Have you ever caught yourself idly browsing the internet? Perhaps after watching one YouTube video you click a link to another “suggested” video, then another, and another until you end up in that weird part of YouTube again? How about the time you spend tweaking your Facebook page or other social media stuff?
C’mon, be honest.
I’m guilty of all those things and more, dear blog reader, except for the last couple of weeks. My list of procrastination was rather long but at the start of May I decided to curb my time-wasting, knuckle under and get on with my writing.
That’s the reason why I haven’t posted anything for nearly two weeks, for which I cry your pardon if you’ve missed my rants and raves.
This post is my reward for not bending to the drug of the internet. I’ve added 8,000 words to my novel, tweaked and edited, cut and pasted, shuffled and swapped and finally arrived at a point where I’m happy with my progress. And how did I achieve this?
I’ll let you in on a secret.
The internet doesn’t need you. It gets along very well without your presence and vice versa. Believe it or not you can function as a human being without being glued to the screen for hours on end. Emails don’t need to be checked once an hour, Facebook isn’t the only way to socialise and web pages are not pets that survive on a regular diet of you clicking links.
How did I arrive at this epiphany?
Just after my last post I watched a couple of YouTube videos about nothing in particular. It was after midnight and I had work in the morning. I usually read till about 12.30 so I was preparing to shut down and slide under my duvet. A funny video about a dog laughing caught my eye, I had a few minutes so I clicked, watched, chuckled and clicked another – ducklings getting blown over in a wind. An hour later I was watching videos of people popping huge spots on their bodies and big white chunks of goop shooting out. They were horrific yet strangely compelling and kinda satisfying.
At the same time I had a couple of other web pages open – Amazon, Facebook, Google+, BBC News, Goodreads, Flikr…er, okay, more than a couple. I was flipping through them all for no justifiable reason.
Then I read a comment under one YouTube video that said: “Oh crap. I’m in the weird part of YouTube again.” Under that one was another: “How did I end up here?” I blinked for what felt like the first time in days. It was 1.30AM. I felt stupid and ashamed for letting my time pour down the big black hole that lies at the centre of the internet.
I didn’t bother to go Start > Shut Down. I hit the power button and went to bed. That’s good isn’t it? Not really. I don’t like switching from intense screenage to sleep mode without a cushion in between because my brain doesn’t shut off like a PC. I need time to let my mind ease down and the sludge of data to melt away. It was too late to read so I laid in bed, eyes closed, random images of ducks, dogs, big spots, giant pizza dough tossing and a multitude of other crap flashing on the underside of my eye lids.
Needless to say I felt like a can of smashed arse holes in the morning.
After I went cold turkey I felt a bit restless, uneasy, like I was missing out on something. I didn’t check my emails for a week which was a bit stupid because when I did I had to spend 2 hours scanning through over 400 of them. I didn’t log into my current online game, Star Wars The Old Republic either. It’s a great game but it sucks the time out of me.
Instead I opened up my current edit and started writing and editing. I used the internet sparingly, for research only. I figured the only way to make progress was to ignore the internet. It worked too and whilst I was in full happy mode again I sensed that restlessness bubbling just under the surface.
So I came up with a plan.
It wasn’t necessary to purge myself of all things internet. I needed a method of control, like a diet. Gorging myself on internet banality isn’t healthy yet my attempt to unhook myself wasn’t going to work out in the long run either.
Why not think of the internet as any other form of input, like food or air or water? One small bowl of internet every day won’t hurt me. I can still hook up and lol with people on Facebook, check my emails, play a game or two and click a few links so long as I remember to moderate my time. Remember that the Internet Diet Box comes with a subtle warning – Requires Willpower. So, here’s my plan.
10 Step Plan for a Healthy Diet of Internet
# 1 – Emails.
Check these once when you get home from work. Or a couple of times a day. Reply, click links, leave comments on blogs then close your email client. Don’t open it again until later, like after you’ve had your dinner and spent time with friends or family. Only then can you do a quick check and shut it down for the night. Leaving it running in the background is a distraction. The happy “bing-bong” chime of a new email arriving is too hard to resist.
# 2 – YouTube.
Add videos to your play list to watch when you have time. Whilst there’s a lot of very interesting and useful videos on YouTube, it’s also crammed with total time wasting bullshit and unless you’re looking for something specific keep it closed. If you find you’ve just watched a dozen videos about talking babies, planking and grinning idiots blowing stuff up in a microwave – slap yourself across the face and remember it’s not too late to close the browser!
# 3 – Facebook.
It’s too easy to keep this open so your chums can send you messages. When you log in, check your feed, update your status if you must, see who’s doing what, pop a couple of “likes” and comments then close it. For busy people you need between 20-40 minutes to do this. It’s another distraction you can do without. Facebook Addiction probably isn’t what Mark Zuckerberg envisaged when he started out but he’s not going to complain if 3 billion users are clicking everything in sight every hour is he?
Naturally if you’re stuck out in the wilderness and Facebook is your only link to the rest of the world then sure, Facebook away until you’re content.
# 4 – Google.
The God of search engines is a kind and generous entity but it has a dark side. That search box is so inviting. Plenty of people search for random crap just to see what it throws out. Ever tried Googling your own name? That’s a time waster right there. Try to curb your time spent using Google. It takes will power not to scroll through endless pages of results but it must be done. Use it to look for stuff you want to know about, not junk that has no benefit to you.
# 5 – Instant Messaging.
If you use the likes of MSN Instant Messenger or Google Chat, you’ll know they log you in each time you power up your PC. Then all those people in your buddies list can message you. These things can be set to offline mode but the temptation is still there to check if anyone has come online in the last few minutes. Consider turning these things off at Start Up by default. Then login when you’re ready to chat. You wouldn’t spend an entire evening phoning people in your address book and chatting away about nothing would you? So why do the same thing with a text-based messaging tool?
# 6 – Amazon.
Like YouTube or Facebook, this portal of consumer delights is a time burner. It’s easy to spent hours roaming around its circuits, reading customers reviews on products you’re sort of interested in but will probably never buy. Yes it’s useful, but it’s not necessary to spend more time there more than you need. Stop logging in unless you intend to make a purchase.
# 7 – Blogging.
Bloggers love reading blogs. They enjoy making comments, clicking the like button and sharing on Twitter etc. Limit your time by reading blog posts when they show up in your email (see #1) if you’re subscribed to them. And if you find one you like hit the subscribe button, that way you’ll be able to manage when you receive notifications of new posts. It’s true that you can stumble on some good stuff and thereby make a new connection with someone, but if you want to free up your time you must limit this aimlessness.
The same goes for posting on your own blog. Think about what you want to write before you write it. Give yourself a time limit, say 1 hour, to write and publish your post. If you don’t finish in time save it and come back later. That way you can feel good about doing something productive but it hasn’t stopped you from participating in the rest of your daily life.
# 8 – Web Games.
Social networks are good at encouraging you to tend to your virtual garden/city/zoo etc, and it’s easy to get sucked in to games like Bejewelled Blitz, CityGardenZooParkTownCruiseShipLiner-Ville. Sure, send someone a virtual plant or tweak your pixellated hobby, but try to remember that the real world has all these things as well. You might not be able to step out of your front door and hop on a cruise ship, but there must be something else you can do instead of this senseless tedium.
# 9 – Online Gaming.
Games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars The Old Republic can be amazing places to visit, but you must remember they are not a substitute for the real world. It’s easy to get a false sense of accomplishment in the virtual world if your life isn’t going all that great. Instead of logging in and enjoying an adventure on an alien world because it’s too much effort to do something useful, use it as a treat. When you’ve done your homework, played with the dogs/children/zebra/pet fish, and you have spare time, by all means log in and spend an hour or two in escapism-land. Set yourself a time limit and stick to it. There’s nothing worse than squinting at the clock and realising with horror that it’s 3.45AM and you have work in a few hours.
# 10 – The Blank Stare.
We all zone out once in a while, during a conversation, over dinner, watching TV, reading a book…aaaand so on. Many of you will have caught yourselves staring at the screen, slouched back in your chair, hand resting on the mouse (like right now maybe?) basically doing nothing. It feels like an internet induced waking coma. Blergh. When this happens get up and walk away. Don’t click the nearest thing to the pointy arrow. Don’t switch to Facebook to see if anyone has posted anything worthy of a quick lol. Go wash some dishes or play with your children/monkey/chess/wife/husband/pet fish. Do anything to break that coma.
One Bowl of Internet a day – That’s your goal.
This plan works for me but it’s like smoking. You need willpower. Obviously if you don’t have any hobbies, interests or anything else in your life other than a screen and the internet for a pal, then you’re probably a happy bunny. Click away. Click your brains out.
If you’re still unsure if internet addiction has gripped you or not then read on. I’ve gathered together a guide from various snippets around the web. And yes, before you start pointing out the obvious mindless browsing it took to create this list, I did it for research and not because I was bored.
You buy that, right?
Internet Addiction – Check your head!
First take a look at this image. If you lol or find this in any way similar to your life – seek help and destroy your PC!
Top 25 Signs You’re Addicted to the Internet!
- You go online to check one thing and after spending three hours watching videos about: Lady Gaga, new-born puppies, planking, Illuminati is Real, Family Guy clips, how to skin and cook a weasel, Family Guy clips in Spanish and blurry footage about a mutant fish… you are still on there. Downstairs the pasta has boiled over, burnt, gone crispy and been eaten by birds that have built a nest in your kitchen, your dogs are packing their bags and your new-born baby has not only learnt to walk but has just run a marathon.
- When you hear a good joke, “LOL” is the first thing that pops into your mind. After that you smile and hope the joker will interpret that as a Colon Capital D :-D.
- When you’re not on Facebook/Twitter you think of things to say on Facebook/Twitter.
- You think the word “viral” you get excited and think it means something good.
- You continuously refresh the Google homepage even though you know nothing will ever change. You hope that you’ll be the first to see a new Google Special logo appear when you’ve clicked refresh 10,000 times.
- You attempt to open real-life doors by double-clicking on them.
- You can list 10 reasons Firefox is better than IE without thinking about it. You also know the names of more internet browsers than the names of countries/Presidents/Kings/Queens of members of your own family.
- You consider hotels and cafes without internet access “weird.”
- You think a beautiful sunset lighting up the New York skyline on a November evening just looks like a shitty desktop background.
- You’ve forgotten that watching TV on the TV used to be, like, a thing.
- You jump for joy when your USB powered Grilled Cheese Sandwich maker arrives. Finally you can internet and cook a snack without leaving your PC. Now all you need is a gel padded toilet with arm rests to replace your chair.
- The phrase “follow me” does not even remotely invoke thoughts of physical movement.
- When your connection goes down, you spend every waking minute trying to guess your neighbours password so that you can “borrow” their internet.
- You leave your room only to find that your parents/wife/husband/cat/pet fish are dead, your siblings/flat mate/children/pet fish have moved out and that flying cars have been the norm for many years.
- You wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and stop to check your email on the way.
- The last girl/boy you hooked up with was a JPEG.
- You don’t have a diary, you have a blog. (HaHa! Found this one very funny!)
- You turn on the TV and watch the news only to find out that Tom Cruise is now president, toast causes cancer, there are people living on the Moon, cows can now talk, and that internet has been superseded by the all new HoloTechVirtualSpaceNet.
- Your husband tells you that he’s had a beard for 2 weeks. Your wife tells you she conceived, gave birth and has just celebrated your son/daughter’s 4th birthday.
- You really think that your birthday video is going to be a big hit on YouTube.
- You are surprised when you go to the library and can’t find Wikipedia.
- You say the word “LOL” instead of laughing.
- You think the web-based series The Guild is a documentary about your life.
- You think the idea of a post apocalyptic world is too much to handle, not because of the flesh-eating zombies but because there won’t be any internet.
- You can’t remember what the sun looks like.
Internet Good – Outside Bad?
Um, no. It’s taken me just over an hour to write all this out. It’s a glorious day outside. I can hear dogs barking, children playing in the garden next door and the smell of a barbecue wafting through the window.
So you know what I’m going to do now?
Turn off the PC and go spend some time in the real world!