I really should stay off the internet. This probably doesn’t need too much
elaboration, but it’s just too difficult for me personally. Reasons include:
- I gravitate toward argumentative comment sections which always leave me
drained and sad. When insults get delivered at general groups, I often take
them personally myself. This has especially been a recent problem for me on
Hacker News because of certain categories I belong to.
- I am too easily swayed by authoritative comments in written form. The more
educated and civil the commenters are, the more difficult it is for me.
I think I am easily convinced by written arguments all the time, especially
when presented in “book-like language.” This causes me to rapidly flip around
my opinions without the time for deliberation that a book natuarlly provides.
I have picked up all sorts of untrue facts and destructive ways of thinking
over the last decade or so.
- The time I spend looking at things online cuts into my creative energy. It’s
hard to get bored. Boredom makes me try new things and think through
complicated ideas. When I look things up online, I don’t feel this need as
heavily and so it’s very slow for me to make progress on complicated personal
- When I’m looking at “fun” things on the internet, it’s difficult for me to
pull away to pay attention to co-workers, family, friends, etc. This makes
using a computer in any situation with others around trouble. I often miss
things and upset people. My brain’s not completely on the social activity so
subtleties get lost (it’s similar to having a conversation while driving).
With all that in mind, there are some good reasons to stay.
- Being informed gives me things to talk about with other informed people.
- Counterpoint: both people in a conversation repeating things we read on the
same websites is not much of a conversation. By spending time offline I’m
more likely to find genuinely novel things to contribute.
- Using the internet is more fun (short-term) than sitting around being bored.
- Counterpoint: I am rarely satisfied afterwards. Like watching too much TV
or video, it leaves me feeling hollow and drained. Even as a kid I found
non-internet things to do, and I should be able to do the same as an adult
- The internet helps me look things up faster during my personal life and while
working on personal projects.
- Counterpoint: Obviously, some internet use is essential. (Paying bills,
communicating with friends and loved ones, etc). And I need to be able to
handle things online and look things up quickly at work. But I don’t
particularly enjoy that shallow mode of working. (Quick google search, type
in what I found, rinse and repeat…). I do it because I have to. I think
that in the long term looking things up the slow way, despite having more
friction, allows for more discovery and creativity in the learning process.
(This is why going to the bookstore or library is more fun and satisfying
than clicking through books on Amazon.)
- There are many resources, both fun and educational, that are positive and
only available on the internet: silly videos, blogs, news sources, essays,
fiction, webcomics, etc.
- Counterpoint: Most of this media is better consumed slowly offline in any
case. With webcomics and news, I often lose the thread. Blogs, essays, and
fiction require deliberation. Anything that’s really worth reading is worth
printing out or finding in book form.
- This wouldn’t be a problem if I could just control myself. Other people use
the internet without any trouble, at work and at home, so why I can’t I just
grow up and deal with it?
- Counterpoint: The first step is admitting I have a problem.
With all that in mind, I’ll be keeping a timer on my study/goals page of how
many days I’ve successfully gone without wasting time on the internet. This is
a pretty loosely defined thing. Last time I tried this project, I made it about
40-50 days before my definition of “wasting time” started slipping, and about
70-80 days before I quit. I would like to make this a permanent lifestyle
choice, not just a sprint. It is healthier for me. Really, when it comes to
wasting time, I know it when I see it – but here’s a quick list:
- Reading comment sections, anywhere.
- Reading comics, fiction, blogs, and papers. If they’re worth it, print them
- Reading news, news aggregators, or work news/fun groups.
- Looking at pictures and watching videos. (Exception: watching with
- Reading media commentary or Amazon reviews. (Exception: deliberate purchasing
goals, like “I need a textbook about X”).
- Surfing aimlessly on information sites (like Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, Wikipedia, etc).
- Scrolling through feeds on social media.
- And, in general, opening a web browser without a goal in mind.
The following are NOT wasting time:
- Any internet use that’s necessary for my work.
- Communicating with friends and family.
- Briefly and deliberately checking specific reading sites for things to
buy/print. But this is the most dangerous part and I’ll keep it confined to
2 hours per week, on Friday evenings.
And when I’m tempted to go surf the web, here are some things I’ll do instead:
- Go for a walk or move around outside.
- Read a fun or educational book.
- Find someone to talk to.
- Contact friends and family and see how they’re doing.
Finally, the hardest part of avoiding temptation is persistence over time.
Nowadays, friction to start surfing the web is very low, especially when I’m at
work. Luckily work is when I have the most willpower and motivation to focus.
As for the rest of the time, here are some ground rules / strategies I’ll
follow to keep the internet “at arm’s length.” Think of this as being like
a dieter choosing not to buy junk food at the store (so they have to go out and
buy it each time).
- When I get home from work, put down my work bag (with my work laptop and
phone) in a specific location at home. Don’t pick it up again until I’m ready
for work the next day.
- Keep my old, slow personal laptop closed and asleep unless I need to use it
for specific online activities (finance, email, etc.)
- Use devices which I can’t surf the web on as much as possible:
- I’ll do my typing and programming on my heavily-restricted Linux laptop,
which supports only wired internet and has no window system installed.
- My personal phone has parental controls enabled which prevent use of web
I look forward to a happier, more productive, and more relaxed life.