The internet is now so ubiquitous in our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine living without it. It is an incredible resource and invaluable tool, but for many of us (myself included) the line between useful tool and harmful addiction has blurred.
The internet is, without doubt, the biggest productivity killer, because it is the comforting presence always within easy reach whenever you lose momentum with your work or get distracted. It is the default habit we often resort to under stress, to escape momentarily from the responsibility, burden, or boredom of the task at hand.
In this blog post, I’m not going to suggest a cure, but rather a challenge to show the scale of the problem.
The challenge is simple: spend 24 hours completely cut off from the internet
No email, no Facebook, and definitely no Twitter. No news websites, no blogs, and no amusing videos of cats on YouTube.
How to write your PhD thesis: The secrets of academic writing
21st November 2018 2018
Although the challenge is simple in principle, it may not be quite so easy in practice. But the idea is to help you develop an awareness of…
- your dependency on the internet (if you fail)
- what can happen when the internet isn’t an option (if you succeed)
Sunday is a good day to choose to try the challenge, because it’s easier to get away with not answering emails. I’m going to try it on Sunday 15th December 2013, and will write a post about the experience afterwards.
Join me in the challenge by not joining me online!
The default habit…
For me at least, the internet is a default habit.
Whenever I am unsure what to do, the first thought that comes to mind is always to check email. Then while the email is loading I’ll open another tab with my second email account, then another with Facebook. Then after scanning those I’ll often open a news website, check for new TED talks, open Google Analytics to check traffic to the site, check Mailchimp to see how the email list is growing, then back to Facebook where I’m chatting with 3 people at the same time, then I’ll notice another email has come in…
Since getting a smartphone, I sometimes do this before even getting out of bed. I’ll then get up, have breakfast, and still be checking my phone while eating… There’s no good reason to do so, it’s just a compulsion.
It’s a problem when a useless habit takes precedence over a basic need, such as food!
Why the internet is so addictive
If we only used when there was some positive benefit then it would be fine, but often the possibility of finding something useful is used as a justifiable first step towards the pointless crap. You convince yourself that you’ll “just check email quickly, in case there is a reply from the boss…”, but it’s never quick, and it’s never just email.
This possibility of there sometimes being something useful or interesting or amusing is what makes it so addictive. The occasional reward reinforces the behaviour in the same way that an occasional win reinforces gambling addiction.
What happens when you remove the default option of the internet
When the internet isn’t an option, you’re forced to think. You have to decide what to do, rather than automatically taking the default option.
It might not be comfortable at first. You might find yourself creating reasons why you need to go online, but if you resist for even just half an hour, you’ll hopefully find that you start getting creative in terms of things to do.
Even if you do nothing, you are at least giving yourself some time to think, which is pretty important for an academic.
It’s an experiment
I don’t know if this will work, but let’s try, just out of curiosity to see what happens. Who’s in?
I know you're probably busy right now...
Would you like to receive my top 7 articles to read in your own time? These are some of the most important principles I think every PhD student (or academic) should know. Enter your name and email and I'll send you one per day for the next 7 days.