The author and self-confessed internet addict talks to Hannah Stephenson about her new book, Disconnected, and shares some simple prompts.
Whether we like it or not, the internet is here to stay – and with it our phones, social media and endless apps, alerts and algorithms that tap into our every thought.
Bestselling author, podcaster and speaker Emma Gannon is a self-confessed internet addict – but thinks we need get our humanity back and treat people better online, instead of constantly focusing on ‘scaling’ or ‘growing’ our followers.
“We used to compare ourselves with our neighbours. Now, we compare ourselves with everyone,” Gannon observes. “It’s very confusing to work out what you want to do with your life.”
Gannon, who has a combined following of more than 100,000 on Twitter and Instagram, has now written Disconnected: How To Stay Human In An Online World, which explores how people have become immersed in the digital world and how we need to remind ourselves of ‘hope, humanity and heart’, reconnecting with our human selves, rather than our social media personas.
It follows her first book, Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online, published in her late-20s, when she charted her internet experiences as a millennial born in the same year as the World Wide Web.
Now 32, after further research and seeing what’s 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 back up theories that our memories are stronger when we are in the present moment. I look back now at huge gaps in my life when I can’t really remember much because everything is through a screen, a photo, or through me packaging it up as an Instagram post.”
The digital world has become more toxic in those five years since her first book, she agrees. “We used to think online and offline were two separate beings, when actually a lot of our behaviour on the internet is seeping into real life.”
Online toxicity can result in us becoming more anxious and aggressive to each other, she notes. “People’s fuses are shorter now. We’ve also just spent two years online. We were just turning into people behind screens, which takes away our humanity.”
Many of her friends with big followings are leaving social media, she points out. “The irony is that when you attract popularity for being yourself, you then attract the negative side, people not liking you, and then you water yourself down so you don’t become yourself at all. The other side is that people are just becoming bored with it. We feasted on it and read the entire internet before bed, but I think we are just fatigued. Every time you swipe down to refresh your feed, it’s like a slot machine.”
Gannon admits that she was – and still is – addicted to the internet.
“It seems too strong a word – and maybe it’s not quite right because it’s not a substance that we’re consuming – but the withdrawal symptoms of needing to be by my phone, this idea of needing that hit of dopamine in the mornings, I could tell that from a young age that I was more obsessed with the internet than a lot of my friends.”
Now, she says she has a great relationship with the online world, thanks in part to the mini prompts she has created for herself.
“The book is a mini daily prompt: Are you getting glazed-over eyes? Are you feeling physically anxious when you are scrolling? I’ve become really aware of my physical self and how I need to take more breaks and the power of being compassionate to yourself.”
Gannon offers the following prompts to help you enjoy a more human relationship with the internet…
Work on your digital hygiene
“I love the phrase ‘digital hygiene’ because it’s like you’re clearing out your fridge of all the mouldy bits and tidying it up a bit. It’s like a Marie Kondo technique of removing things that don’t bring you joy.
“Look at who you are following. I’m following interiors accounts I like and people who inspire me. Look through your list at who you are following and mute them if necessary. When you mute someone, they don’t even know, so it’s about taking back control.”
Have a reason to pick up your phone
“Before I pick it up, it’s for a reason. Am I texting back a friend? Do I need to do a food shop? Do I need to send an email? It’s an active thing, not a passive scroll, which is what a lot of people find themselves doing. We call it ‘doomscrolling’.
Create two social accounts
Gannon has both personal and public Instagram accounts, one which she uses for her friends and family, the other for business. “A lot of people my age have made the internet their job over the last decade, which has come with amazing positives. But the downside is, why would I want to share every aspect of my life with strangers? It’s nice to have a little private space for you and your loved ones.”
Change your notifications
“I was getting pinged every time my cousin was texting me something I really didn’t need to look at in that moment. Prioritising what I need to look at and what I don’t has changed everything for me. I’m a big fan of aeroplane mode, which means no one can get through and you’re not having everything come in.”
Reach out to people you haven’t spoken to for ages
“They may be people who you might find you are having quite shallow relationships with online, sending each other emojis or likes every now and again. It doesn’t have to be a hand-written later, but make it a long message. Buy some notecards and tell them what you value about them.”
Set digital boundaries
“Put on an out of office, not just for email, but also in your WhatsApp where you can set an automated response. Don’t reply straight away. We live in this urgency (environment) in that if someone doesn’t get a response in a day, they think you’re dead. It’s about setting that boundary.”
“Make sure you’re not getting every single notification. I don’t get any now on social media. I just go on there when I want to to see if I’ve got any new messages.”
Question your e-personality
“This is when you know you’re performing a bit on the internet. We all show our good bit, but reflect on that. Are you doing something because you think it looks good, or because you feel good? Sometimes people take a new job or go on a holiday because they think of the Instagram posts. One study by Expedia found that young people now book a holiday based on how Instagrammable it is. Take a moment to think how much it is impacting you.”
Book calendar events where you can’t physically be on your phone
“It might be going to the cinema, having a massage, or going somewhere where the internet is a bit patchy. I really like doing that, because if I’m having fun doing something else, I’m not aware of not being on my phone.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself
“Sometimes I just want to sit in front of the TV and scroll on my phone for a bit if I’ve had a rubbish day. Just be aware how much you are using it and slowly make your own changes.”
Gannon feels optimistic about the future.
“People are getting landlines back and starting to write letters again. We will soon realise what we’ve been missing and having more offline connection.”
Disconnected: How To Stay Human In An Online World by Emma Gannon is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £9.99. Available now.