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Less Internet—But More of What?

Long-time contributor Crystal Ellefsen wrote this post a few years ago, but we think her beautiful advice is still relevant today—maybe even more so.

Apparently we’re all pretty distracted, heads bent over flashing rectangles, our brains turning to mush.  Even those who are aiming at a simple life with discipline and determination are finding it challenging to shift away from the compulsive habit of checking their phone.

I’m not pointing fingers. I’m guilty too.

It seems like everywhere people are writing and talking about digital detoxing and the epidemic of distraction.  There’s short videos communicating the importance of giving attention to the person physically in front of you. There’s research about the effect of screen time on children, families, and socialization habits.

Tsh and other contributors here have written lots of great pieces about this. I wrote about getting a watch so I could know the time without reaching for my phone.

It seems like we’re on some sort of bell curve of awareness about how the internet is changing our external and internal habits. We all have our own motivations, but most of us want to do something about it.

Changing Your Screen Habits

One thing I have thought a lot about in terms of habit changes is that often you can’t just remove a habit, you have to replace it. It can help to be intentional about what you are doing, not just what you’re not doing. (This really hit home when I did the Whole30, focusing on what food I was eating, not on what food was removed from my plate.)

So, if you’re already convinced of the value of shifting some of your compulsive internet habits and you want to stop mindless scrolling and limit the time you spend hunched over a screen… what should you replace it with?

I would like to suggest that you read poetry instead.

Why?  Because really, you’re looking to replace a habit that is in the cracks and crevices of your day. Most of the time, this isn’t about replacing a 4 hour block of internet-ing with a dinner party. It’s about replacing 5 to 10 minute chunks when you’re standing in line, riding the bus home from work, or hanging out at the playground with your kids.

If you’ve been feeding yourself a steady diet of click-bait, words written intentionally to be savored and not skimmed may be challenging at first. But, I think it’s worth it.

If you’re interested in attempting to replace compulsive internet use with reading poetry, consider one of the contemporary poetry books below. In my very subjective, very biased opinion, I think these are poetry books that may appeal to The Art of Simple readers. They are not my absolute all-time favorite books of poetry ever, but  I think these are quality, full of delights and worth the money to invest in a paper copy.

5 Poetry Books that could Replace Screen Time:

Instead of spending 5 minutes scanning Facebook and increasing anxiety and envy, consider opening a book and reading some beautiful words instead. Imagine ending the day in bed by reading a few pages of poetry instead of compulsively checking to see if anyone posted a new photo on Instagram since the last time you checked an hour ago.

I’m going to be intentionally carrying around a book of poetry in my purse during September, choosing poetry when I have a few minutes and want a little brain-break. I’m going to continue working on being more aware of my own unconscious reaching for the smart-phone.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Lee Ann

    My family gave me a kindle paper white Mother’s Day. it is small, fits in my purse, and can’t be used to check Facebook. I’ve read something like thirty books since receiving it, and more often than not I’m picking up the kindle to read than surfing the Internet on the iPad. Maybe I should get some poetry for it.

    • Juliet

      Me too!

  2. Robyn

    An interesting idea, to be sure. Especially if you’re a poetry and culture fan. But, i think that while it’s a novel (get it, lol?) idea for a certain demographic that tons of people wouldn’t see this as an answer. Books? what’re those? The tendancy towards social mindnumbing activities dates back much further than internet browsing. How about gameboys? Or a cellphone talking to someone constantly? Or, how about headphones in a crowd or on a bus or on the way to work? Listening to the radio? Reading a stray magazine in a Dr.’s office or in the checkout line…. There are innumerable distractions when we don’t want to be present in the moment for whatever reason. I think people need to look at the reason WHY they need to be distracted every last second of the day. What’s wrong with doing nothing for 5 minutes? Are we afraid of people? Of our lives or our thoughts? we may look up and see our kids… or a bird in our backyard… or a friend at the grocery store… oh hey, even MAKE a new friend at the grocery store by starting up a conversation. Would be a more mindful and friendly world… but reading poetry to unwind before we go to sleep at night? lovely! I do <3 books afterall.

  3. Sarah m

    I would also like to nominate Mary Oliver & Ted Kooser, too, to the poets that might fit the bill for AoS readers. Quiet, reflective, nature-oriented(Oliver), and clever descriptions (Kooser).
    Sarah M

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      I’ve met Ted Kooser and love them both, but I wanted to recommend a few outliers that the average person may not come across. Glad you mentioned them!

  4. Julia

    This is brilliant advice! And I have a little volume of Christina Rosetti’s poetry that would fit nicely in any purse. I like the Kindle idea too.


    Carrying around the Word is a good idea, too. You can read some of the Proverbs or a Psalm. I know you have a diverse reading audience which is why you probably didn’t mention that, but it’s something that I found was effective in feeding my soul in those down moments that I would normally waste on trivial things.

    • Becky

      Love this! Nothing feeds the soul like Gods Word!

    • priest's wife @byzcathwife

      so true! except I don’t own a really small Bible- I’ll put it on my list

  6. Steph

    I try to keep several books going and to bring one with me wherever I go in order to avoid constant social media checking. I’d never considered a book of poetry though…

  7. Becky

    I’m not a fan of poetry but am doing this with books. I kept trying to monitor my phone use and the bottom line was I was using it to fill my spare moments when I felt drained and needed a pick me up. I ended up giving up Facebook permanently because this seemed to be most draining to me and I am temporarily (maybe permanently) off of instagram. I actually feel more relaxed after a few minutes of reading as opposed to filling those minutes with social media and still feeling depleted.

  8. Caroline Starr Rose

    So happy to see poetry is the reading choice you’ve made!

  9. priest's wife @byzcathwife

    what a delightful idea!

    for my part, I really prefer the old old poems…so I’ll be putting ‘The Oxford Book of British Poetry’ into my bag- I believe my edition is copywrite 1906 or so

  10. Helen

    I never liked poetry, but I should read more books. Too much internet, too little reading that’s for sure. 🙂

  11. Practical Mama

    I spend my work hours in front of the laptop so I limit my off-work screen time. The count of books (not poetry though) I was able to log on increased dramatically. If I get hooked on a good book, I tend not to “crave” for internet anyway. Adults are not very different than kids. How we try to train them to entertain themselves without screen applies to us as well. If we stay outdoors or entertain ourselves with a hobby that enriches us or read book, we don’t look for internet and social media – except for recipes for dinner. 😉

  12. Linda Sand

    I’d also recommend anything by Robert Fulghum, the author of Everything I need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Short but thought provoking items to keep your brain working long after you’ve read one.

  13. Katie Harding

    I have been carrying my kindle in my purse with me so that when and if I have a few minutes to myself I will read a few pages rather than surf on facebook or instagram, it is SO EASY to get caught up in the social media craze! But it’s also really nice to unwind before bed with a book and to go to sleep without staring at a T.V.

  14. Caitlin

    Thanks for this article! I know I’ve been wasting too much time on social media…and I’ve been wanting to get into poetry! So this is a great way to replace a habit that is a time-waster and doesn’t really make me feel better anyway.

  15. jill britz

    I started reading good ol’ fiction a couple years ago. Now I carry a novel with me everywhere, choosing only handbags that will accommodate a solid book. Old school, I realize, but now my older kids (11 & 8) won’t go anywhere without a book, either.

    I like that. 🙂

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