Waaay back when I first finished college and moved out on my own, I remember taking a small amount of pride in not intending to own a television set. My thinking was that if I didn’t own a television, I could avoid some of the most addictive distractions that modern people deal with. Rather, all I would get was an Internet connection, which would be much more educational, productive, and less addictive than television. I would spend my time chasing ‘elevating’ pursuits. I could be a modern renaissance man.
Damn I was a fool.
And not just because websites like Hulu and Netflix have effectively brought television too the Internet. What I’ve found is that spending too much idle time on the Internet is every bit as addictive as television and is quite poisonous in its own right. I’ll tell you what I mean.
When I was a kid I watched what seemed like a lot of television. I’d watch from late in the afternoon to late at night when I could. I always felt like crap after just a few minutes of watching, yet, I would continue to watch because it always seemed preferable to stopping. Stopping felt like a chore, or more specifically, doing anything but watch television would feel like a choir after watching too much. Television is engrossing passive entertainment, and it was easy for me to lose a lot of time to it.
The Internet, (or more properly the Web,) on the other hand seemed like a much more profitable venture. It’s mostly reading and is much more interactive than television. This must mean that, overall, it’s better for my mind and less of a time-sink. Now I’m fairly certain that that was a mistake.
The Internet is a source of a wealth of information. It’s also a fantastic communications medium. It’s amazing how, in the space of about a decade the Internet has expanded from a curiosity to an essential and ubiquitous business and life utility. Having instant access to information through the likes of Google and Wikipedia is an amazing boon that cannot really be understated. One really cannot easily do without an Internet connection these days, and due to my profession (a software developer,) I certainly cannot.
Yet with these benefits, the Internet constitutes a bit of a problem. When I get on the Internet and start aimlessly reading articles, or Facebook, or blogposts, I start to lose track of time, I get engrossed, and I lose the energy or will to break from it and do something which, in the long term will be more rewarding.
It’s real easy for me to get lost reading random articles on the Internet. At first it feels productive: I’m learning so much! But then, as time drags on, I find myself putting off stuff that either I need to do or would be a much more productive use of my time. I find myself skipping or skimming articles that are long or difficult and looking for more bite-sized information bits of entertainment. I find myself scouring for more to read or entertain myself long after I’ve ceased to feel like I’m learning or being entertained, often even late into the night because the thought of stopping feels like a chore; it means I have to face whatever it is that I’m avoiding.
I suppose the problem here isn’t necessarily the Internet itself (nor was it television then, either.) It could be that I’m lazy and like to put off chores. But when I find myself delaying things that I otherwise like doing because they seem like a little more work than refreshing Facebook, it’s clear that the Web is changing my perspective on what seems like a chore. It would seem like cutting out the Internet would make it easier to focus on doing the things that I enjoy and make me feel less like I am wasting my time (as well as the things I ultimately have to do regardless.)
So what’s the solution? Well I’ve been experimenting with adding a content blocking proxy to my home network and blocking the sites which distract me the most, perhaps leaving time on the weekends for indulging. Simpler is to use a browser pluging, like LeechBlock, which accomplishes the same thing. I can also subscribe to my favorite sites through RSS/ATOM feeds and not be as worried about getting distracted by random clicking. Another possibility is strictly rationing my Internet time, placing my work desk away from it, and making an itinerary of all the things I intend to do or lookup while online, before getting on, and sticking to that list. I’ve also had some success downloading manuals, rather than using the online versions and falling into old habits as soon as the browser is open.
In the end though, I don’t have an easy solution. It’s not as simple as disconnecting completely… I can’t do that on account of work, but it’s also not just a matter of a little more discipline, as self control is a finite resource and difficult to manage. So clearly, I need to renew my effort to cut down on my idle Internet time, because clearly, it’s bad for the soul.