Ever since I retired from a full-time job, there have been moments when I thought I was spending more time online than I should. I’m not on Facebook, and though I’m on Twitter I hardly ever check the tweets. My time on the Net is spent mostly reading blogs and exploring websites, catching up with information or watching an interesting video.
The problem with Web browsing is you tend to drift from one site to another, and end up spending too much time online. A minor Google search for something morphs into 10 websites on completely unrelated subjects. As a result I stopped reading books—in print or on Kindle. I was suffering from reader’s block. However hard I tried I just couldn’t bring myself to read beyond a page or two of a book. I had very little concentration. There was a mounting pile of unread books, and every time I looked at it I got angry at myself.
So I set myself a time limit for online browsing (morning and evening), gathered every bit of willpower, and tried to stick to my self-imposed discipline. Considering that willpower is not one of my strong points, the only reason I managed to get back to reading was by constantly telling myself that I am wasting my time. It took a few days, but it worked.
According to a recent article in The Telegraph, London, well-known writers such as Nick Hornby, Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith are among “a growing group of novelists who struggle with Internet addiction”. The article says that Smith thanks “Freedom” and “SelfControl” in the acknowledgements section of her new novel, NW. “Freedom” and “SelfControl” are two computer applications that enable a user to block access to the Internet.
Will Self, whose Umbrella is on the Booker shortlist this year, prefers to use a typewriter so as not to be tempted by the Web. “It’s (the Internet) an incredibly powerful tool and you’d be stupid not to use it, but it’s a distraction in the actual business of writing,” he tells Carl Wilkinson, the author of the article.
In case you think you are spending too much time on the Net, I guess it makes sense to monitor your computer activity and find out where exactly you spend your time—emailing, blogging, browsing, online games, Facebook, Twitter, music, videos, and so on.
There are programs such as RescueTime and Time Doctor that you can download to analyse the time you spend on the computer. The software turns the data into bar charts. And a chart gives you the big picture at a glance. You realize the disproportionate amount of time you are spending on YouTube and Vimeo, Facebook and Skype, or just browsing websites. It’s a wake-up call.
Zadie Smith chose Freedom that enables you to block access to websites (and can cut off Web access entirely) for a specified number of hours at a stretch. Of course, you can reboot your computer, but that’s always a minor headache. More important, it may damage your pride. SelfControl, the other program that Smith opted for, however, does not give you the reboot option. Once you activate the app (Mac only; at selfcontrolapp.com) you must wait till the time runs out.
If your addiction is confined to the social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and so on), there’s a more focused app called, quite appropriately, Anti-Social (Mac only; at anti-social.cc). You can be antisocial for up to 8 hours; however, you can browse the Net and carry on with your online work during this period.
There are other programs on the market to suit your needs. I had a look at “Temptation Blocker” purely because I liked the name: Once blocked, you’ll need to memorize a 32-character password to unblock it. That’s a tough one.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at email@example.com.