An economy which rewards those who capture the most attention has given rise to manipulative technologies, invasive advertising, and manufactured outrage. Attention activists resist this exploitation through innovation, regulation, ethics, leadership, education and mindfulness.

Yes, you heard that right - mindfulness. We need systems change, but we also need to reclaim choice as individuals. We can train our minds for a freedom of attention in waking life. In a culture where ads and apps compete to influence you, the pursuit of mental clarity has become a subversive act.

- Jay Vidyarthi

if the internet went away forever

On Wednesday July 31st, I ran a little experiment probing the entire Daily Haloha community on their relationship with technology. If you haven’t tried the app yet, it’s basically social media for people who are sick of social media. It uses question prompts to simply and anonymously connect people online. And what’s most refreshing, it’s impossible to spend more than a few minutes on it per day.

Here’s how it works. Every morning, a new thought-provoking question prompt arrives through the Daily Haloha app. When you send in your answer, you see an anonymous wall of other people’s answers from around the world. Not only does it provide a wonderful moment of reflection in your day, but you also get a chance to see how people from all around the world respond.

The app’s questions tend to focus on your deeper values, opinions and life experiences. A few weeks ago, I worked with the Daily Haloha team to covertly seed in a question about technology. As you know, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about how to stand up to the unintended consequences of our connected world, so I thought it might be interesting to see how people finish this sentence:

If the internet went away forever, I _____

How would you complete that sentence? It might be fun to take a moment now to come up with your own answer. Below, I’ll share a lot of responses from the community. So before you get influenced by everyone else’s thoughts, pause here to reflect on the prompt before reading on.

Right off the bat, it was clear there was something unique about this question. We got responses from all around the world, including the US, Canada, UK, Thailand, Pakistan, Australia, and many more. It turns out, the idea of the internet disappearing was the most polarizing question ever seen on the network. We know this quantitatively.

The app lets users indicate the mood of their response, and this question evoked the most diverse range of moods ever. Also, the app asks each person to offer a personal reaction to one other response; when compared to other daily questions, ours spiked in the ‘I See Things Differently’ reaction — more people directly disagreed with other responses than ever before.

I set a few hours aside to dive into a qualitative analysis of all the responses. There was a bit of overlap, but most fit into the 7 categories outlined below.

If the internet went away forever…

1. I would have better close relationships, but miss my connection with distant people

Many people responded to this question talking about their relationships. There was a clear sense that face-to-face relationships would be vastly improved.

  • If the internet went away forever, I wouldn’t mind. People might start talking to each other again

At the same time, many lamented on how much they’d miss the connection to to those they care about who are far away.

  • If the internet went away forever, I’d miss being in regular contact with my friends and family who live far away. Sharing the little moments regardless of distance keeps us close.

And there were even a few who clearly preferred their online relationships, the idea of having to connect with people in person felt daunting.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would kinda hate it cause my internet friends are better than my real friends.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would be even more lonely

2. I would be worried about our future

There was another whole category of responses expressing how much we’d be losing as a civilization if the online world were to vanish:

  • If the internet went away forever, I would feel depressed about the future; I would mourn the feeling of being connected to the world, and the endless possibility of information exchange.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would be worried about the future of humanity. We would lose access to so much information

  • If the internet went away forever, I would feel sad that so much human knowledge is no longer available to all of us.

Others were a bit more dramatic:

  • If the internet went away forever, I would start stocking up for the zombie apocalypse.

  • If the internet went away forever, I will die

3. I would feel liberated and have more time to do what I love

On the other hand, a sense of liberation was perhaps the most common response we got.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would feel free

  • If the internet went away forever, I would rejoice!

  • If the internet went away forever, I would heave a sigh of relief

Many of these responses described specifically how the internet sucks up and wastes a lot of their time, with some even highlighting that they’d have more space in their lives to do what they really want to do.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would spend much more time making music.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would finally read that stack of books and be delighted.

  • If the internet went away forever, I play more tennis

4. I would be happier, it would improve my mental state

If our lives became a 100% offline affair, many had an expectation that their mental state would improve in a number of ways.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would be happier than ever

  • If the internet went away forever, I would sleep on time.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would live more in the moment

  • If the internet went away forever, I will become smarter.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would probably be more relaxed.

5. I would miss it, especially the instant access to information

Some people responded that they would miss the internet.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would miss it!

  • If the internet went away forever, I will not survive

Many mentioned specific tools and features they would miss, the most common example was being the immediacy of information and the ability to get quick answers.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would need to invest in an encyclopedia

  • If the internet went away forever, I would really miss the instant access to information that helps me all day long. Going back is inconceivable, a different time.

Some highlighted the importance of the virtual world for navigating the physical world.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would buy an atlas.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would get lost a lot. I rely on GPS way too much.

6. I would happily return to a simpler way of life

I was perhaps most surprised by an entire category of answers capturing a romantic notion of returning to a simpler time.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would be totally fine going back to the old ways and life would slow down a little bit.

  • If the internet went away forever, I will start farming.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would enjoy using maps again!

Many in this category highlighted a reconnection with nature in particular.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would happily live in the forest.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would spend more time in nature.

7. I would need to shift my career in a new direction

And finally, there were more than a few pragmatists who immediately thought about the impact on their work. The prospect of disconnecting had many concerned about their livelihood:

  • If the internet went away forever, I would have to find another line of work

  • If the internet went away forever, I would have to find another career

  • If the internet went away forever, I would be very upset — I rely on it for many things including my job

Our Love-Hate Relationship with Tech

The unprecedented polarization in these answers perfectly renders the love-hate relationship we all have with our technology. In a world without the internet, it seems some would lament the loss while others would celebrate the liberation. And many would do both.

  • If the internet went away forever, I waste less time, be less informed, and be more present in my daily life.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would miss the ready access to particular people and information, but overall would feel calmer.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would be freer in some ways and more constrained in others.

And of course, we can’t escape the irony that it was in fact the internet itself that enabled us all to even participate in this experiment.

  • If the internet went away forever, I would survive, but I’d miss all the positives about it, like Haloha!

Compared to the addictive, ego-driven engines of modern social media platforms, it’s been refreshing to play around with a social medium that has no user profiles, messaging, or upvoting of any kind; it’s simply not a popularity contest. It’s a bit more lighthearted and doesn’t try to hook you at every tap.

The internet probably won’t go away any time soon, but one thing is clear: it’s not perfect yet. Seems like one of our most important missions over the next decade will be to maintain the benefits while reducing the negative impact.

a cryptic, glitchy podcast called ‘thinking’

game changer