Try these smart ways to keep a check on your Internet addiction. By Shweta Taneja
It’s a connected world out there. So much so that most of us cannot think of life without a phone or access to the Internet—even when on holiday.
Take control: Learn how to disconnect from the online world and organize your daily Internet use.
“When I am hiking and I force myself to disconnect from the online world, I feel alone. I feel like there’s so much of the trip that I would like to share with my online friends,” says Hrish Thotaa, a 31-year-old social media professional and self-proclaimed Twitter addict who spends 8-9 hours on social networking sites and chats, and 3-4 hours on email. “I spend my entire waking time online,” explains Thotaa.
A study called A Day without Media was conducted in 2010 by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, University of Maryland, US. The study had asked 200 students at the university to abstain from using all media for 24 hours. They then had to blog (http://withoutmedia.wordpress.com) about their experiences. “Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely. I received several phone calls that I could not answer,” wrote one student on the blog after the 24-hour fast (the website did not give out names). “By 2pm, I began to feel the urgent need to check my email, and even thought of a million ideas of why I had to. I felt like a person on a deserted island… I noticed physically that I began to fidget, as if I was addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am.”
“Most youngsters cannot imagine their lives without cellphones and the online world today,” says Jitendra Nagpal, consultant, psychiatry, Moolchand hospital, New Delhi. “They feel anxious or stressed when they lose connectivity, be it because (the) battery has run out, they are in an area with no connectivity, or they have no balance left,” he explains. Psychologists have a word for those who make it an obsession: Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD).
Addiction to the World Wide Web is a very real issue. You can see the signs everywhere around you nowadays: a fidgety colleague who needs to constantly tweet, a friend who clicks the refresh button on Facebook hoping to see something new while on a dinner date, or you realizing at the end of a day that you have been browsing the Internet for so long that the afternoon has passed and you still have a pile of work to get through.
“Procrastination is the greatest demon of being connected,” says Sasank T., a 25-year-old marketing manager based in Bangalore. Sasank scored 58 on an Internet Addiction Quiz (www.netaddiction.com), a score which suggests that he might be facing some problems at work because of the long hours he spends online.
“I have had to work nights as I skipped deadlines since I was online for the whole day in office,” Sasank says. “There are times when many days go by doing nothing but browsing my favourite sites.” The only time Sasank disconnects is when his laptop heats up and gets switched off; and then the phone comes in. If, like Sasank, you can’t let go of the online urge, here are some tools that can help you:
Detect your time wasters
Wisdom has it that a 2-minute break on Facebook can last for hours. A second on a site can never last a second. Each one of us has sites that we love wasting our time on.
Try this tool: SelfControl (http://visitsteve.com/made/selfcontrol) is a free software that allows you to restrict the time you spend on social networking sites, gaming forums or shopping sites. Simply install the software and add any domain name to its blacklist, like Facebook.com. Then put on a timer and tell the software how long you want to use that domain in a day (from 1 minute to 12 hours). Once you have spent that much time on that particular site in a day, it will be blocked from your browser for the rest of the day. All the other sites will work just fine. SelfControl takes addictions seriously. The app was planned as an extreme measure, so use it only if you are not going to change your mind—deleting the application or rebooting your computer will not help unblock the particular site.
Unplug for a day
Not so far back, people didn’t have the Internet to connect to. They didn’t have Google search to find out about something, or social networking sites to spend time on seeing their friends making faces. So we know that it’s possible to disconnect. Take a pledge to disconnect for a day in a week, in a month, or in a quarter.
Try this tool: Before you change your mind, download and install Sabbath Manifesto (www.sabbathmanifesto.org) on your smartphone. The free app encourages you to participate in a one-day movement away, a sabbath, from technology. The app allows you to decide the days you want to spend offline, sends an automatic message via Twitter or Facebook telling people you have temporarily checked out, and text messages in advance to remind you of the day you have chosen to disconnect. The free app works on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry.
Block off distractions
You might save a few precious minutes by grabbing that greasy burger while working on a presentation, but it’s a bad way of resolving the time crunch issue. Instead, install a time management software which saves you precious time you would have otherwise wasted online, take a break during lunch, go out with colleagues, catch up on office gossip and come back to your desk refreshed.
Try this tool: RescueTime (www.rescuetime.com) is a Web-based time management and analytics tool that increases productivity. It allows you to block the distracting parts of the Internet for a period of time you specify, it quietly measures which application, website or even document is being used actively on your desktop, and can nudge you when you don’t complete the set tasks in a day or when you waste too much time on “distracting” websites. It comes in three versions: Solo Lite, which is free, with basic features; Solo Pro, which costs $6-9 (Rs. 275-415) per month; and Team Edition, which is for companies—the cost depends on the number of users per month.
For Macs, a software for this would be Concentrate (http://getconcentrating.com). It costs $29 and helps increase your productivity.
Keep away from email
Email is not work, it’s meta-work. Every time you go to your email client and see yet another fresh batch of emails, you are getting distracted from the actual work you are doing. Control the urge to check your email or social networking sites constantly while you are trying to concentrate on work.
Try this tool: Freedom (www.macfreedom.com) is a simple productivity application that locks your Internet away from your Mac or Windows for up to 8 hours at a time. Once you are forced to remain offline, you end up writing, analysing, thinking, or basically doing something productive. Seth Godin, author of business books such as Permission Marketing, blogged about using Freedom in January, as a means to break free from “continuous partial attention…(and the) never ending non-stop distraction” that is the online world. According to him, the tool corners you, leaving you with nowhere to turn, unable to stall or avoid real work. And the tool takes its job seriously—you will need to reboot your system if you want to get back online while Freedom’s running. “The hassle of rebooting means you’re less likely to cheat, and you’ll enjoy enhanced productivity,” says Fred Stutzman, the software developer. Stutzman created Freedom and its sister software Anti-social (http://anti-social.cc), which blocks all social networking sites for a period of time, when he wanted to finish his dissertation. The software costs $15 for a download. A free trial is available.
Automate your social networks
We get your need to be on Google+ because you cannot afford to miss the online audience you might get there for your next book release. But that doesn’t mean you need to forgo your offline life while trying to handle your online one. There are more than 160 social networking sites out there and if you try to aim at even one-tenth of them, chances are you need to do away with your offline life completely. It all boils down to routine and management. A simple software or app can connect all these social networks, allow you to schedule a status update, and even add in others to update your social networks while you go out for that cup of coffee.
Try this tool: There are many phone and desktop apps to keep your multiple social networks synced. Multi social networking handlers such as Digsby (www.digsby.com), TweetDeck (www. tweetdeck.com), Seesmic (http://seesmic.com) and HootSuite (http://hootsuite.com) are some of the best-known ones. All these softwares are similar in functionality, so decide which one suits you best, depending on your desktop or mobile phone operating system. Each one connects all your social networks and shows you feeds on one page so you can see what’s happening on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, Orkut and Google+ in one go. You can comment on a status update or update all your networks with one simple mouse click.