A while back, I wrote about the free application SelfControl, which allows you to cut yourself off from certain websites for a pre-determined amount of time. In the post I quoted Grist's David Roberts, who had decided to "take a year off" from the internet:
I think in tweets now. My hands start twitching if I’m away from my phone for more than 30 seconds. I can’t even take a pee now without getting “bored.” I know I’m not the only one tweeting in the bathroom. I’m online so much that I’ve started caring about “memes.” I feel the need to comment on everything, to have a “take,” preferably a “smart take.” The online world, which I struggle to remember represents only a tiny, unrepresentative slice of the American public, has become my world. I spend more time there than in the real world, have more friends there than in meatspace.
Well, he made it, and while he didn't completely cut himself off from the internet, he did go dark. "My main rule was to be quiet on the internet, to not tweet, post, forward, star, pin, favorite, not to do anything, not to speak up, it was to be quiet on the internet," he says. "And that rule I did not cheat on."
But still, Roberts has some valuable observations from his year spent being "silent" on the internet; they're especially valuable if you consider yourself to be one who's easily distracted. Here are a few from a series of Q&A videos Grist and Roberts made after his return:
He's going to take regular breaks, even if it's just to go walk around the block. He's going to turn off all push notifications ("You lose, like, the equivalent of 10-20 IQ points for a while, until you're back on task, and then "bing"—there's another one.") And he's chopped off a swath of his email subscriptions. It's not about what's being simplistically called "internet addiction," he argues, it's about the tendency of technologies to distract us from whatever we were doing in the first place, and if you change their ability to do that, you'll actually move a step toward strengthening your self discipline, toward your ability to concentrate. This is not magic self-help talk; it's been backed up by the scientific community for years now.
From Roberts's first Q&A video, which is also after the jump:
These web services and tools have been designed by their creators to make you want to come back to them over and over and over again, because they are supported by advertising, and as long as they're supported by advertising, they live and die by getting you stuck on them and clicking more and more and sharing more information, and I think that does lead to a lot of unhealthy behavior. I don't think the the term "internet addiction" is really helpful in understanding what's going on.
Anyway, none of this is exactly revelatory. The suggestions may seem obvious to some—and I'm sure Fnarf will be along any minute to ask if this post is from 2006—but we've got so much else barking for our attention these days, the ideas bear repeating.