Milchtoast

Chronicles of a writer abroad

On paying to be free of the net

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I have sung the praises of our internet age in earlier posts. But the truth is that while this whole world-wide-web thing is a great friend of mine where communication and research is concerned, it is also a formidable foe where other things are concerned. Things like productivity on days when I feel unmotivated.

What is it that we call this thing, again? Oh yes, the net. Or else, the web. Have you noticed that these are both things designed to entrap?

And entrap they do, sometimes spectacularly well. I think we have probably all had the experience of sitting down to do something specific (write an e-mail or look up a piece of information) and found ourselves instead going down a facebook-youtube-twitter rabbit hole that we may not snap out of until an hour has gone by and we realize that we’re watching a string of terrible music videos from 20 years ago. Or is that last part just me?

The thing is, there’s just way too much content. And like some kind of dismembered monster, it never stops regenerating itself — facebook is beckoning with “new stories,” youtube with recommended videos tailored just to my taste, google reader with an onslaught of new blog posts each day. These are siren songs, irresistible but sure to lead to distraction and self-loathing if I look at them during times that I’ve apportioned for work.

I’ve been in this situation before. My first year of undergrad, I lived in a dorm. I thought I was lucky to have a (teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy) single room, because then I could dictate the terms of my social engagement: I could study when I needed or wanted to, I thought, without having to negotiate with a roommate who wanted to talk endlessly or have people over or be otherwise distracting.

However, there were still six people living on my floor (which we called an alcove); six more on the floor below, six more on the floor above, and…you get the point. Someone was still always knocking on my door, asking if I wanted to go eat, to watch a movie, to go out…sometimes I’d say “no, I really have to study,” and they’d say, “ok, but we’ll be in the common room downstairs if you change your mind…” After that I would typically study distractedly for a short period, before giving in and joining them. My grades, as you might imagine, were not top-notch that year.

However, I did get around to reading, for my Classics course, about Odysseus having to lash himself to the mast of his ship and block his ears with wax in order not to succumb to the sirens. I might have followed his lead and tied myself to my desk and made use of earplugs, but I didn’t. I never found a good way to resist the pull of the social activity happening just outside my door. I had to move out of residence before I could become more conscientious.

Now I have been asking myself, how do I do a similar thing for the internet? How do I stop feeling like there’s a party (or multiple parties) on my computer that I could be joining any moment? I’m a fierce introvert by nature, but there’s something about those rolling newsfeeds that just beckons, making me believe I might be missing important news from someone, somewhere.  I also hate the way that I almost automatically click over to my e-mail or to my news page when I’m stuck on something in a story I’m working on. I wouldn’t call this problem of mine an addiction, but I would call it a set of rather bad habits.

So here’s an irony: I’m going to rely on more technology to save the day. For now, anyway, and until I develop the necessary self-restraint. I recently learned about a program called “Freedom” which you install on your computer, and each time you use it it blocks the internet for a time period that you specify (up to 8 hours at a time). You cannot shut it off once you have activated it — the only way to regain access is to reboot your computer. I have been using the software on a trial basis for a few days, and so far I’ve been happy with the results.

Now, let’s make note of the irony that in order to gain this “freedom” I will be paying ($10, but still) to install a program that actually denies my access to certain things. But I think this is necessary, for the moment. Distraction is a huge threat to any writer who has no one who makes them work, no company to feel guilty towards, no paycheque to feel as though they are not earning when they waste time. So I’m willing to swallow the irony and admit that I sometimes need intervention. Like Odysseus, I’ll do whatever seems necessary to stay on course.

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4 thoughts on “On paying to be free of the net

  1. Me, too!! I find the internet very useful, and full of interesting information. But, yes, I sure find it can be too appealing. I haven’t heard of the Freedom program, but am glad to know it exists!
    In the meantime, I’m thankful the internet allows your blog posts to reach us so easily and quickly. Thanks for another great post – very well written as usual.

  2. This is a main reason I started working at cafes. But many cafes now have free wifi, so I purposely don’t bring my power cord. I know my laptop has 2-2.5 hours of battery life, so I can’t waste time online at Starbucks, or I won’t get any writing done.

  3. Hi Kristen! I wish I had heard of this program when I was writing my thesis. Oh the time I could have saved….

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