Every few months or so, an article comes around that reminds me I’m spending too much time on the internet, looking at pointless things and wasting time. This time, it was this article by Craig Mod that caught my attention. It made me realise that I was once again endlessly flicking between the same sites, watching Twitter refresh and reading the same articles over and over. It was an eloquently argued wake-up call.
I spend a lot of time on the computer at work as well as when I’m when writing. There’s an internet connection constantly. If I’m not on a computer, I have a tiny connected device in my pocket. The tech future of It’s all too easy to jump onto Twitter or facebook, even just for a second. Craig talks about this in his article, saying:
I could live on Twitter all day, everyday, convincing myself I was being productive. Or, at least inducing the chemicals in the mind that make me feel like I’m being productive. Read more news. Send more replies. Start more threads. Each incoming reply activating a corresponding dopamine pop. Largely pushing nothing in the world forward.
I find a similar problem with constant access. I devour information, stories and facts and the internet is a constant stream that is hard to resist. A brief diversion to look up some details for a story can turn into an hour-long rabbit hole, where you end up miles away from you started. It’s addictive in the simplest sense, you get knowledge as a reward for looking it up. It’s a perfect Skinner box. I tend to lurk and read and absorb because by the time I think about responding there’s something new, or someone else has made the same point only better. The net effect of this constant connectivity is a distracted mind and a lack of focus.
I am not saying the internet is a bad thing in the slightest. Technology has provided us with infinite information at our fingertips, which is great when you want to research a particular topic. It can also give you random connections between different things. If two unrelated items appear in a newsfeed, then I can start to make connections between them. In addition, the internet has also opened me up to ideas and information I would have no idea about otherwise. Music, films, books, the list goes on. There’s a whole world of creators out there doing their thing for little recognition that I would never have heard of if it hadn’t been for the internet. I can find people with similar interests and with opposing views and connect with them accros the globe. The connectivity has almost certainly changed my life for the better.
The problem, I have found, is that when it is time to concentrate I am distracted. It’s increasingly hard to put my head down and focus on writing. The thoughts I have are sometimes undeveloped or truncated. Craig laments his lack of attention and I have encountered the same. It is a limited resource and by frittering it away on the many distractions of the internet, I lose a lot of it. Another problem is not being present or enjoying the moment. If I am constantly checking my phone for Instagram likes, then I am not engaging with the world around me.
I don’t think the answer is as extreme as disconnecting all the time. Craig does not advocate for this either, saying:
Total disconnection is not only unsustainable for most people, but can also be an unnecessary act of self-sabotage.
Instead, I have deliberately carved out moments and hours where I am, for all intents and purposes, offline. I can usually still be called, or I may be using a computer and backing my work up to Dropbox, but that’s about it. I certainly can’t free roam around the internet as I usually do. A few months back I decided to disconnect completely on Sundays. Occasionally I break it, but I have mostly kept it up. I yearn for those days because they offer me a day of peace. I read, go for a walk and am hopefully more present in my time with Mel. It feels like an oasis at the end of the week. Since reading Craig’s article, however, I have blocked off my phone in the mornings as well, using an app. I’ve found it sets me up well for the rest of the day. In addition, I’ve been trying to single task more and focus on what I’m doing. All these small changes have added up and the last couple of weeks I have started to feel less scattered and have started to regain my attention span. It’s hard work and by necessity, you need to be vigilant, but it is worth it.
By disconnecting you allow your mind to breathe for creative work. If given space, your brain can think creatively. Most of my ideas come when I am away from the computer, usually swimming or washing up. I almost never have ideas when watching the feed refresh. Have space and allow yourself to be bored.
In these days of constant streaming news and social media, it can feel overwhelming. There are too many options out there. With the stream of insanity coming from the news at the moment, it’s hard to tear away. Since Brexit, then the election I have constantly been double checking the news. What now? is my first thought. But it is important to step away from the constant torrent of madness, to allow your mind to calm and settle. It’s necessary for your well-being and your sanity. Those in charge want you to be overwhelmed and scared because as the main character of Dune says ‘Fear is the mind killer’. I would argue that a lack of attention does the same thing. By feeding the dopamine monster, we reduce our attention span and become more vulnerable to manipulation.
I’d recommend disconnecting to anyone, but especially those trying to be creative. Carve out hours where you will not go on the computer or on your phone. Use blocking software if you have to. Whatever’s necessary. Regain your time and in doing so, you regain space in your head.