smartphones and the internet to hack into our happy hormones, while ruining our health and mental balance.

When we are stressed, the level of cortisol, a steroid hormone in our body, becomes high. The slightest friendly human touch can bring down cortisol levels, making us feel happy.

Human touch—a handshake, holding hands, hugs and kisses—triggers the release of oxytocin, also called the ‘love hormone,’ which increases feelings of compassion. Even a thousand ‘Likes’ on social media can’t match the magic of a human touch.

And if holding hands can stimulate our brains and make us happy, imagine what a warm hug can do for us. A 2003 Bollywood drama, titled Munnabhai MBBS, shows how a goon enrolls himself in a medical college and goes about transforming the lives of many with ‘Jadoo Ki Jahppi,’ or magical hugs.

Having said enough, it is time to go offline. Let’s make real friends. Hi-Fi is better than Wi-Fi! And who isn’t open to warm hugs and kisses from our loved ones?

‘Til we meet next time, Happy Internet Fasting.

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