Stephen Elliot spends a month without internet

A month without internet? He writes like it’s an addiction, and it probably is: constant stimulation, freedom from reflection, instantaneous access to the opinions of others. Why think yourself? Why bother to formulate a position that’s anything other than a reaction to the latest rant?

During weeks two and three, I watched the first three seasons of The Wire (something I might have done anyway). I subscribed to the New York Times and spent almost two hours every morning reading it from cover to cover. It was only in the fourth week that things started coming together. I wasn’t just breaking the Internet habit, I was breaking the habits I had learned on the Internet: that addiction to continual bursts of small information.

The advice he gives seems unlikely to be of any use until you’ve already gone cold turkey; moderate your access, refuse to distract yourself when the work is going badly… it’s well and good for a man who’s broken the habit, but I don’t see it working for the rest of us.

Divide your day into online and offline. Studies have consistently shown that people with more screens open get less done. Multitasking slows down productivity. As long as you read your e-mail and respond once every twenty-four hours, nobody is likely to notice. Dedicate at least half of your day to handling non-Internet tasks exclusively. Write a list of things you need to do when you do get online so your Internet time will be more productive. If the main thing I was doing in my life was writing a novel, I would resolve not to be online at all. I know people who have moved “off the grid,” to rural areas to escape any distractions to their work. But the reality is you don’t need to go anywhere, you just need a computer without a Wi-Fi hookup. The urge to screw around is always strongest when the work’s not going well. And if you work at a computer, screwing around is only a click away. But when the work’s not going well is exactly the time to turn the Internet off.

Sound eminently reasonable, but much, much too hard. Then, too, I seem to recall he’s some sort of masochist; didn’t he write My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up? Oh sure… discipline, of course a masochist would advocate discipline! 🙂 We don’t all love pain, man.

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