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Addicted to Distraction (nytimes.com)
263 points by sonabinu on Nov 29, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments



I recently wrote a chrome extension that helps me curb my "compulsion loop."

It's pretty simple; each time the browser loads a website that has potentially distracting content (think: twitter, FB, reddit, hacker news, rotoworld, etc) that I tend to over-visit in search of new tidbits, the extension keeps track of my visit and the text content of the page.

The next time I visit, I do a text comparison that checks how similar the content is to my last visit. If there's too much overlap, the browser redirects.

There's a profound difference in using this approach versus existing distraction-detractors. When I see the browser redirect away while trying to load reddit.com, my rational side takes over and reminds me that I should be done with tidbit-seeking.

I ought to clean it up and put it on github; I'm sure someone else might find it useful.


I may be misunderstanding, but isn't this like a heavy drinker having the bartender put more water than beer in his glass when he heads to the local pub? This doesn't seem to be treating the actual issue at hand (lack of self control, lack of training of the mind, etc.) is what I'm getting at. Not meaning to crap on your build, as it certainly seems cool. Maybe this could be viewed as a training tool, but only if it's part of a larger strategy.


One could argue that the addicted drinker gets no real value from even small amounts of alcohol consumption,

whereas the desire to seek distraction is born from the brain's need of new stimuli, and information[1]. In which case a few minutes of browsing the fresh posts of the day could be a healthy stimulation. The diminishing returns set in when most posts are already seen.

at least, that's what I like to tell myself.

[1]: see 'why do we get bored' - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qwd25JV-jnU


It sounds like that but if the bartender notices he's serving a lot of water to you, he turns you around and gently pushes you out the door (redirect).


Exactly :)


I was thinking of making an alternative that just checks how long it's been since you visited that page. If you visited Facebook/Reddit/Etc. in the last 1-4 hours, you shouldn't be visiting it again, regardless of whether Facebook updated the content.

PS - Can you share your extension on the Chrome store, even before you clean up the code for Github?


You should. I've had the same problem - subconsciously re-loading a site I've recently visited, realizing there is little/no new content on the front page, getting frustrated, and diving deeper in the hope of finding new tidbits.

By the time the cycle is done I've found nothing of value and wasted 3x the time normally spent.


x = 1hr


I've been fighting this kind of thing for decades now (it started with Usenet), and when reading this and stuff like the Shallows...

This is going to be a huge health problem ten years from now (it must be already the largest productivity killer in the workplace), and great solutions for this will be profitable some day.


Yes, it is a huge problem. One funny way to look at the problem is that if you told someone twenty years ago that in the future there would be a TV set on every desk in every office, this person would not have believed you. Yet, the actual situation right now is much worse than that.


> When I see the browser redirect away while trying to load reddit.com, my rational side takes over and reminds me that I should be done with tidbit-seeking.

I've tried something similar, except when I see the browser redirect away while trying to load reddit.com, my hacker mindset kicks in and I try to find ways to bypass it. Finding ways to bypass the limitations is far more distracting (and interesting) to me than the site itself.

My motivation systems are screwy and hard to work around. I wish I could say I found a less radical solution than "disable wifi in the bios while I'm working", but I'd be lying.


Not a chrome extension, but in the same vein of limiting distractions: https://github.com/amoffat/focus

It's a proxy DNS server that runs locally, and based on user-defined rules (which can be anything that can be described with code), will limit your access to websites.


If critical mass is what you need to github it, please do. I am also interested.

Thanks!


That's such an awesome idea. I'd love to check it out.


Out of curiosity, what did you use to extract the text content of the page? Was it based around html, or did you actually compare the topical content?


Please do let me know too if you publish it. Also, please seriously consider publishing it even without/before cleaning up. TIA!


Yeah I'd like to check it out!


Is your extension available for download?


Please do post!


I haven't really gotten my thoughts clear on this so excuse me for the probably unclear formulation.

I recently realized that one of the unfortunate consequences of this is the way many in my generation (I'm 41) brings up our kids.

Instead of teaching them one thing in depth we are forcing them through a million different subjects way before they even turn 10.

It's not unusual in my circles that kids are both playing football, taking piano lessons, learning french on top of their school and homework.

I believe this is fundamentally the wrong approach as it only teaches kids to skate over a subject rather than master one in full.

The difference is huge because learning to master something takes you through several ups and downs which you don't learn if you only have to learn something on an superficial level. So you spend a lot of time becoming good at only the initial challenges of a subject not the much deeper levels of mastering something. Ironically learning to master something is going to make you much better at learning to master more than one thing. Where as learning a lot of things aren't going to teach you how to master any of them.

So I am now trying let my kids just find their ways instead of forcing them into all sorts of subjects.


>It's not unusual in my circles that kids are both playing football, taking piano lessons, learning french on top of their school and homework.

We are filling our kid's time with all these structured activities to "enrich" their lives. To give them a leg up in the adult world. To make them smarter and well rounded. We fill our houses with a whole bunch of "enriching" toys.

This is extremely misguided.

The majority of a child's free time should be self directed. They need to experience boredom for proper development. Only in boredom do kids learn to be creative and process their thoughts in a meaningful way. They learn to live with the anxiety boredom creates and channel it into new ideas.

Micromanaging their lives leads to very poorly adjusted and anxious adults. I am very sad when I see car trip filled with iPads and TVs. Kids need to learn how to deal with the boredom of car rides and sit quietly with their thoughts.

Structured activities are great in moderation.

*Adults actually require boredom as well but it is especially valuable for the rapidly developing brains that kids have.


I'm 51, and my parents signed me up for a whole smorgasbord of structured activities: Music, figure skating, swimming, etc. Gradually, most of those activities fell by the wayside, but I stuck with music, and my involvement increased in intensity -- private lessons on two instruments, a third instrument in the school band, playing in the local community orchestra, etc.

We are filling our kid's time with all these structured activities to "enrich" their lives. To give them a leg up in the adult world. To make them smarter and well rounded. We fill our houses with a whole bunch of "enriching" toys.

Yup, that was my life.

Yet, I had plenty of free time. What gives? The missing variable is schoolwork. The schools that I attended assigned very little homework, and it was generally easy to finish, during class time, plus a few hours maximum, per week at home. Indeed, even with my structured activities, I still watched TV, played outside, and pursued my own interests. Today, our leaders tell us that kids should learn how to code. I taught myself programming and electronics when I wasn't doing homework.

Today, the kids have hours of inane homework every evening, and much of it is configured to practically require using the computer, with all of its distractions and productivity pitfalls. We still want them to have enriching activities -- my kids are as involved in music as I was. Yes, free time gets squeezed out, but I don't think parents are entirely to blame. A normal childhood should have plenty of time for both structured and unstructured activity.


There are, as they say, many ways to Rome. I discovered most interests myself, my parents had absolutely nothing to do with them.

There is no right or wrong here.

The point I was trying to make was just that my generation seem to be more impatient in general which is a shame as we do need people who understand things in depth.


There is no boredom in the modern world. The Internet is an endless cesspool of poor quality entertainment, expertly arranged to give us the impression that we learn something or interact meaningfully with other people.

Believing that a child will improve themselves and realize their potential without guidance and an appropriate amount of forcing is, in my opinion, misguided.


Science disagrees with you.

http://www.bbc.com/news/education-21895704

http://greatist.com/happiness/benefits-of-boredom

Nobody said you shouldn't guide your child sometimes but sometimes your child needs to guide themselves too. We are taking away the latter in the modern world.


I got bored during school pretty much every class, and I filled that time with doodling on paper, then writing stories and poetry, then trying to come up with my own language, then teaching myself programming by making games on my calculator.

I should also note that I wasn't supposed to be doing any of that stuff, and I would have gotten in trouble with the teacher if they caught me doing it and "not paying attention".

Based on my anecdotal experience, I do believe that there's something to the 'boredom leads to children developing their creativity' assertion, as stated in that bbc article.


I don't think it's misguided at all in fact it gets to the very essence of what it could mean to be successful in a modern world. The ability to develop you on your own premises rather than the rest of the modern worlds.


Exactly!

Boredom is very very important early on.

It's something you have to internalize and become familiar with and not fear. Way too many adults try and make sure their kids aren't bored IMO and thus the kids start fearing it because they never learned what a powerful engine for reflection and thinking it actually become.

Thats something you have to train.


Kids can get cranky and annoying when they are bored. It's so easy for an adult to give them an iPad when they are on the train to shut them up (so to speak). The less they learned to deal with these feelings themselves the more they begin to "need" the iPad for idle time and the more cranky and annoying they can get without it. Its a positive feedback loop.


And the parent learned that when it's bored, he pulls out a smoke, grabs a beer/food/chocolate, not being aware what he's doing when giving the iPad. It might seem more healthy compared to those, but it's really the same convenient habit.


If I leave my kids for themselves they will spend all time watching Netflix and playing Minecraft. It's just better than watching TV.


I teach basic maths to adults mainly but also a couple of classes of teenagers in a further education college in the UK - the US equivalent is called a community college I believe.

This year, I won the timetabling lottery and got classes with fine art, graphics, fashion and media students.

Usual distractions (phones: Facebook, various instant messaging services &c). I gave each student a simple cardboard document wallet to keep finished work in and suggested that they put their name on the wallet and 'customise' it.

Silence: focussed activity for 15mins. I carry a box with a couple of sets of Sharpies of various colours plus Muji pens and pencils. Grabbed and distributed in a coordinated Mexican wave. Seriously, the full Csikszentmihalyi flow.

Now I have to find a way of channelling that into Maths... I'm taking Tufte's books in next week to see what happens.

TD;LR Digital natives can concentrate when they want to.


Sure they can. It's a human ability. What I am talking about is a cultural thing not genetic.


Solitary downvoter: care to engage with my argument?


It wasn't me who down-voted you, but perhaps it was someone else who wasn't familiar with a single one of the capitalized words/phrases in the paragraph:

"I carry a box with a couple of sets of Sharpies of various colours plus Muji pens and pencils. Grabbed and distributed in a coordinated Mexican wave. Seriously, the full Csikszentmihalyi flow."


OK, thanks for feedback and apologies for specific references, here goes with the definitions...

Sharpies: 2mm thick permanent marker pens in bright colours

Muji: Japanese stationery shop with a good stock of fine nib gel and ink pens

Mihali Csikszentmihalyi is a philosopher who has articulated the concept of flow-state. The relevant Wikipedia page is a good basic guide [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29


I'm going to translate from teacher-ese for you:

"While my students normally exhibited a substantial amount of distraction in our class, I was pleased to discover that since they were all artistically-oriented students, an impromptu art activity was able to occupy their full undivided attention for an extended period of time."

You're welcome.


"Mexican wave"?


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_%28audience%29

I was using the term as a metaphor for the way that particular group of students just all went for the chance to draw something.

Thankyou for engaging.


> It's not unusual in my circles that kids are both playing football, taking piano lessons, learning french on top of their school and homework. I believe this is fundamentally the wrong approach as it only teaches kids to skate over a subject rather than master one in full.

True, although on the other hand that's the best time to experiment what you'll potentially like and perhaps even base your interests and/or career on.


Yes but this is something I believe kids are perfectly fine figuring out themselves rather than parents sending them to all the things they wished they had learned when they were kids :)


Not really. How can they figure out they love ice skating if they never tried it?

It is up to the parent to give direction to their child, not pressure them into something that they don't want but show them what is possible and out there.

Giving a child the freedom to do what it wants is probably not going to end up well in majority of cases.


Kids don't live in a vacum.

I have never told my son he should learn skateboarding, be a scientist or play music.

I didn't come out of a musical family and ended up playing music professionally for a couple of years.

No one is talk about giving them freedom to do what they want.


> Kids don't live in a vacum.

Sure. They don't, but when they are just starting school they still don't know much about what is possible, and out there.

> No one is talk about giving them freedom to do what they want.

Little bit of guidance won't hurt. There is nothing intrinsic in child's wishes. No one is blocking their inner genius by guiding them to pay attention to learning maths instead of painting, or dancing, or vice versa.


What do you mean they don't know what is possible? They are exposed to all sorts of of things way before they start school. Through friends, parents friends, family, media etc.

Nobody is saying guidance is bad. The point is when the guidance become constant. It's not about some innner genius, it's not even about finding what you are are good at. It's about finding the engine that will allow you to become good at something which is a combination between many factors including parents guidance.

But it's completely lacking when parent's start pushing the kids to try out may different things almost as chores.


Example: I knew literally nothing about any of the engineering disciplines until junior/senior year of highschool when a careers quiz directed me towards them.


Sure how many kids that are exposed to those do you think are going to start working towards being engineers when they are 5?

There is a big difference between finding an interest and then finding a career.


Ah, I see "before you start school" now..


...and then becoming insecure about our talents when we become moderately successful.


Its market forces that created this condition.

I remember reading about this expert - he spent 20 years becoming an expert on blade design for aircraft engines.

We need more people like that but its hard to think what incentives we provide to people to chug through grad school. Its only in countries like germany where such incentives exists - in the anglosphere - its up to the parents.

There are obvious problems with that model - the thing is you need both - a lot of generalists and an equally large number of specialists for society to function.

But given how centrally we try to control everything its always one or the other rather a mixed bag.


Another view on this is that being exposed to different concepts and ways of thinking increases perspective and creativity. All of the things you mentioned as examples (football, playing piano and learning a language) all use very different modes of thought and activate different parts of the brain. It seems like the majority of people would really benefit from that diversity of experience.


I hear what you are saying but I actually think this is the wrong way to think about it.

The point I was trying to make is that if you just learn a little bit of music, a little bit of football, a little bit of french you are still only learning the same and getting the same perspective no matter how many different things you learn.

The trick IMO is to dig deep into something as this will teach you how to dig deep into other things later. I.e. you are actually gaining perspective on other areas even before you learn about them.


There is a big push at the moment for "T shaped people", ie with a broad range of experience with one or two specialities.

By exposing a wide range of activities to kids, they gain breadth. They can then choose what to explore in depth - that is their call.

"Overspecialize, and you breed in weakness. It's slow death."


I am not talking about specializing I am talking about mastering. Thats a very different thing.

You can specialize in playing a sweeping technique on your guitar that does not make you a good musician.

And again. No I simply don't believe you gain breadth by being exposed to many different things. It's the other way around. Learning a lot of different things superficially is not going to teach you the real lessons.

It's not about acquiring a specific set of skills it's about acquiring an ability to learn how to learn.


> I believe this is fundamentally the wrong approach as it only teaches kids to skate over a subject rather than master one in full.

Reminds me of this Rich Hickey piece:

https://gist.github.com/prakhar1989/1b0a2c9849b2e1e912fb


There is evidence from studies of youth sports that specialization at a young age can actually be detrimental to adult outcomes:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658407/


If you meet a professional athlete you'll understand firsthand what drawbacks there are to spending your first 2 decades super specialising.


I don't understand the general social disparagement of professional athletes. They have been through a filter the likes of which most of the rest of us have never experienced. Their skills and abilities are evaluated ruthlessly at every level -- if they come up short, they are out. The ones who make it are the best of the best at what they do. For each of them there are thousands of little league, high school and college athletes who did not. The people who make it through are the ones who are not only naturally gifted physically, but absolutely passionate about playing their sport. You have to be in order to put in the work needed to reach this elite level.


"The ones who make it are the best of the best at what they do."

I don't think the "social disparagement of professional athletes" is with regard to a lack of skill at "what they do", but the sacrifice of what they don't, coupled with a view that what they've sacrificed for isn't actually important.

My views on the matter are mixed.


Mastering does not mean on elite level.

You can master something without taking it into extremes. It's more going through the ups and downs of learning and experiencing progress and lack thereof.


This type of distraction is just another form of procrastination, which in turn is a product of any number of underlying psychological issues. Anxiety and depression come to mind.


I'd be willing to bet that a significant majority of "internet addiction" (are people still talking about that ?) or "game addiction" is actually just a symptom of depression.


Couldn't you say the reverse? One might say that depression is a symptom of internet addiction.


I'd argue both are true. Trying to escape a personal problem only makes it worse. This creates a sort of negative feedback loop.


Couldn't you say the same about a lot of "drug addiction" as well?


Drug addiction has a strong chemical dependence compoment, but I wouldn't be surprised if depression was what led people to get addicted in the first place.


The Rat Park studies strongly suggest that this is true. Rats studied in conditions where they have every reason to be happy did not suffer from drug addiction, even when drugs were made available to them. Rats kept in cages isolated from each other (rats are very social creatures) became seriously addicted.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park

http://www.brucekalexander.com/articles-speeches/rat-park/14...

http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/rat-park/


It's very easy though to procrastinate when in 'command' of a web browser.

Removing the device removes the temptation.

Typically I can be in the middle of something else, sit down in front of the laptop to quickly check the news or something, and end up walking away from it a few hours later. It's very easy to get sucked in. I guess I'm weak minded.


One trick that works for me: having separate devices for separate activities. E.g., I have a tablet that I use for long-form content and pretty much nothing else. I consciously know that I could pretty easily log in to Facebook on the tablet's browser. But since I've never once done it on that device, my lizard brain doesn't know.

I recently bought a new phone that feels physically different than my old one (Nexus 5x vs first-gen Moto X) and I haven't yet used Facebook on it. I think I'm going to keep it that way; I so far haven't found myself automatically going to do it the way I would on the old phone.


"having separate devices for separate activities" This is the answer. My tablet has successfully replaced my PC when it comes to reading twitter feeds, techcrunch and other IT related content. On top of that, i find myself using it only in bed, for 30-50 minutes, right before i put myself to sleep. I am now planning on buying another PC just for work, place it in another room and get rid of the distractions for at least 8 hours per day. In the past i was using Dexpot for managing multiple desktops, but i found out that the temptation of switching and browsing through garbage content was still pretty high.(not just web content, but my own content as well) I'm working on it...


Thanks for sharing. I'm starting this today.


Good luck, and feel free to email/tweet me to discuss further. My big tip: don't ever yield to the temptation to check "just once". I've made that mistake and it's very hard to come back from.


The CBT approach would have it that, for some ope to fix the symptomatic behaviours of the depression would go some way to managing the depression itself. I'm currently testing that.


Yes and no. The typical distractions trigger dopamine releases without any effort. When your brain gets satisfied with its current level, you need more and more. Your brain gets desensitized, which causes the anxiety and depression. Soon, real life isn't enough, you need the extra stimulation.

http://www.abdada.com/the-low-reward-to-high-reward-guide/


I used to suffer from massive unproductivity. So I began to run experiments.

Among them, I realized that accountability and a human being next to me aided in productivity. So I did what any normal person would do. I hired someone to slap me in the face.

http://hackthesystem.com/blog/why-i-hired-a-girl-on-craigsli...

The results were mindblowing. My productivity quadrupled. I got Important (but non-urgent) work done fluidly, and easily.

I posted the article online and it went viral. Many people thought it was crazy, but others understood.

So I decided to take it a step further. What if the world could improve as well as I did? Unfortunately, slapping doesn't scale, so I tried to build the next best thing.

Pavlok --- the wearable device that uses vibrations to reward good behavior, and a mild electric stimulus to reduce bad behaviors.

My first app was a Chrome extension that allows me to choose which sites I want to blacklist. If I spend 5 minutes on Facebook, it will beep my wrist. If I spend 30 mins on Facebook, I receive the electric zap --- and the longer I stay on line, the more powerful the zap becomes.

People use it in hundreds of ways. To beep loudly when they enter facebook. To vibrate if they bite their nails. To send a zap to wake them up (shocking alarm clock --- it just works).

It's actually pretty freaking amazing to see what our users are doing with it.

Anyway, I thought you all might be interested --- what do you think? Could you see yourselves using the chrome extension to train away your bad habits?

http://buy.pavlok.com is the site to check it out. or on Amazon: http://amazon.com/Pavlok-1/dp/B011U2QYO2


This rings true for me too. If I sit down with a minute or two of spare time, out comes my phone so I can check out HN or Reddit. Never any quiet contemplation any more.


This realization came to me when I was taking a coursera class and had to keep surfing while listening to the lectures. That's when I started using the pomodoro technique and it's been helping me since!


Quiet contemplation. That thing you used to do when you got an early night, that may have helped your brain get into order, or possibly aroused the senses, and led to panic.

My partner monopolises the main living space, and always switches the TV on. She's out with the tablet and surfing in seconds. I don't have a mobile internet device at hand. So it can feel lonely and desolate. Once I also pulled out my laptop alongside the telly. So do get it. It does feel rude if one sided. Especially when you are left watching some crap that you wouldn't put on yourself. I could fetch my book, but I find it difficult to read while the telly is on. One day I might challenge her to a conversation.

I enjoy space and silence. In the garden I can just stand and listen for an hour or so at a time. I'm almost completely vacant. It feels good, but I'm not sure if it is good for the brain.


I am addicted to hn. Reddit, and FB just make me depressed. While I like hn, I can't spend more than 30 minutes on it. It then starts to depress me. Maybe I'm depressed?


It's a self-reinforcing habit too, your fingers eventually start typing the URL/start the app without thinking.


Tell me. I've just sit in front of my computer saying "well, I'll write those test cases for my side project".

Yet, I'm here, replying to you.


> rings true

I see what you did there.


In the middle of a 'compulsion loop' I wound up on HN, leading me to read this article, only to stop halfway through to come back and check the comments - and post this one.

See ya. Off to Google Analytics.


I can easily go a bit tab mad. And noticed this in myself ages ago. At work I vowed not to look at sites that weren't work related. And instead checked personal email/sites before or after work. I was more organised. I even used to sit on the train and plan my days work. And it paid off.

These days I'm more and more distracted, have issues concentrating, and I don't have a smartphone, which I'd probably gravitate towards. It is in part, why I don't own one.

I also have congnitive difficulty reading from the screen, so if I stumble across something I think is worth reading, I send it to my e-reader. There I have a ton of unread articles. But I do tend to do one at a time, and it sticks better.

The young ones seem to be able to happily multitask, they sit next to each other on the bus or in cafes talking and surfing simultaneously. I find multi-tasking increasingly difficult, they don't, what gives?


My take on multitasking is that it mostly doesn't work, at least not for cognitive activities. But, I guess it depends on your definition of "multitasking" and "working/not working".

There are, perhaps, some activities which most people can multitask at - such as, driving a routine route while carrying on a light conversation. (But even that might distract from one or the other) But try something more complex - such as even trying to carry on a simple conversation while driving in an unfamiliar area or when you're lost - and quickly you'll find you can only focus on one thing at a time.

So, my sweeping generalization of people surfing and talking simultaneously is that if the two activities are very unrelated, (different topics) it's likely far less attention is being paid to each than the level of attention you're giving to reading your single article.


I am pretty sure in the past that it has been shown that talking on a moble increases the chance of crashing a car. It was a while ago that I read it so I can't provide a reference.


Anyone who thinks they are a good multi-tasker is disillusioned. Multi-tasking requires context loading and unloading, which always seem to have some challenges associated with it that are less than obvious. Don't sweat it. Being able to focus on one thing is a gift!


A gift that I seem to have lost over the years.


Hacker News is part of the problem! This comment page is pure meta.

I'm now going to close the six other HN articles + comment pages I just opened before this one, and just not read them. See you all in a couple of days!


Don't dissmiss the act of learning through conversation. Keep in mind that the likelihood of you being surrounded by likeminded people is pretty slim. HN allow you to discuss and explore some more eccentric thoughts you won't be able to necessarily find an audience of places like Facebook.


[deleted]


For gmail, there's BatchedInbox[0], which makes your mail delivery happen once or twice a day, which breaks the "did I get new mail?" feedback loop. It worked well for me.

[0] https://www.batchedinbox.com/


Those gmail permissions:

Batched Inbox would like to: + View and manage your mail

Sorry, but any solution which involves giving a third party access to all mail is not a solution.


> Using Gmail

Complaining about

> any solution which involves giving a third party access to all mail


Ah, but Google isn't a third party; it's practically an extension of the first party!


Well, if you want to code it yourself, you can replicate it rather easily by:

- Creating a filter that puts all your mail in a label, skipping the inbox

- Write a cronjob that takes all the mail with that label and labels it back into the inbox

That's probably active procrastination, though. :)

Edit: formatting.


I just tried it and wouldn't call it stronger, you can bypass it by just changing your computer time, amusing indeed.


Why, when someone shares with you the tool that they've used to free themselves from distraction, is your response to go, "oh, let me tell them how to get around that tool so that it no longer works for them." ?

How is that anything but a massive imposition of disutility to the parent and to anyone else that uses the tool?


A simple solution to this, if your using an iOS or OS X device, is to use the network link conditioner.

Using this tool, you can decrease the bandwidth going into your computer, increase the number of packets being dropped, and increase the delays while doing DNS lookups. The effect of this is you may bring your network speed down enough that your mind can keep up with the torrent of things trying to distract it. By imposing on yourself the network connectivity of 10 years ago, you may regain the focus you had back then as well. The difference is very noticeable, you'll realize right away that your doing something unessential when you're waiting +10 seconds for it to download.

Food for thought.


Why does the author consider it a perfectly healthy accomplishment to spend a monthlong vacation reading a dozen books, but dangerous and unhealthy to check his email more than thrice a day or read redditlike sites?


quickly switching from topic to topic is a lot more exhausting


Have you ever spent a Sunday afternoon reading a giant newspaper?


you were talking about reading books :)


And here I am being distracted by Hacker News. But I am ok with getting distracted once an hour by checking what is new on Hacker News.

During working hours, I've blocked all sites that I find distracting - except for Hacker News. NYTimes is blocked so can't go read the referenced article. With so many sites self-blocked, I end up getting the TL;DR summary here on HN, and find that works most of the time. The discussions here are generally of high quality!

Of course this is no solution for self-distraction. I can still Google some topic of interest. But that is a more active process as opposed to a "reflex" distraction.


Reminds me of when the BlackBerry inserted itself into the corporate consciousness. Meetings went from being a focused affair to this round table of people staring incessantly down at their laps typing away as if their lives depended on it. In a way, they did. It was expected that all of us IT professionals would become addicted to the device, reachable 24/7. It's no wonder the entire internet is driven by that same mentality.


Before there was Addicted to Distraction, there was Hooked on Gadgets: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html


Software isn't just eating the world, it's eating our lives. I think that this is going to become much worse the more intrusive the "IOT" becomes. Being able to manage our attention will become as significant as managing our health.


I realize for many people this is not going to be an option, but what has worked for me is to do more work "offline." Write drafts with pen and paper, instead of composing on a screen, if I have something I want to read, I print it out.


Oh man... how awful. Great article. Now... why did I take out my phone?


Yoga and Meditation are key to increased concentration levels and intrinsic calmness, fragmented attention is one problem many face but fail to address !


This isn't a real addiction. And it trivializes what addicts actually go through. This is demonstrated being that it was possible for the author to replace the "higher power" of the 12 steps with someone to unplug the Internet router.

If you're actually addicted to something, you feel so trapped and subservient to your addiction that you concoct the idea of a higher power simply because you have no power left within yourself to fight.

Addiction is so bleak and hopeless that death seems like a decent alternative to living without your addiction.


I disagree. Addiction is defined as: "a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)." Do you not put phone/internet usage into that category? In a 2-hour drive this morning I had three near-accidents all because of the drivers on their phones. Ask the average American 30-year-old to avoid their phone for 24 hours straight and that will be a significantly difficult task, one that actually causes physical reactions not too dissimilar from drug withdrawals. Not all addiction results in hopes of death.


Then we need a new definition for what I know as addiction. I think your quoted definition may actually get in the way of helping addicts. There's no way that if society imagines addiction as merely a "strong and harmful need" that they'll ever be able to sympathize with people who have addictions as I know them. "Oh, you're trying to quit smoking? I quit Farmville once."


I'm sure you know this but addiction isn't just the physical dependence where your body requires the stuff to feel normal or 'well' during withdrawal.

Even then the strength of dependence varies rather than exists as a binary thing. You might feel anxious without your daily doses of caffeine or sleep worse and get the sweats after discontinuing weed. In the worst cases, with alcohol especially, you might even die during abrupt withdrawal.

But there is also the psychological component (habituation, compulsion, behaviour). For example you might still be left with the strong compulsion to smoke even if you satisfy nicotine addiction through other means or feel empty or distressed if your computer dies and you can't get online.


People make a very odd distinction between "physical" addiction and "psychological" addiction. I don't understand why, but I suspect it has something to do with "morals" and "strength". When its "just psychological" you'll see a lot of people who treat it as a personal failing, rather than an actual, difficult thing. Much like people treat depression and other mental illness.


It sounds like you're just getting addiction confused with dependency.


I kind of agree with this, but having recovered myself, I've found that addiction is more than just your drug of choice, it manifests itself in all sorts of little things. People find they quit drinking and then realize they've been compulsively shopping or eating. The same basic mechanism is the same and I think the author nails what it is: a cognitive-behavioral loop one has difficulty getting out of primarily because your brain is overvaluing the short-term over the long term for just long enough to engage in the cycle and strengthen the compulsion. Of course there's physical addiction, but not everyone likes that distinction. That is certainly powerful, but it's powerful to the extent that it makes the psychological addiction that much stronger, by having these very immediate responses with a clear behavioral solution (use your drug of choice).

There are people with really severe addictions, sure. In rehab there was no shortage of people who had to be monitored 24/7 and medicated because suddenly stopping their drug could actually kill them. There were others who were not as desperate. But I think it really is the same underlying phenomenon: substance abuse as well as gambling or some people who overeat or whatever else people typically need to go to rehab for - those addictions simply are greater and tend to have worse impact on a person's life. I was in rehab for alcohol having already quit every other drug at that point (causing my precariously balanced array of simultaneous addictions to cause one of them to dive head-first into the ground) and I wouldn't say that my addiction was the same as the heroin or cocaine addicts' problems. It simply was not in the same class, so I think there's already a recognition that everyone's addiction is different and unique to them.

Also, fuck, I'm clearly addicted to internet distraction. I'm writing this post instead of finishing my research paper.


> This isn't a real addiction. And it trivializes what addicts actually go through. This is demonstrated being that it was possible for the author to replace the "higher power" of the 12 steps with someone to unplug the Internet router.

Just like it is possible to fix alcoholism by having someone remove alcohol from the house and gambling by having someone prevent the gambler from walking into a casino.

If using the internet in a harmful way (eg. spending six hours a day reloading 9gag, FB, slashdot or whatever up to the point where it hinders your normal activities), how is it different from alcoholism or gambling?


> Just like it is possible to fix alcoholism by having someone remove alcohol from the house

It's different because alcohol withdrawal can kill you. It can give people seizures and hospitalize them for weeks. Telling someone to "remove alcohol from the house" as a cure is so left field for me it feels like you're missing the very real medical struggle long-term alcoholics go through. I'm livid but I know this should be a civil conversation.

I haven't seen someone's facebook+9gag habits tear a community, family, or person apart. Maybe that's my ignorance.


None of the "solutions" I mentioned are actually serious solutions and were intended to show that the parent's reasoning didn't work (ie. you're not going to cure internet addiction by unplugging the router just as removing alcohol from the house won't prevent an alcoholic from seeking and obtaining alcohol).

Someone who's really addicted to something will seek the object of their addiction and think about it constantly. As you mention, there are also physical components to some addictions, such as alcohol addiction.


Wow - ok, I totally missed your point then. Thank you for your reply with explanation, much more sensible than I was interpreting.


I don't think you can fix gambling or alcohol addiction like that. I'm not saying someone can't be addicted to the Internet. I'm just saying this author's story is not a story of addiction. There is such a mental block with addiction. It's like trying to fix an airplane engine while piloting it. And you're trapped in an infinite loop. It's exhausting. If all it takes is someone to unplug your router, or dump out the alcohol, you are not addicted.


Why do you think addiction is real only if it's extreme?


Because "you continue to use it, even though you know it's doing you harm" is part of the modern definition of dependence.


> "You continue to use it, even though you know it's doing you harm".

Well, sure. I'm wasting time all the time on the internet, even though I know I shouldn't. Sometimes it have real negative effects on my life, it's certainly a real addiction by that definition.

I've actually experimented a bit with chemical addiction to caffeine and nicotine (consuming a lot of caffeine/nicotine for a few weeks then stopping completely), and it was way easier to break than my internet addiction.

Are you claiming that chemical addiction/dependence isn't really addiction/dependence if you can "override" it?

To claim that my addiction to procrastination isn't really an addiction because I recognize it and doesn't feel so powerless than I would want to kill myself is absurd.


I said "part" of the modern definition of dependence. By snipping that you distort the meaning of what I said.

> Are you claiming that chemical addiction/dependence isn't really addiction/dependence if you can "override" it?

No, and you can't read that from my comment.

> To claim that my addiction to procrastination isn't really an addiction because I recognize it and doesn't feel so powerless than I would want to kill myself is absurd.

I didn't claim that, and to think I did form what I wrote is absurd.


I missed the "part" word, sorry for that.

> To claim that my addiction to procrastination isn't really an addiction because I recognize it and doesn't feel so powerless than I would want to kill myself is absurd.

> I didn't claim that, and to think I did form what I wrote is absurd.

I wasn't referring to what you wrote, I was referring to what the poster I originally replied to (which I assumed you agreed with because you replied to my questioning of his statement with "Because ...") claimed. Sorry for the the assumption.


>This is demonstrated being that it was possible for the author to replace the "higher power" of the 12 steps with someone to unplug the Internet router.

And an alcoholic could just stop buying booze. Not so easy, right?

(Of course alcoholism is in a different league, physical dependence and alcohol withdrawal syndrome are no walk in the park.)


I use selfcontrol [1] everyday for this.

[1] https://selfcontrolapp.com


this is a book that has a lot of interesting information about this topic, written in human understandable language (backed with science)

https://sites.google.com/site/liberateyourbrain/home/buy-bra...




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