One of NoSurf’s most prominent success stories comes from a forum member named stdin_stdout_stderr. Like Gordon and Lang, he discovered the community after searching for “internet addiction.” To successfully “rewire” his brain, stderr traded in his iPhone 5 for a BlackBerry he purchased off eBay for $11 in 2016. Without a smartphone, he figured, he would have nothing to distract him while waiting in line or sitting on the bus.
“I started to just sit and BE during my bus rides and when I would wait in lines. Sometimes I would think, sometimes I would practice mindfulness,” he wrote on NoSurf.org last May. “As the days and weeks went on it was fascinating to see how pretty soon this became my new ‘normal,’ and how I started looking at all of the faces basked in blue light as ‘strange.’”
He eventually switched back to an iPhone after his family changed service providers, but he uses it only for its GPS function, online banking, and checking emails. “It’s been over two years since I discovered NoSurf and I have a ton to show for it… I’m happy and fulfilled. I waste zero time,” he wrote.
Still, adhering to the tenets of NoSurf does not guarantee success for everyone. For NoSurfer Caleb Epley, beating the ratio, as it were, continues to be a struggle. “I’m still spending hours a day aimlessly surfing through the web,” says the 25-year-old freelance writer. While he has made some changes, like installing computer apps that allow him to block specific websites for long periods of time, he continually finds himself deleting the Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram apps from his phone, only to reinstall them later in the week.
Patterns of behavior like the one Epley describes is something Kochath and his fellow moderators are actively battling. They’re aware of the scrolling pitfalls, and it’s one of the reasons they’ve put so much work into the standalone NoSurf.org site, which serves the same function as the subreddit but has no Reddit hole to fall into. As Kochath puts it, “Someone posted that the subreddit is like having an AA meeting inside a bar.”
One poster inside the NoSurf community left a 700-word goodbye message earlier this year explaining why they were leaving the subreddit, and Reddit completely, after six years: “I’ve realized that all I am is an information junkie with no retention or recollection of what I’ve actually learned.” Another user left an ominous comment underneath: “We are addicted to this stuff. Literally. Everything is getting fucked up.”
NoSurf’s existence as an online community presents something of a conundrum. Actively promoting the group to increase membership is somewhat antithetical to the whole group’s underlying principle.
“You need the support and know-how and feeling of community when you’re still struggling with your internet use, but once you have found a strategy that works and have overcome bad online habits, the last thing tying you to the online world seems to be the NoSurf community,” says Lang, who first left her position as a moderator of the group and subsequently exited the group entirely last year.
The workaround Kochath implements is a suggested time restriction for members: Spend only 20 minutes a day on NoSurf activities. “If I grow NoSurf, people are spending more time on the subreddit and forum and therefore using the internet more,” he says. “It’s actually this epochal issue that I’ve had to deal with: Am I a part of the problem?”
If Kochath has a personal stake in the growth of NoSurf, it’s that he wants the principles of the group to go mainstream. Instead of people viewing NoSurf members as a subset of the population, he’d like the general concept of consciously avoiding the internet’s most wasteful distractions to be a much more common idea. Building up the online community’s membership to the point where there are enough members across the country to take their online discussions off the forum and into actual meetings is his lofty objective for 2019 and beyond.
The ultimate goal, in the eyes of NoSurf, is to rediscover a world where pre-internet intensity is the norm. Or, at the very least, to use the internet to achieve a specific means to an end — and then log off.