Internet Rabbit Holes: Why They Are Bad and How To Make Use Of Them
Prior to January 1, 1983, the year when the first network of networks was assembled – a.k.a the internet – it didn’t take long for people to hit a brick wall in terms of things to do. Surely libraries and churches were options to make use of your time but they weren’t as intense, and as entertaining, as what we do nowadays. In these desperate times, people read the damn labels of their shampoo. Because, “Hey, what else to read when doing your biz in private?” Nowadays, we don’t even know what we’re putting on our heads. But we know all kinds of other interesting things, like the fact that the king of hearts is the only king in a deck of cards without a mustache, and that golf balls tend to have 336 “dimples.” And why do we know these interesting, yet completely useless facts? Because fallingdown the rabbit hole is common nowadays.
Going down the rabbit hole is our default state when we go online.
You open your eyes with the intention to get up and exercise before going to work but a simple glance at your phone gets you caught up in reading a hurricane of tweets and messages that makes you lose track of time. Until you know it, you’re half an hour late for work and you’re still wearing your pajamas.
But you all know that. So enough messing around. You’re here because you want to know how to stop your descent into the internet rabbit holes and make the most of these wretched places. Obviously, I’m here to tell you why these seemingly nice openings online are bad for your mental health, finances, and well-being in general.
But before explaining how to escape the online wonderland stuffed with calorie-heavy pieces of information, we should, without a doubt, first define what exactly falling down the rabbit hole means.
What Does Going Down The Rabbit Hole Means?
Going down the rabbit hole is a metaphor inspired by the famous book, later captured on screen, Alice In The Wonderland. When saying this, you mean that a person (or you) is caught up in intense topic-research phase that includes going deeper and deeper in studying a particular subject plus, at some point, making a detour to other places that are completely unrelated to your first search but sound and look cool – hence the expression going down the rabbit hole.
Since there are gazillions of terabytes of information, videos, text files, downloadable, files in general, etc., available online, and all of them are interlinked, you can spend entire days researching a topic and literally dehydrate yourself.
It usually starts with an innocent question, the answer to which you’re looking for. Or, checking a website that caught your eye. The more time you have available and the less time you have spent in the past upgrading your habits, the more time you’ll spend metaphorically digging holes online.
The components of going down the rabbit hole are the following:
A question or a desire to be entertained (+ time which in most of the cases you’re unable to properly calculate).
A device that servers as a gateway to hell – I meant to the internet, I’m sorry.
And while your smartphone or laptop both seem like too little things to waste an entire day of your life, the ability of these tools to connect to the online world is enough for them to crush your productivity, assist you in not doing your job, and turn you into a brainwashed unit that disregards the desires of the folks around – i.e. not paying attention to your wife always leads to nasty side-effects.
This is what usually happens: You hop on your phone, you start searching for one specific thing but you suddenly find yourself opening Google Earth, zooming in really closely on Afrika, exploring the savannah while simultaneously listening to a podcast about cannabis culture.
But is this bad?
Well, if you recently inherited a boatload of cash or you are a successor of a medieval pirate who buried treasures all over the world, you can afford to waste your days online. But for the rest of us, spending 5 hours a day on your phone is probably a bad idea. After all, we need work to have food on our table.1
Why Going Down The Rabbit Hole is Dangerous?
Every piece of land online is a rabbit hole on its own. For example, in order to read the articles on this website, you’ll need at least a couple of days. There are more than 100 articles and over 70 book summaries published while I write this.
And while I consider what I do noble – after all, I want to upgrade your thinking, help you get unstuck from the tyranny of social media, and aid you in your quest for living a happy and meaningful life, there are a lot of other online territories that try to do the opposite. They do everything possible to prevent you from doing your job and constantly come up with new ideas to withdraw money from your innocent soul.
Yes, I’m talking about the social media platforms we all use.
Let me give you an example of how social media sites succeed in their insidious game.
But to get a better perspective, we’ll take a look at my site first.
If we take a closer look at the content of my website we’ll see a spider web. All the lines below represent the different posts published on my site and how they are interlinked:
Let say that the length of a single line represents the time you’ll need to read a single article. The longer the line, the more time you’ll need to finish an article:
While long-form content is considered to be a better way to learn, people have a hard time concentrating and focusing for extended periods of time these days. Therefore, you’ll most probably give up after reading 2 or 3 posts on my site regardless of how good they are. And that’s totally fine for me. I mean, there are other things you have to do after all.
But that’s not how social media sites operate.
These insidious places that are famous for their ability to get you sucked inside their platform for hours are able to do so because the length of a single piece of information is short and sweet – like a delicious candy.
You don’t get tired of consuming content on social media sites because reading a tweet or looking at a picture is effortless. Therefore, you continue to scroll, and scroll, and scroll… still scrolling… till your thumb hurts or till an outside event occurs – your boss screaming at you for not doing your job or your kid crying for not paying attention.
This is how a typical social media site looks like from the inside:
And if we compare the online territory that my website occupies with one of the famous social media platforms, we’ll have the following:
The big black chunk that looks like a dark hole possesses the same qualities an actual black hole has – it will suck you in and won’t let you out easily.
But one big bad internet hole is just part of the problem. As you surely know, there are millions of sites out there. All of them trying hard to seduce you and keep you consuming content by offering endless joy and out of this world delight:
In addition, we have videos, video games streaming, podcasts, online stores, the xxx industry. And the more time you spend scrolling online, the more this becomes a habit and ruins your offline existence.
Fortunately, there’s something you can do.
Instead of letting intangible online spaces created by some glass-wearing dorks who don’t have anything better to do than to stuff the internet with absurd memes and videos of car crashes, you can turn things around. You can learn, rather than consume. You can act, instead of simply reacting. This way, you’ll get the most out of the endless knowledge the internet has to offer.
How to Get The Most Out of The Internet Rabbit Holes?
The problem is present, and we’re all guilty – we spend way too much time online digesting pointless information that has no real value rather than to waste both our time and money.
There are a lot of things you can do to turn things around though. Still, it’s not going to be easy.
Sites online are created, designed, to waste your time. Literally thousands of dollars are spent to make the icons and the text so appealing to our brains that we simply can’t look away.
Hopefully, these short steps will help use the internet rather than let it use you:
Set schedule: Similar to the curricular we have in school, you should create your own schedule for doing online activities. For example, you can time-block your mornings for reading articles on a specific topic while your afternoons can be for social media. Or you can just tell yourself that you will only visit social media after reading at least 30 pages of the book you are reading now.
Go online with intention: Going online just because you don’t have anything else to do is surely going to waste your day. Before unlocking your phone and clicking on your favorite social media site, stop for a moment and ask yourself, “What I’m looking to learn?” YouTube and Facebook can quickly suck you in. So, have a goal when going online. This will be your contra-attack against the sophisticated algorithms.
Avoid time-wasting sites: All in all, visiting social media sites is a bad idea. No matter how rational the idea to “just quickly check what’s happening” might sound initially, you’ll surely waste more time than what you originally planned. So, do your best to avoid such sites. Personally, I was able to resist the urge by disabling all notifications and unfollowing everyone on Facebook.
Save interesting links for later: Good articles and videos online usually reference other sources. However, if you start to check them before finishing the post you’re reading now you’ll most probably never reach the end of it. Since all sites are designed to engage you, it’s better to read the current article and save links that seem interesting for later.
Bookmark interesting sites: You just stumbled on a cool looking site with topics that sounds interesting, just like mine? Good. Bookmark it. You need to have more go-to places that will later serve you as a substitute when you have an urge to check something.
Prepare for the boring moments: Times, when there’s nothing to do, will surely come. When you’re standing in line to get your coffee, the urge to check your phone becomes unbearable. You need to be prepared for these moments. That’s why I previously said that you should bookmark interesting sites. When you have a spare moment, open the site with useful information and learn, don’t just mindlessly scroll.
Use the internet, don’t let it use you: There’s nothing free online. Even sites with free registration will eventually lead to a transaction. The easiest to understand example is Facebook. While there’s no barrier to register, when you sign up you basically become a Facebook product. The more “products” they have, the more they can charge for advertising. And do you know who they target with ads? You, the product. The more ads you see the more money you’ll spend. So, you need to find more sites that help you learn stuff. Even if there are fees involved.2
The internet solved a major problem (worldwide communication) and created a bunch of opportunities for people all over the world. Unfortunately, the consequence of this global network is not as good as we thought – together with the easy-to-get smartphones, we’re now more or less looking like zombie addicts who seemingly don’t have a clear purpose.
But there’s a cure. You simply need to understand that the internet is a tool. And like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. You can let it use you, or you can use it to upgrade your thinking, learn new skills, and contribute to society.
Do your best to bury the bad internet rabbit holes and dig deep inside such that can help you learn new stuff and make you a better version of yourself.
According to the Digital 2019 report by HootSuite and We Are Social, we spend around 6 hours online per day.