Am I Addicted to the Internet?

I‘m not seduced by ALL gadgets. For example, I don‘t have a television set. I simply don‘t need it. I don‘t listen to the radio and I have no interest in acquiring one. I may have one of the oldest mobile phones in Western Europe. At least I believe so. But, oh god, I could NEVER, NEVER, NEVER live without my computer! Apart from the fact that it‘s a crucial element in my daily working life. Like millions of other technology lovers I have been seduced by the innovation of those well-designed minimalist slim gadgets of one particular brand – yes, I have to admit it: I took a bite of it too!

We all know, how much the computer and particularly the Internet have changed our lives. We can now communicate with our friends who are thousands of miles away from us. Internet has enabled live chatting, video chatting, voice chatting and e-mail communication. We can transfer files and data easily without even having to meet. Online money transactions happen instantaneously. Everything is possible – booking a flight, finding a new cooking recipe, shopping and talking to strangers in a digital world. The Internet is just irreplaceable in our lives. It is hard to imagine a world without it. However, while time spent on the Internet can be hugely productive, for some of us extensive Internet use can interfere with our daily life, work, and relationships. So what about me? Am I already Internet-sick?

Today almost everybody has his or her own homepage. Yet, the Internet also poses dangers. You can easily spend more than an hour just reading your incoming emails without even replying to all of them. In fact, besides a lot of useful features, many Internet tools simply tend to waste our time. There is always something new to have a look at or to do. Uploading new pictures of your cousin‘s wedding cake on Facebook, watching an angry cat fighting against a popcorn machine on youtube, reading your ex-boyfriend‘s messages on Twitter or surfing aimlessly through other people‘s lives.

You might end up comparing yourself to those you are interacting with. Or you might compare yourself to images or life stories of people you have seen online and don‘t even know personally. It can either motivate you, but also trigger feelings of inferiority. And thinking that everyone is doing better than you, is more successful than you, looks prettier or has more fun in their lives surely doesn‘t increase our productivity. And it won‘t make us look prettier!

But how can we spend less time on the Internet? When does Media and Internet overuse become dangerous for us? There is lots of talk lately about a metal status, called Internet addiction disorder (IAD) or Mobile and Internet Dependency Syndrome (MAIDS). However, a true web addict needs the Internet in order to feel comfortable: Every day, he spends more and more time in front of his computer. He can no longer regulate that time, neglecting basic human needs such as eating and sleeping. He procrastinates things he has to do. He neglects social contacts or eliminates them completely. Real addicts don‘t want or cannot admit their dependency, not even to themselves. And if the computer and the Internet do not work? Oh, that‘s panic!

How to Keep Your Distance

If you are wasting one or two days in front of the Internet every once in a while, it‘s certainly not an addiction. Yet, if the desire to spend time online is getting bigger and bigger, be cautious. Try to spend more time with your friends and family. Have small breaks for some deep breathing and focusing your eyes on something besides the screen. If that does not work, it may be helpful to decide what exactly you want to research before you start surfing the Internet. Make a list. For example, checking e-mails, looking for a train connection or for some information on a clearly defined topic. If things are done, switch off your web connection and do something else.

Go to another room and read a book or call a friend. Take a walk in the woods, go swimming, play the guitar, draw or paint, invent your own furniture, try a new cooking recipe, sew your own clothes – or simply do your work! Find yourself activities for which you do not need a computer. There are still many of them, believe me! And never try to eat in front of the computer. That‘s extremely fatal!

A computer-free day

For most of us geeks this is almost unimaginable: a whole day without a computer? I know, it sounds horrific! No quick look at Google Maps to find an address, no print out, no research, no distraction. And yet, such a computer-free day can make us realize how media-dependent we already are. It‘ll sharpen our awareness for our every day activities and hopefully make it easier for us to reduce Internet consumption.

As a first step, you could simply turn off your internet connection for a few hours. You’ll find that you’ll be much more productive without the Internet, just using a word processing, designing, graphic or layout program. You won‘t be disturbed by incoming emails and you cannot follow the latest news or gossip online.

There are plenty of times when I miss the freedom that my old computer without a wireless card in it gave me from the temptations of email, blogging (Yes, I say that – although I love it!), and the rest of the Internet. Why not repeat it every once in a while?

Helpful Tools

Figuring out how to free yourself from distractions so that you can do your best work is something that all of us need to learn how to do. Anyway, I‘m just going to list a few tools you might find helpful – free of course, no license needed! Here you go:

LeechBlock is a Firefox add-on that can block every site that tends to suck us in. You can have some sites set for all-the-time blocking, some set to allow you in during specific times of day and others set so you can’t spend more than 10 minutes during an hour on that site.

For Chrome there is a similar extension called StayFocusd. You set the sites you want blocked during which time of the day or block downloading.

If you are using a mac, you can also try the following tools that let you lock yourself out of specific applications for a specified period of time or that remind you to take breaks throughout the day:
SelfControl
Spaces (included in the operating system since Leopard)
TimeOut
AntiRSI and/or Pester by Nicholas Riley

If you are using a PC, try Temptation Blocker.

Personally, I‘m not using any of these tools. Maybe “LeechBlock” every time I really need to concentrate, but nothing else. There is always the risk to get distracted by the website blocking tool itself! However, it seems that there are solutions out there for each platform and browser, if only one looks around!

So what?

If you simply like to spend your time to chat with others online, it still doesn‘t make you an Internet addict. You don‘t have to force yourself to knit a pair of socks instead of surfing the web! Really! Most of us need to zone out from time to time to get back our concentration. That‘s completely normal. Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables our mind to rest, and as a result, even increase our productivity. Indeed, for many of us, being able to send off a quick website update or check our emails helps us get little things done while taking a much-needed mental break. As long as we don‘t neglect our contacts in the real world or basic needs such as eating and sleeping, it definitely isn‘t a problematic behavior!

Blogger guilt? No… you still have the option to cut off the source! Just pull the plug every once in a while… or maybe just right now!

How do you keep from getting distracted? Please share your strategies!

© images by Svea

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5 comments
  1. Mila said:

    Oh no! I procrastinated my design project to read this article! It was worth it though! 😀 Thanks!
    I’ve set my email program to check emails only once a day and not give me any notification every time a new email arrives. Anyway, I’ll pull the plug right now! BACK TO WORK!

  2. Svea said:

    Could have been me! Like the idea of personalizing your email program.
    I wish you lots of success with your work!

  3. Lizzie said:

    Wow! I’ve never heard of such an addiction, but it worries me a bit. I mean, our entire worlds are becoming more and more computerized. I wonder if one day, everything we do will be via computer. It’s pretty crazy! Great post, so fascinating! 🙂

  4. Svea said:

    Thanks Lizzie! So glad you like it! It’s always good to know that triple checking our emails is the beginning of it all! Uh-oh!

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