Rx for Internet Addiction? A Six-Month Progress Report…

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A walkway at Maho Bay Camps, St. John, US Virgin Islands

Cross Post from LenEdgerly.com

I’ve known for years that I have a problem with the Internet.

Until my most recent effort to do something about it, I obsessively checked for whatever might be new online throughout my waking hours. Every 15 minutes or so in the midst of other work at my computer I would sneak a quick peek at my email inbox, Twitter, or any news feed that might have a new story since I last checked. Often these intended glances would turn into extended breaks, following links and retweeting or posting my take on what was new.

If I was out and about, I’d turn to my iPhone, unless I was having a meal with someone. And if my guest had to take a call or visit the restroom, I’d reach for the phone with relief to to see what I’d missed.

I was not willing to call this an addiction, but I became uneasy at how little self-control I had over my Internet usage. I would jolt to the realization that I’d just spent 40 minutes away from the work I’d planned to do, with very little to show for it. I made half-hearted attempts to cut back. Darlene complained that she saw the back of my head, bent toward a screen, more than she saw my face.

Six years ago on a vacation on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands I escaped the net for 12 days. I settled into undistracted time that opened up for us at Maho Bay Camps, a spartan eco-resort with tent-cabins and cold showers taken in shared bath houses. I returned to Denver intending to stay off the Internet on Sundays and to check email just three times a day the rest of the week–at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., inspired by “Dr. Pepper Time.” Within a couple of months I had returned to my old ways.

In February of this year, Darlene and I made our last visit to Maho Bay Camps, which sadly closed in May after the lease on the land ran out. We were there for just four days, and again I took the opportunity to unplug from the Internet and to make a plan for doing something about how I spend my time online.

This time I came up with a practice that still seems to be working six months after I began it on February 8. I call it “No Net Till Noon.” Here is how it works:

Monday through Friday - no email, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus or news-site updates until noon. I think of these constantly updating sources of information as the Live Internet, as opposed to more fixed resources like Wikipedia or Google searches. My Live Internet window closes again at 5 p.m. till the next day at noon.

Weekends -  No Live Internet from Saturday noon till Monday noon.

Caveat  - If work on a goal-oriented project such as a writing project or setting up an interview for my Kindle Chronicles podcast requires it, the practice allows a specific check of email, Twitter, or any other site.

The big news is that after six months I am still at this. Unlike previous resolutions to moderate my Internet habit, this one did not simply get abandoned a few weeks after leaving the islands.

I can also report that No Net Till Noon has made a noticeable difference in my life. I get more work done in the mornings, because I don’t allow myself to waste time checking the Internet every few minutes, just to see what’s new. I make my curiosity lie down on a comfortable old shirt and promise that at 12:00 p.m. it will be able to jump up and run around the Internet for five full hours. Until noon, I focus on a few projects and I get down to work. Or maybe I read a book on my Kindle, work out on the cross trainer, or have tea with Darlene on the patio. Whatever I’m doing in the weekday mornings, I do it with less distraction.

Looking back on how I started this new practice, I see four things that helped it to succeed:

1) I wrote about my plan in a journal while we were on St. John. I love the feel of its soft leather cover, and when I touch its pages they remind me of how much I wanted to make a change.Journal photo

2) I came up with a phrase that I could run through my head, like a chant, to embed it as deeply as possible in my consciousness. In my first days back in Denver, I woke up with “No Net Till Noon” running through my mind, and I returned to those four words whenever I felt the tug of an unseen tweet.

3) I bought a $1.99 iPhone app named Streaks, where I make a satisfying X each day that I practice No Net Till Noon without a major slip. This morning’s mark brings the streak begun on St. John to 184 days.

4) I waited six months to blog about it.

I remember how radical this practice seemed back in February. I seriously worried that if I let my inbox go unchecked all morning on weekdays and for two days on the weekend that I would offend or perplex people trying to reach me by email. I let a few close friends in on my new routine, so they would know I hadn’t died if they didn’t hear back from me by email within minutes. Everyone else, whose inboxes are also full to overflowing, never noticed.

I asked Darlene recently if she’s noticed any improvement, and she said no. This disappointed me, but it didn’t really surprise me. I spend about as much time in front of my computer as ever. But what I’m doing there has shifted in a way that I like.

I appreciate the Internet more than ever these days. No Net Till Noon enables me to disconnect from it each day, instead of waiting for my next trip to the islands.

 

 

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Comments 2

  1. srcnaples@gmail.com wrote:

    I’ve been thinking of ways of dealing with this ‘problem’ myself,and your method is far superior to anything I’ve been able to come up with on my own.

    I’m going to try it – starting tomorrow morning. (of course I’m busy feeding my live Internet need now)

    Thanks for live testing the idea and for sharing it.

    Posted 13 Aug 2013 at 8:51 pm
  2. John Aga wrote:

    Addiction has many faces to include, food, gambling, the consumption of intoxicants, video gaming, tech connectivity (email, texting, tweeting, facebook, ets.) and so forth. However, they all share a common root. In moderation they are hobbies or interests that can enhance ones life. When a hobby or interest interferes with a persons life balance to include important relationships then they are in the grip of an addiction.

    If your perception of improvement does not match Darlene’s perception of improvement I would be concerned. As the saying goes “perception is reality”.

    I just received my Goodreads book recommendations and they included the following: “The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul [Kindle Edition]“, the author is Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.

    The book will be released on August 20, 2013 and the subject matter seems to be relevant to the topic.

    Perhaps this author would make for an interesting guest interview on the podcast.

    Posted 14 Aug 2013 at 9:31 am

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