Managing the Internet Time-Suck

To start off today, I have to announce a new story. Still Waters Run Deep is now posted at Turtleduck Press, and it marks several firsts for me — it’s the beginning of a serial, and it was inspired by my Asia trip. To be precise, it’s a fantasy story set in a world that looks something like Thailand. And did I mention it’s free?

I’ve been thinking a lot about something I wrote here two weeks ago:

3. The Internet isn’t that important. When I was travelling, Internet time was severely limited. What did I spend it on? Email and Facebook, to stay connected with people back home. Blogging. Travel research. A handful of other sites. Everything that didn’t make the cut is superfluous. Instead of being bombarded with a flow of information and LOLcats, I was bombarded with new sights and new experiences…in other words, with life. As a writer, I can’t stay away completely — I need to keep up with blogs and other social media, publishing news, and so on — but I can take a good, hard look at my Internet usage.

As you might imagine, it’s hard to make lasting change, no matter how good one’s intentions. The Internet is my entertainment of choice, up near books and way ahead of TV or movies or music — plus it’s a social hub and a professional necessity. So I’m finding myself getting sucked back in…and then feeling guilty about it, of course. But this time, I’m paying attention.

I’ve been deliberately staying away from some of my worst time-sucks from before the trip — Pinterest, Twitter, my extensive list of blog feeds — but I know that, as a writer who’s trying to network and stay informed, at least two of those need to be reinstated as part of my life. The trick will be keeping them as a small part of my life. And if I somehow manage not to gorge on those, then there are always more — Facebook, brain candy like Buzzfeed or, or, heaven forbid, the news online.

Which leads me to this post by Adam Brault:

I used to believe that time was the most important thing I have, but I’ve come to believe differently. The single most valuable resource I have is uninterrupted thought.

His comments were made in reference to Twitter, but the same sentiments hold true for the rest of the Internet. He talks about intending to put Twitter “in a box”, but knowing that doing so is harder to maintain than quitting entirely. He talks about having a clearer mind and better ability to focus.

The Internet encourages our “Ooh, shiny!” or “SQUIRREL!” tendencies; it discourages deeper thought, at least the way most people use it. And of course, deeper thought is kind of important for a writer. Even if you’re telling yourself that you’re reading these blog posts on writing to better your craft, is that really the most efficient way to better your craft…or would it be better to spend that time writing?

But we can’t live without it.

For now, I’m trying Freedom, a software program that locks you out of the Internet entirely for the time you specify. I put it on for an hour at a time and focus on my novel-edit-in-progress. It works beautifully. Next step will be to increase the length of time.

But that still doesn’t solve the problem of how to use, engage with, and yes, play on the Internet without letting it take over.

Over to you. I know I’m not the only one with this problem, writer or not. How do you balance the Internet with the rest of your life?


16 responses to “Managing the Internet Time-Suck

  1. Very interesting! The only time I was away from the internet from an extended period of time was when I was on vacation. We had absolutely no access to it and so the temptation to get connected was gone as well. I only thought I needed it when I knew I could access it again. It’s very psychological.

  2. Stephanie, I’ve found that as well. Amazing how the desire vanishes when Internet access is taken away! The trick seems to be in outwitting your own brain…

  3. OK, Siri. You’re going to have to report back in a week or so about how that FREEDOM is working. Do you find you are rebooting a lot?

  4. Suzanne, not so far! It’s sort of like meditating — you notice the desire to check a fact online, or to wander off when you get stumped on writing, but the desire passes quickly enough, and you get back into the writing zone.

    Of course, it helps knowing that I only need to delay those urges for an hour. I will keep you all posted on how well the method works for longer periods…

  5. Until recently, I felt compelled to scroll through a whole 24 hours of my facebook feed to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I’ve JUST managed to break that habit somehow. I still check in regularly, but don’t have the compulsion to ensure I don’t miss anything. I rarely check my Twitter feed though. I find that a huge time suck and soulless somehow. It’s easier just to ignore it for the time being, although I do tweet via Hootsuite and reply when necessary.

    I’ve found working in cafes is working for me at the moment. I still check social media periodically via my phone, but it’s an active decision, rather than responding to a noise or visual alert from the computer (which I don’t connect to the WiFi). This allows me to get the more or less uninterrupted thinking time — if it does get interrupted, it’s on my own terms.

    Reading blogs is more of an issue — often linked from facebook (and twitter if I let myself). I’m trying to avoid blogs until I’m having a TV session and then I multi-task. These days, I’m either writing or reading blogs while watching TV. Sometimes in the morning, though (while I’m not working), I’ll give myself leeway to follow the bloghole… it’s an indulgence.

    I daresay when I go back to work and need to utilise my evenings for writing again, I’ll have to change my habits once more. That’s when the distraction of the internet (and the TV) will be really bad…

    Sorry for the rambly comment!

  6. prudencemacleod

    Locking yourself out? Oh Siri, desperate times call for desperate measures. Good luck!

  7. Ellen, not at all! I know what you mean with the Facebook compulsion and the soullessness of Twitter. I’m taking a few tentative steps back into Twitter, but it’s so full of promo these days, I find it hard to filter through. And yes, cafes are another good option for, er, forcing thinking time. Good luck avoiding the blog monster!

    Prudence, thank you!

  8. I tried out Freedom this week, too. I’m strongly leaning towards dropping 10 bucks to get the program. The Internet has become something that I hop on whenever I’m tired, bored, have a few mins… it’s become more of a tic than something I do *intentionally*. Freedom gets me some Internet-free time, which I use to write, clean, find something else to do entirely! Not having the Internet always available also makes me more intentional about what I do when I am online.

  9. Rabia, I forgot to give you a shout-out in my post, but your post on a similar topic was one of several impetuses for mine! I bought the program because I figured I’d be more likely to use it that way, rather than let the trial lapse and not bother pursuing it. So far it’s worth every penny.

    Great point about tics vs. intentions — I hadn’t thought about it in exactly those terms. I’d love to see a follow-up in a few weeks if you do decide to buy!

  10. I used StayFocusd as an add-on to Chrome. It allows me 45 minutes a day total on sites I’ve put on the block list–Facebook, Tumblr, a few others. I can adjust that up or down, and tell it how often to warn me that time is running out. I have a few sites on “always allow”–my blog, 750words.

    Anytime I want I can go do the “nuclear option” that blocks EVERYTHING but my allowed sites for a specified time.

    I think it’s saved me.

  11. KD, that sounds /fabulous/. I will have to check whether Firefox has something similar!

  12. The internet can be quite the time killer. I’ve found lately though that my time on my computer is so limited (like maybe an hour or two a day at most) that most of my “frivolous internet time” happens on my phone throughout the day. When I get to my computer, I usually have a purpose in mind and as long as I go straight to that purpose when I sit down, I tend to be okay. It’s when I think “oh, I’ll just check (fill in the blank) real quick” that I find myself on a never-ending journey deeper into the webosphere.

    You also hit on another one of my false productive activities… “Even if you’re telling yourself that you’re reading these blog posts on writing to better your craft, is that really the most efficient way to better your craft…or would it be better to spend that time writing?” I’ve definitely had to pull myself out of thinking that I’m accomplishing writing merely because I’ve read about it.

  13. Sherri, you’ve described my experience pretty exactly. “Oh, I’ll just check…” is a killer! My “false productives” these days tend to be more about networking and less about craft-related reading, although that too.

    I’m interested in how your phone has taken over your Internet goofing-off time. I’ve resisted getting a smartphone for that very reason…but maybe it’s better to do the goofing-off in tiny bites, and then save the computer for true productivity (if you can be disciplined, which it sounds like you can, for the most part). Though my bits of free time during the day are currently my main time for fiction reading, so I’d have to carve out some space elsewhere. Hmmm. Food for thought!

  14. Well, the phone comes with its own time-suck problems. It’s just so convenient to check it ALL THE TIME. I have to make a conscious effort to set the thing down and be present. Sometimes I’m better at it than others.

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