It’s obvious that I’m an addict. Not all addictions are bad; I’ve been hooked on books since the age of six and on music almost as long, and hope to maintain these habits into the grave. But the issue is quantitative; you have to balance your addictions, worthy or otherwise, to get things done.

This was brought home to me on the current year-end expedition to Lauren’s family’s farm in what many people would consider a remote part of Saskatchewan. We learned shortly after arriving that the farm now has high-speed Internet courtesy of Sasktel’s long-distance wireless service, based on some sort of line-of-sight radio. 2M/sec down, 256K/sec up; perfectly satisfactory.

Previous visits to the farm, even given that I spend time doing child-care, helping out with chores, and taking pictures of cattle and clouds, have been small explosions of productivity and creativity. Off the Net, I can focus in on some code or writing or policy problem and get serious thinking done. Not this time; I’ve got a little done on the current Android project, but nothing like previous expeditions.

I’m more keenly aware of this because over the last year, the addition of Twitter has made increased the Net’s addictive power. Its steady rhythm of dense and flavorful little mental morsels hits some resonance frequency in me and a lot of other people too.

I’ve never bothered, in the past, trying to manage my Internet addiction. In fact I’d say that it’s served me well. But I think that, starting in 2009, I’m going to become more structured in my approach; as a matter of policy start reserving blocks of Net-free (not computer-free) time. Creativity and productivity are hard to schedule, but I’ll try scheduling the occasional removal of obstacles and see what happens.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Ted Wood (Dec 23 2008, at 13:55)

"Creativity and Productivity are hard to schedule..."

I like that. Story of my life. I recently accepted a contract position that expects me to work 9 to 5 every day. Needlesstosay, I haven't been adhering to this very well. Other factors aside, my true creativity kicks in at night time.

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From: Eric H (Dec 23 2008, at 14:11)

Paul Graham has an essay on more or less this: http://paulgraham.com/distraction.html

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From: Daniel Lemire (Dec 23 2008, at 14:24)

A very effective way to set time for deeper thoughts is to use a tool like rescuetime and measure the time spent on different applications and web sites.

For me, time spent in my text editor is time spent having deep thoughts.

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From: Simon Willison (Dec 23 2008, at 14:36)

Some friends and I recently spent a week together on a fort (Fort Clonque in Alderney, Google Image Search for pictures), hacking together on a project but with no internet connection. I haven't been that productive in years.

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From: Zak Greant (Dec 23 2008, at 15:25)

Some of my best thinking happens on long-haul flights and cross-country train rides - in an attempt to find relief from the tedium my mind wanders to the most interesting problems floating around in my head.

Alternately, maybe I've mucked up cause and effect and the secret is that I need to get a much worse desk chair. ;-)

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From: David Terei (Dec 23 2008, at 17:15)

This is the reason I haven't jumped onto Twitter. RSS feeds are addictive enough for me (I have also cut down on the amount of these as well recently).

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From: John (Dec 23 2008, at 17:28)

That's all very well, but where are the cattle'n'clouds photos?

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From: John Cowan (Dec 23 2008, at 18:47)

As soon as I heard about Twitter I knew it was going to be the ruination of me if I got anywhere near it, just like I don't go anywhere near computer games with the exception of Klondike (and a very occasional round of Milles Bornes). So I don't follow anyone, and my tweet says "Working" and always will.

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From: Brian Mitchell (Dec 23 2008, at 19:52)

Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing.

I've come to realize that smart phones and my laptop are great communication tools but if I don't take time away from them I trade off more than I bargain for. Like books, time to think without that constant chatter, or even just simple time spent with other people.

So with that in mind I'll conclude this comment and head outside where only my phone can prompt me. At least I can play that one passively.

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From: Alexander Kintis (Dec 23 2008, at 19:57)

I hope you don't view this as spam but we just launched a site in beta for overcoming addictions!

Surprisingly, the most popular addiction as of this time is facebook then myspace then twitter.

The internet can be and is an addiction... so can anything and everything else and we're trying to help those overcome it!

Maybe you, the author of this article, would care to take a look ? :D

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From: Bob Aman (Dec 23 2008, at 21:58)

I used to read upwards of 100 blogs in NetNewsWire. Last year at some point I unsubscribed from all of them, then picked five or so people I thought were really smart, added them to a Google Reader widget on my homepage, and subscribed to my github feed. And that's it. Most of the time I finish all my feed reading for the day in under a minute. I'm doing much, much better at completing goals and getting code written. The occasional trip to engadget or digg still slows me way down, but it's nowhere near as bad as it used to be.

I can say with absolute certainty: I am much better off doing it this way. The wisdom of the crowd? Turns out it's mostly just noise after all.

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From: Zach (Dec 24 2008, at 04:35)

While I'm pretty sympathetic to the addiction question, at the end of the day I think it's mostly a matter of willpower and concentration. Being a sysadmin who often works remotely, my ability to be productive is tied directly to whether or not I have network access.

As a result, I've had to learn how to work without letting the distractions take over. It wasn't easy, and some days I still get distracted, but without any choice in the matter what can I do?

In the end, it's YOU who makes the choice to stop what you're working and check RSS or email or whatever. You just have to condition yourself to make the default choice be work, not fun. :)

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From: Jim Ancona (Dec 24 2008, at 10:26)

This hits home for me too. As to scheduling Net-free time, I find it very difficult to program without connectivity these days. Almost every project I work on depends on the Net in some way, plus often the documentation for the tools and APIs I'm using is only available online.

Jim

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From: Alex Waterhouse-Hayward (Dec 25 2008, at 19:56)

It used to be easy for me to say, "TV is terrible. I don't watch it." In the 35 years that I have been in Vancouver I have never watched the Beachcombers or Sex in the City. For years when I went to parties I have felt almost left out since I cannot contribute to conversations on TV, or current films or hockey.

In fact I don't watch TV because there is so much good TV. You make an exception, "I don't watch TV except for..." and before you know it you are addicted to the box.

A few weeks ago I read in the local rag the Vancouver Courier this cover article on Twitter

http://www.canada.com/vancouvercourier/news/story.html?id=32f7f877-3297-4856-a127-2502f2230f63

and I could not believe what some of the Twitter-heads interviewed will not be sorry about what they said (banal in my opinion) perhaps a few months from now.

The addiction to Twitter and other social sites is made all that much easier by the fact that one needs only to press keys on a keyboard. It is clean and effortless. The same applies to the apparent cheapness of shooting with a digital camera. We used to say that film was the cheapest part of photography but we were always stingy and kept our snapshot addiction at bay. Now so many of the photographs we see on the net are the equivalent to the 140 maximum character utterings of Twitter. I know someone who has told me that 90% of the net is crap and that other 10% is doubtful. From that standpoint the path to losing one's addiction to the net is obvious.

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

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From: Alex Morega (Dec 26 2008, at 07:11)

You might want to set aside several days at a time. That way you stay focused on the problem, drafting in your subconscious to help (like your lawn mower revelation, http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2006/06/23/Friday-Coding-Hint)

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From: Duncan Hull (Dec 28 2008, at 04:23)

...but the very idea of 'Internet addiction' is built on foundations of sand, interesting post anyway...

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From: Sam Penrose (Dec 28 2008, at 08:22)

A book on structuring time for creativity:

http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Habit-Learn-Use-Life/dp/0743235266

Note that most of us who comment on your blog are presumably unreformed fellow junkies :-).

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