What I Learned From Having No Internet for 9 days
Recently I went to North Korea where there is no internet available for foreigners except if we pay silly prices for 3G but I wanted the experience of no internet and to find out all the things we took for granted. I was promised the internet at the best international hotel in Pyongyang, but it wasn’t working. I was secretly hoping for a quick connection so some messages will go out and some will come in, even if I couldn’t respond.
I have a list of goals, jobs written on my desk, I have loose daily/weekly checklists most of the time. I don’t have to do most of it for my core business, but I do it for fun, to better myself and try to help others. One of my biggest goals involves creating content, I need the internet for that some of the time, but I have learned enough not to need the internet when I am writing. But I get distracted constantly and its all my fault, so I have 2-3 phone apps I am trialing that count the time of my app use and another restricts my time on them if I set it to do so. (I will write about them all later, but my goal is to be more productive)
My biggest problems being online
Too many ways to procrastinate, there is always something more to research, then you end up with 467 tabs open on google chrome and 217 downloaded youtube videos which is about right currently. After all, learning is progress and I should feel good about that!
I have almost all message/website notifications off on my phone and I unfollowed everyone on social media around a year ago, I don’t watch the news, or sports, which makes me laser-focused (boring to many) so I am only distracted by youtube video notifications and checking my instant messages to get a shot of dopamine. I feel that I waste little time already, but I am constantly getting annoyed with myself for not doing more!
I have around 10-20 phone apps involving learn Thai, self-development, speed reading, there were so many apps on my phone but all ignored because of distractions, there is never a good time, its always later. I am pretty good at nailing important tasks, but when is there a right time to finish my speed reading course? Turning the internet off is the only way to kill those distractions and hide the dopamine cookie jar.
What I learned not having internet access (while in North Korea)
I wasn’t able to answer all the questions thrown at me by my family, I wasn’t able to look up the weather, check currency rates, get translations (I did pre-download the languages but it didn’t always work) I wasn’t able to show our guides pictures/videos of our home, country, work or send them links…. there was no way to contact them now or later. I couldn’t look for things to do, places to go, I couldn’t check up history, I couldn’t look for opinions, I couldn’t get info to write about a new topic… I couldn’t look up foods or show people arguments for/against anything.
I felt mentally shackled, I really struggle to believe anyone is well educated when they don’t have access to the www internet…. comments sections under articles/news reports often have more value than the article itself.
I had to write down all the questions that I wanted searching, I made notes all day of things I wanted to write online later and search. This is a very good way of saving time and not being sent down a youtube rabbit hole.
What will I do differently after my experience?
I have a few ideas, I always said I would check my “work” messages once an hour for 10 minutes, maybe I could have facebook messenger connect on and off every 1 hour long enough for messages to send and receive, to slow down responses and avoid distractions…
Maybe I need to make more notes all day and search for answers less rarely?
Maybe I should have no internet for 1 day a week? On that day we read and write only, maybe no internet for 12 hours per day?
When you are highly driven and you have a list of jobs to do, its not easy to optimise your life, but having no internet forced me to go through all the video lessons that I downloaded but never found time for… sometimes we need to put ourselves in the corner…
The biggest advantage I had when traveling around North Korea for many hours per day, I had nothing to do but look out the window and think, I wrote an entire article for a website (this article) from scratch, without bias and checking my previous efforts, I was able to brainstorm and load several documents up with ideas, add to them and really think deeply.
Maybe I need to have some way of earning myself some internet access? Finish one job and I get to check the internet?
I am in China now and I am writing this article, and I can’t get a VPN setup on this device (its Linux and the apps are limited) so I am less distracted. (my phone, tab both have VPNs on them right now but its a hassle) Maybe I should block facebook on my computer and just have FB messenger on my phone and leave my phone in a drawer while I work?
Our surroundings make us efficient not us as people. This works both ways by making it more effort to reach for those distractions.
I have written about “deep work” here.
Would I go back to North Korea?
I am doing a huge write up on North Korea, but the short answer is, being offline, away from everything and everyone. With no distractions, being forced to think and find ways to fill my time in the evenings, it really is a time when all the creativity and ideas can come out and it doesn’t get corrupted by other peoples thoughts or your interim research and you can improve/update it several times before you end up sending it out quickly on the same day. Let your work distract you instead of instant messages.
The other advantage was predicting what problems I could get while I am away, having a backup plan, seeing how things go without me and coming back with some grand ideas. One phone call every two days was enough to keep peace of mind.
Disclaimer: I really like facebook/Instagram as a business tool and how it connects people, I am an investor in Facebook. It’s just one example of something that distracts me from my main work goals. The lack of control is a reflection of me, not FB.