I can quit anytime I want

I am trying to put an end to my internet/computer dependency once and for all.

This is not the first time I have tried this. But I am more determined this time, and the stakes are higher. I am now out of school, perhaps for good, but I haven’t yet shoved myself into a new box (like a job or internship). The longer I am without a routine imposed by outside influences, the more risk I run of spending the rest of my life drifting aimlessly, doing nothing. So now is a very good time to attack my failings.

While I was in San Jose over the weekend, I read an article about TV addiction. It seemed to me to describe my problems with being on the computer as well, and I would guess the science could just as easily apply to both situations. The authors absolve me of some of my guilt by claiming that excessive TV-watching behavior is almost natural, because we are wired to respond to external stimuli and the lights and movement we see on the screen are a very compelling stimulus. So, when we find ourselves unable to turn away, it’s partly because we’re built that way. At the same time, those of us who enjoy TV-watching (and, I imagine, internet-surfing) also associate that activity with relaxation, so we seek it out whenever we want to relax and feel happy. But the actual relaxing effect of watching only lasts as long as we keep doing it; after we turn off the monitor, the tranquillity ends. So we keep chasing that feeling by watching/surfing as much as we can. As the article proclaims: “Habit-forming drugs work in similar ways.”

In a sidebar to the article, the authors give some excellent advice for kicking the habit. I memorized the most useful tips and resolved to try them when I got back to LA. Then I went and baked three peach pies and totally forgot about the article and its suggestions (however: the pies were fantastic).

Well, this morning I got up, did my usual morning round of feeding the kitties, etc, and then sat down at the computer to check my email and favorite websites. I do this every morning and it usually ends up taking about an hour just to get through all my RSS feeds, and by that time I’m totally plugged in and can’t seem to escape the computer’s orbit for the rest of the day. Anything that needs to get done off the computer only gets done in a hurry and at the last minute, but whatever needs to be done at the computer doesn’t necessarily get accomplished either. Since I’m there all day, of course, there doesn’t seem to be any rush. And so it goes. But this morning, only a few minutes into my email-checking, the computer suddenly died. A silence from outside informed me that the neighbors’ air conditioners had gone off too: a blackout. I went to make myself some breakfast, and when I came back the power still wasn’t back. Nor had it returned after I finished breakfast. So I was forced to tackle the mound of papers on my desk, the bottom-of-purse detritus of recent trips and errands, a stack of mail and coupons and random clippings sitting next to my computer, and then the dishes and the litterbox. Still no electricity.

I was embarrassed and surprised to realize, at this point, that I didn’t know what to do next. I mean, obviously there were a ton of things I could do and I knew it, but somehow without the computer there to serve as tool for productivity or procrastination, I felt “off.” Much like the machine itself, I suppose. So I went back to my desk and started writing about how weird I felt, and then all of a sudden I remembered the SciAm article about TV addiction, and the tips I’d memorized for how to get rid of it. The first suggestion was to log the amount of time one spends staring at the screen, so there would be an objective measure of how much time was actually wasted. So I made a log sheet. The second suggestion was to compile a list of activities one could be doing instead, to be placed in a prominent location for reference every time one finds oneself moving toward the TV/computer. So I started writing out these alternatives… and I filled two pages. Some of these were mundane, like “Take out the garbage” or “Clean the kitchen surfaces.” Some were fun things like “Go thrift-shopping” or “Persuade Erik to play Scrabble with me.” But as I wrote, I realized that a lot of what I was scribbling down was things I’d wanted to do for a long time but had never been able to fit in between my Spider Solitaire and my RSS feeds: “Draw out one of my sketchbook ideas,” “Read one of my cookbooks,” “Write a letter to a friend,” “Play piano.” I could have written much more, but I finally stopped myself after I’d written 72 alternative activities. In part, it just seemed like a good place to stop, but I was also horrified that there were so many things to list. Read as a whole, the list is a sad summary of all my missed day-to-day opportunities, from spending time with loved ones to pursuing my own personal goals. The wake-up call has been a long time coming.

After I finished the list, I moved to the sofa and read one entertaining piece from a book of nature essays (alternative activity #9: Read a nonfiction library book). Tisha jumped up and sat with me. Before long the electricity came back on, and I had to fight my urge to get right back online again. I eventually gave in and finished checking my email, but after having made and seen that list of everything else I could be doing, I got off the computer after only twenty minutes. Since then, I am proud to report, I have spent only 1 hour and 50 minutes on the computer TOTAL during the rest of the day, and 40 minutes of that was to write this entry. I really hope this will be a new pattern. If it works, counterintuitively, I think you may be able to expect even more journal entries from me, because I will have more to write about and more time to write it.

Wish me luck!

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]