Why I Take a Month Off the Internet
...and why I think you should, too
I’m about to start my annual internet break. As I’ve mentioned, this is a thing I do annually out of necessity, and it almost always becomes one of the highlights of my year. I reap multiple benefits from this practice, which is why I think you should do some version of this, too.
I’ll start by saying this began almost as an accident — in June 2010 I gave birth to my third child, and after blogging for several years, I had more-or-less accidentally created a job for myself. I was running the multi-authored site I founded, and with this new thing called social media that was all the rage, the guru-manifested prescription for growing your platform was to be everywhere online all the time. Engage with your readers in the comment section of your blog, yes, but also interact with followers on Facebook and Twitter (Instagram would be the same soon enough). I wanted to grow my audience because I wanted to write books, so I followed the prescription. And it mostly worked. But it was a grind, it ultimately never fit me quite right, and in 2010, I needed a break.
I gave myself what I called a “maternity leave” from my blogging work: six weeks offline. It felt like a huge deal because our family was legitimately making good money from what I was doing, yet it wasn’t yet a business that would run itself without my constant care and feeding. But I was truly seeing the signs of early burnout, and after having already gone through the newborn stage twice, I knew I wanted to savor every minute of it. I wasn’t going to sacrifice my son’s earliest moments for digitally nursing a still-young blog.
Long story short: I took six trepidatious weeks off, and nothing remarkable happened. Hardly anyone cared that I didn’t write, post, or update, because of course they didn’t — the internet was already huge and full of more than anyone could possibly consume in a lifetime, and people simply read other things. They also had, you know, their own lives and such, and they just went about the business of doing their thing. I came back after six weeks, shared some newborn photos in a new post, and was greeted warmly by my readers with nothing but love.
That summer became my lesson in what I needed to function best as a writer, which is why I’ve taken some semblance of a summer break from the internet ever since. I wasn’t as strict in those early years, yet I’ve learned what works best for me is a clearly-defined, start and stop date of a break where I break from my norm and focus my energy on cultivating what matters most: real, analog life.
Here’s how I do it and why I think you should do something like this, too.
First off, the basics.
The gist remains the same annually but the details change slightly: I take one month off in the summer, usually July, off from interacting on the internet. For me, this means no publishing of essays or podcasts on the platforms I control, no social media posts, and no email. I also (mostly) cut out internet-based consumption: almost no podcasts, YouTube, newsletter reading, and the like. I take off any shortcuts to the internet on my phone (apps, etc.) and I always have a book with me. And I don’t keep up with the news and instead let my husband fill me in on anything important.
This year, my internet break is July 22-August 22 (for boring logistical reasons which I’ll spare you), and I’m basically following my usual protocol, mentioned above, save one possibility: I may post a few photos from my travels next week in Italy, simply because I’m partnering with a travel company. If I do, though, they’ll be sparse and they may very well wait until after I’m back so that I can fully enjoy simply being in one of my favorite places on earth.
Otherwise, my internet break will remain the same as in previous years, and I’m so grateful it’s almost here I can hardly stand it. Here’s why I benefit from this break so much—perhaps one or two of these resonate with you enough for you to consider trying a break yourself.
1. It’s good for my health.
First and possibly foremost, this is a break for my mind, body, and soul. The internet, especially social media, is taxing on all three of these things, and stepping away for even a short bit helps me reclaim these essentials. I literally feel better when I step away from the internet. I sleep better, get fewer headaches, eat better, and stress less. I don’t deal with FOMO or self-doubt about my work, and I don’t waste brain cells or soul attention judging anyone else and what they’re doing because I don’t know what they’re doing. I feel lighter. The physical benefits alone are worth this month off.
2. My concentration increases.
After a few days of detox from the internet, I find myself focusing for longer periods without my monkey mind kicking in. I can read a book without stopping to wonder what else is happening online. I can watch a whole movie without wondering if that actor is on Twitter or if there are any behind-the-scenes movie clips on YouTube. I can write for hours and not open social media for a “break” to see if there’s a good conversation I’m missing. I can have coffee or lunch with a friend and keep my phone tucked away in my purse the entire time.
3. I enjoy things more deeply.
Because of this, I find a deeper enjoyment in the things I am consuming. Conversations feel more present, more real, and more grounded. I notice smaller things, like the music playing in the background at the coffee shop or the art hanging on the wall. I’m less hurried, so I savor the little things with more aplomb—you might say when I’m on one of my daily walks that I’m literally stopping to smell the roses. I notice wildflowers in sidewalk cracks I might otherwise walk past and never see. Sounds hyperbolic, but I think even food tastes better, smells smell sweeter, and nature’s colors are more vivid. I’m more deeply grounded where we’re all supposed to be living: in the real world.
4. I remember that I’m not that important.
Nobody needs me to post anything. The world isn’t going to fall apart if I pause my presence on Twitter for one measly month. I won’t be forgotten if I don’t publish an essay or send an email for four weeks. I know this because it happens every year and it’s truly no big deal. But I get why those in some version of my line of work nervously think they’ll become irrelevant if they step away—because it feels true.
This is actually one of the biggest lies out there, I think, and I’m pretty sure it’s why so many people continue to post pointless stuff on Instagram, publish books we never needed or asked for, or never pause their podcast: they’re afraid. I get it. The internet can be a slavish taskmaster, whispering to us that the work is never done, that if we stop publishing then the algorithm will start working against us, and that we’re only as germane as the last thing we said. Stepping away, even for only four weeks, is surely a recipe for irrelevancy.
When I take my annual break, though, I’m reminded that most of this isn’t true—and whatever is true I don’t want anyway. Even for folks who don’t do their work via the internet, this lie of irrelevancy whispers relentlessly. If you’re not constantly consuming stuff online, then you won’t know the latest trends, the latest news, the latest argument, and therefore you won’t matter.
I so, so, so need frequent reminders of how small my life is, that I’m not that important, and that the few things that truly are important are not contingent on whether I take a month to take care of myself.
5. It keeps me free from The Machine.
The hyper-onlineness of our world, especially via social media, has become a machine, and it’s not how we’re meant to live. Billionaires who own platforms and their cronies who run them become the deciders of what I know, believe, and care about. With sleight of hand and tweaking of a few phrases, news outlets filter in advance for me what they know will outrage me and keep me scrolling. Ads squished between friendly posts like the mayonnaise in my sandwich I never asked for tempting me, relentlessly, into believing that maybe my life would be better with that dress/wallet/knife/cream/book.
No thank you. The Machine isn’t the boss of me, and stepping away for a month reminds me how much power and agency I truly have over my own life. I’m not a cog in someone else’s factory; I’m not a pawn for someone else’s agenda.
6. I remember what matters.
Ultimately, taking a few short weeks off the internet resets my mind, body, and soul into how they’re supposed to be. I’m renewed in my convictions, my loves, and my values. I grow in fond affection for the things I actually miss from the internet: connecting with particular delightful folks, enjoying those truly valuable podcasts and indie shows, and sharing my words with those of you who want to read them.
This last reason is always a delight and surprise because it’s pretty hard to argue against a permanent break from the internet without it. If a time traveler from the past were to read my first five reasons about why it’s good to pause from this newfangled invention that’s taken over the world, they’d wonder why on earth I don’t run as far away as possible forever from its clutches. How has this internet thing not been burned to the ground as the invasive enemy that it is?
Because it does a great deal of good, and those good things are why I’m still there. I’m so grateful that the internet sparked my writing career. Thanks to the internet, I know some of my favorite people in the world. I know infinitesimally more about countless subjects because of what I’ve learned via the internet, more than I ever would with a local library card and its card catalog. The internet has changed countless lives and given opportunities to people who’d never otherwise have that door opened. The internet is a good invention.
But it shouldn’t define my value or my purpose for living, and I won’t let it be the boss of me. I refuse to let it overpower every part of my life. I will always fight against living in the metaverse and favor stepping on real Italian cobblestones and spooning real Italian gelato over a pretend digital version of the real thing. I will always, always, always live in the real world because that’s what I’m made for.
Perhaps you could use a few of these reminders, too. Maybe you could take the rest of the year off social media as Seth did in the first half of 2022. Maybe you could take a month off the internet, like me. Or perhaps you start with something smaller: delete the social media apps off your phone and only check them on your computer a few set times a day, or turn off your phone on Friday afternoon and don’t turn it back on until Monday morning, or even simply take a week off of everything if you can’t do a full month.
Some version of an internet sabbath is better than none. It’s healthy and necessary, and there are no downsides.
I’ll be back here this Friday with one more 5 Quick Things, and then I’ll go quiet on the internet for a month. I may post photos of Italy, but I may not — or I may simply upload some here, a scrappy little space I’m creating for me to catalog little life snippets I don’t want to forget.
I’d never presume to assume you’d ever need me—but while I’m gone, you’ve got plenty in the back catalog here in The Commonplace, there are lots of podcasts out there, and hey, if you want to armchair travel with me, you could read (or re-read) At Home in the World. Or, you know… Just go outside. Read the words of old, dead people and listen to your neighbors and friends. Dip your toes in some water and dig your hands in some dirt. You are not a cog. You are meant for the stuff of earth.
I’m so very, very grateful you’re reading these words. Thanks, as always, for journeying with me—I’ll be back here soon.
Ora et Labora,
The Commonplace is a reader-supported publication. To receive new letters, consider becoming a subscriber.
Last year, I started taking a weekly sabbath. It was like 6 hours a week where I wanted to not be on the internet or do something for anyone else. Just rest. Read a book. Color in my coloring book. Look out the window. Take a walk. I honestly don't know how I would have made it through the year without it. I always regretted it when I let an appointment sneak in on that day. Rest is good. It's almost like it was God's idea in the first place. Enjoy your break.