Monday, April 09, 2012
A Canadian blogger reports on his recent decision to forgo a home Internet connection, based on the huge amount of time he realized he had been wasting online after a couple of work stints in Cuba:
I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. It was very, very different. I read War and Peace in a week. In fact, I read about 40 books while I was in Cuba. Real books, long novels. Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov... I swear they weren't all Russian. I have not read that many books in the same time period since.The writer makes the excellent point that too many people "haven't thought through how [they] should use" the Internet and have allowed it to become a sort of default activity. So far, so good, but then he goes further:
I also watched several full TV series. The Wire, Dexter, My Name is Earl. I watched a lot of movies.
And I had plenty of time to explore the country, meet new people, and learn Spanish.
Basically, the internet had been sucking up over 30% of my leisure time. I barely missed it (I still had some access at work), and my quality of life improved. [minor format edits]
You can try methods to "limit" your access, but then you're drawing down your limited supplies of willpower. Whereas if the internet is simply not there, you have no choice but to do something else.However, he still uses the Internet, via a cafe near his home, so what he is doing is limiting (not ending) his access to the Internet. What makes his method work so well is that it makes using the Internet troublesome enough that there's no danger of it becoming his default activity during unfocused moments. It is worth noting as well that what precipitated his "experiment" was an event that made him aware of how he was using time by contrast. (He even suggests using the tool RescueTime as a way of seeing how much time his readers spend online.) This writer has come up with what I think is one viable strategy for rescuing oneself from the ravages of a bad habit, but I hardly see it as the only strategy.
The root problem here is allowing oneself to drift, and the Internet certainly can make that easy: it often "feels like" work and provides a tempting mental distraction. But what is drifting? It's a failure to keep purpose at the forefront of one's awareness, and I see this writer's extra step (having to leave home) for going online as a way to bring himself back to thinking purposefully. (Do I really need to make this trip?) Having a purposeful context for using the Internet is, I am sure, a big part of why the writer doesn't find himself in the cafe hours later, wondering where his day went. He has his eye-opening experience in Cuba, too, as a reminder of what he can achieve when he purposefully picks his work and leisure activities. That is, he doesn't need willpower to keep his Internet time short because he has an incentive to do so. Finally, the writer's trip (or the use of a tool, like RescueTime), serves to bring the time into conscious awareness: He is thinking about what he is doing, and the time involved.
The arrival of our baby daughter has caused me to see the problem of aimless Internet surfing from on opposite time perspective: I simply couldn't waste hours on the Internet now, even if I wanted to. Once upon a time, I would often quickly check email or news, but not any more. I have way too much to do, and have become so much more efficient in my use of time now that I wonder what the hell I was doing before the baby came along. I still have room for improvement from a time management perspective, but even with so little time, I, too, have found myself enjoying more television and reading more books (though hardly so many) than I did before.