The only thing that works for me every once in a while is going cold turkey and blocking off as many websites as I can in my hosts file.
I'm surprised there isn't a serious accessible product that helps people manage this addiction, because unlike drugs you can't realistically not use the internet ever again and nowadays it's SO easy to go down the rabbit hole even from innocent and serious sites.
Every once in a while I humor myself with a building such a product, but I really don't know what features would work. Any suggestions?
I can go straight from video gaming to reading a book, but my mind takes a few minutes to adjust, and then once I'm synced up I'll tend to get restless after 15-20 minutes and look for something else to do. If I don't have anything else planned I just go back to gaming. It's pretty tough to escape this loop.
It took a long time, but now I can easily read for an hour. My normal routine now is to wake up an hour before I have to and read for an hour or so, and then again in the evening read for an hour or so. Reading a book in the morning is really a great way to start the day, I find. I still prefer ending the day falling asleep to the office or something like that.
One of the things that has really worked for me, other than training the practical side of reading for prolonged amounts of time with focus, is to get used to preferring long pieces instead of the quick fixes that is mostly what's online. Before I wanted the quick reads, they felt like I achieved things. Now I want the long pieces, the books, the journalistic marvels that took years to produce and an hour or more to really go through properly. It took time to get here, getting rid of the fear of missing out - which I'm still working on - and understanding that all sorts of things happen in the "now", but almost anything of importance and substance is best "consumed" at a distance - maybe a week or more after it happens. That's especially true for news, except for the odd once that you want to know about right now, but I feel like when that happens, word will get to your from other paths, like family, friends and so on contacting you if it's that important. Any news that is not important enough to warrant your attention after it's a week old, is it really worth knowing anyway?
For that matter, programming's like that too. After a 15-20 minute chunk I'll usually feel a strong urge to go check HN (clearly, I'm in one of those now). If I can resist that urge enough, and have long enough blocks of time (challenging with a kid now), I can find myself coding for several hours straight until I finish the change I was working on.
I hope it isn't pointless self help book. I used to be exactly like that until I realized how pointless they are.
Even just another room or nook works, or the public library, so long as all you do there is read. You'll begin to associate that spot with reading and have an easier time getting into the reading mindset.
Have you tried graphic novels? I've found them good for when I get restless.
Have you tried mindfulness? I've found it useful for literally everything, ESPECIALLY when restless.
... but then I found myself using Safari to get around that allowance.
There's also Forest , which "gamifies" staying away from websites for a certain time. It's the Chrome extension version of the Forest iOS app  to stay away from your phone.
I like to think of StayFocusd as the stick, and Forest as the carrot.
Ha, that resonates with me. I use a chrome extension to block a bunch of stuff at work. Which I soon discovered had an easily accessible toggle switch for turning it off. So I hacked the source to remove it.
Then I discovered it didn't work in private mode until I found a setting to enable that too.
At the moment I have no trivial way of turning it off. Except browsing on my phone!
I can run some shortcuts and time trackers from widgets, start/stop timers etc and use the phone/watch for a bunch of practical stuff while working, but having the screen blocked from distractions by forest.
Hadn’t worked for me before as I missed those functions.
Also, putting knowledge into action does not feel as good as getting a quick hit of news. But over the long run reducing the amount of new information and doing something with what you learn makes you happier and more satisfied with your life.
If you haven't figured this out yet, keep this in mind before you get lost in a sea of information without a goal. Think of a junkie always looking for the next hit. Except that it's news not a drug.
There's also a browser extension that limits the number of tabs you can have open.
Maybe another good one would be to slow you down, e.g. at most one page per minute or so.
But the best remedy is to stand up and walk around for a bit, discuss what's vague about your current task with a colleague for a moment, or try to put some thoughts on actual paper. That's not something you get from a product.
In my experience, mindfulness is the best solution: Clear your mind by experiencing the sensations of your environment.
Similarly, making sure you get daily exercise and spend some time in nature if you can. Apparently, according to “The Distracted Mind”, even just looking at pictures of nature can help your brain recharge, allowing you to be more focused.
Any system designed to solve the attention problem will have to be opinionated, blocking specific websites, or at least parts of it, I guess it's an interesting case study for machine learning.
Another helpful one was removing the "next page" links on Reddit (I use the classic version). That way I can check on some things I'm interested in, but not get carried away.
I'm considering doing the same for Hacker News.
For example, if you need StackOverflow it can replace it's UI with only a search box and results list, preventing you from clicking related links.
When you go on reddit, it could asks you which subreddit you need and why before letting you in, reinforcing the reason you need to visit the site. I think it can be powerful - requiring active input from the user as to what his intentions are. If you need to write "I'm really bored" as a reason you go on Facebook, I think there's a pretty good chance you'll end up closing it.
I believe there are hidden patterns that you might be able to break when the product helps you see and understand these patterns.
The main problem I see with the concept is that it has a poor intellectual foundation. I'd like to see a better explanation of why learning is so dangerous.
Maybe I'll read 2-5 particularly interesting articles in depth, but even from what I'd call great websites a lot of the content is just noise and not worth the time spent to read. That really becomes apparent when you have a pretty barebones, super focused and condensed list.
Overeating, overfeeding.... They share a lot of similarities.
It automates editing the hosts file and flushing DNS caches. It can operate as a whitelist or a blacklist.
I find that with a lot of people it’s procrastination. There’s no information block thorough enough to address procrastination; it finds a way. It has to be addressed directly.
I'd also say that browsing the web, learning new stuff, posting on forums, reading in general, is one of the things I use the most of my spare time on. And of course it takes time away from doing potential "productive" things, or more ambitious hobbies. On the surface, it seems like this has a lot of similarities with "information addiction". So I'm just trying to gauge whether this is a problem for me or not.
I've sort of made a deliberate choice that this is okay, since I spend 7 hours a day doing "productive" work anyway, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of this, and it would adversely affect my mental health to chase more ambitious things in my spare time.
The next step is taking babysteps because big steps most of the time don't work.
So for example start by turning off all notifications.
Then allow yourself to YouTube for only 2 hours a day instead of 3.
The Rubin Report has some interviews with Eckhart Tolle on YouTube right now with a lot of insights. And Peter Peterson is also someone who speaks a lot about these subjects.
It hasn't fully solved the issue because sometimes I cheat but it helps.
I can relate so deeply to this sentiment. Especially lurking on deep web, and other pointless rabit holes.
>Every once in a while I humor myself with a building such a product, but I really don't know what features would work. Any suggestions?
Easy? Blocksite app for Android and there are many for others.
For me, there were several issues. Anxiety was my normal state, though I didn't know it because I'd been cultivating my addiction since around age 8 & was largely disconnected from my emotions. They were also seemingly locked up from denial of the trauma stemming from being molested (saying "That traumatized me" aloud to myself led to a flood of emotions all at once). I grew up in a codependent family and culture. I was born into the psychosocial slavery of capitalism and taught I had to have a job and money to survive. This disconnected me from my need for community support, which I was also shamed from seeking. I was bullied by my best friend growing up, as well as most of the adults in my life. All of these things had a lasting impact on my relationships.
What worked for me was healing from all of that. I use RescueTime to keep an eye on my usage, but have no other controls anymore. Early in recovery, someone else monitored my screen time, I used MManager (I think) for locking down my phone and a boot password for the laptop, with my roommates & therapist knowing the passwords. Basically, setting up accountability systems for myself. But that's just what kept me from lapsing, which isn't as big of a deal as addiction specialists told me, because I started using them as learning opportunities to observe how my mind worked in those situations.
Basically, any app that isn't helping build mindfulness, learn about what life needs to thrive, build a supportive community, and identify/heal from trauma is operating from the current mainstream approach to addiction and is only going to have marginal effects. Don't look to current addiction science...I turned my info addiction inward and healed that way.
If you'd like to talk more about what you're going through and would like to add someone to your support network, I'm available for it.
What is your keybase?
> Solitude Deprivation: A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from the input from other minds.
The problem is that it's not the panaceo you imagine it to be at first. The crux of the problem is the bad habit loop.
But there is! $5 timer on your wireless router.
> Adaptive information seeking is critical for goal-directed behavior. Growing evidence suggests the importance of intrinsic motives such as curiosity or need for novelty, mediated through dopaminergic valuation systems, in driving information-seeking behavior. However, valuing information for its own sake can be highly suboptimal when agents need to evaluate instrumental benefit of information in a forward-looking manner. Here we show that information-seeking behavior in humans is driven by subjective value that is shaped by both instrumental and noninstrumental motives, and that this subjective value of information (SVOI) shares a common neural code with more basic reward value. Specifically, using a task where subjects could purchase information to reduce uncertainty about outcomes of a monetary lottery, we found information purchase decisions could be captured by a computational model of SVOI incorporating utility of anticipation, a form of noninstrumental motive for information seeking, in addition to instrumental benefits. Neurally, trial-by-trial variation in SVOI was correlated with activity in striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, cross-categorical decoding revealed that, within these regions, SVOI and expected utility of lotteries were represented using a common code. These findings provide support for the common currency hypothesis and shed insight on neurocognitive mechanisms underlying information-seeking behavior.
Snacks and drugs both have direct, obvious 'value' to the body - food is about the simplest evolutionary case imaginable, and a host of animals will get drunk given the chance. And it's easy to make a case for 'information' as something any reinforcement learner will value and seek out, since it's essentially a prerequisite for all other learning and decision-making.
Money, though, is exclusively a proxy for some other future benefit, and lots of other examples imply we haven't made it into a strong first-order feedback loop. Money v happiness studies both show weak happiness benefits from money (once you're not in dire need), and find that "how you spend it" strongly mediates the effects. Slot machine design is devoted to the idea of intermittent reinforcement and works very hard to create non-monetary, directly limbic rewards to keep players engaged.
Given all that, "food, drugs, and info" actually sounds like a much more natural grouping to me than "food, drugs, and money". I don't know of any research here, though. Could you take a well-known study like prisoner's dilemma or the ultimatum game and get different results with non-monetary rewards, or prime people by discussing certain things they could do with the money?
For a programming analogy, food/info/status are like API functions that all rely on the same kernel syscall, and then drugs hack that syscall without going through the API.
There really is no real alternative to agriculture and food markets, besides the things that are more of a hobby than a serious option.
But even as a relatively staunch environmentalist, I didn't really "get" in-season produce until I tried keeping a garden 365 days a year. Now it sticks, and I have a much better idea when I walk into a grocery store of what veggies are in season. I should know, because they reflect what I'm currently trying (or know I can) grow in my garden for the given month.
Basically, the benefit isn't just that I'm buying less stuff from the grocery store.
No even whole foods is charging the correct price for goods when one takes into account the environmental impact.
In the same way, over the last century or so, we became a species with ample access to calories‡. With foods containing the evolutionary markers of high calorific content (i.e. sugars, carbs and fats) being the cheapest.
It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that we are similarly primed to overindulge in both. Nor that we lack the innate intuition to determine quality. I very much expect the nascent 'tech detox' movement to develop into a broader healthy thinking movement.
‡ #NotAllHumans, obviously.
"... The story is that in the region of Naucratis in Egypt there dwelt one of the old gods of the country, the god to whom the bird called Ibis is sacred, his own name being Theuth. He it was that invented number and calculation, geometry and astronomy, not to speak of draughts and dice, and above all writing. Now the king of the whole country at that time was Thamus, who dwelt in the great city of Upper Egypt which the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes, while Thamus they call Ammon. To him came Theuth, and revealed his arts, saying that they ought to be passed on to the Egyptians in general. Thamus asked what was the use of them all, and when Theuth explained, he condemned what he thought the bad points and praised what he thought the good. On each art, we are told, Thamus had plenty of views both for and against; it would take too long to give them in detail. But when it came to writing Theuth said, 'Here, O king, is a branch of learning that will make the people of Egypt wiser and improve their memories; my discovery provides a recipe for memory and wisdom.' But the king answered and said, 'O man full of arts, to one it is given to create the things of art, and to another to judge what measure of harm and of profit they have for those that shall employ them. And so it is that you, by reasons of your tender regard for the writing that is your offspring, have declared the very opposite of its true effect. If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.'"
Plato, "Phaedrus" (c. 360 BCE)
I'm not sure starved is the right metaphor.
When saying we were "information starved" it implies we actually needed more information, like food, when in fact the reason the brain pays so much attention to new stuff is probably because the signal to noise ratio was much higher for millions of years than it is these days.
We arguably did need more, like the locations to find food, when to plant food, how to deal with drought or pests, how to avoid and defend from predators, etc. Information is the key to all of our needs.
Information was critical for survival, so it's no surprise we seek it out.
Some have thus argued that our cognitive abilities actually evolved to deal with understanding the minds of other humans, to predict defectors and establish complex social systems that encourage cooperation and enhance collective survival. Our ability to cooperate provides a huge adaptive advantage, and so our innate biases supposedly make more sense in this context.
This makes social media doubly dangerous, since not only is information valuable, but information about what other people are talking about, thinking, etc. is even more important to us.
Which makes me think: will we ever have enough?
“diseases of abundance”
Thanks, I'm well past the point of believing PR office summaries of studies on these topics. And sure enough, it looks to me like this is being oversold and also has some concerning gaps. Anyone want to help me understand that?
Press release: “To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful”
Article: We observed that subjects’ information acquisition behavior was indeed largely driven by instrumental benefit... While we found no evidence for simplistic constant utility bonus, the utility of anticipation improved behavioral modeling.
Which is to say, subjects specifically did not place an inherent value on information independent of its utility. Rather, they adjusted its value based on its utility in a way which did not perfectly maximize payout.
More broadly and importantly, I think this is a worthwhile study, but I'm worried it's propagating a known behavior up through extra layers and calling it a new result. It's well established that people playing games of chance don't behave as perfect payout-maximizers, and specifically that they appear to be loss-averse and ambiguity-averse (e.g. Ellsberg's paradox). They also appear to place nonlinear value on the utility of money, changing their choices when all game outcomes are scaled with the same expected utility (Allais paradox). Given all of that, we can say that a player's desired outcome in such a game is not simply maximizing expected payout. As such, "perfectly rational" behavior at the information-buying step is not the decision which maximizes payout, but the one which maximizes their performance under their chosen utility function.
But the study works from the assumption that "Under standard economic accounts, agents accept the lottery if its EU is higher than the utility of status quo u(0), and reject otherwise (Fig. 2a). Furthermore, they purchase the information if its cost is lower than VOI and forgo if higher". A host of studies show that this is not how people actually play lotteries. As a result, the study concludes that anticipation utility is acting at the information-buying step, while ignoring the possibility of strictly-rational purchasing under an alternate utility function.
This could have been easily tested with a control in which players were asked to play the variable-outcome lotteries with perfect information, to establish baseline play against which to compare information-buying behavior. I'm still interested in the game results and the MRI data, but the press release tells us this result "could only be explained by a model that captured both economic and psychological motives". I'm not ready to accept that when the control is purely theoretical and based on a model we already know doesn't work.
- Sherlock Holmes
My desktop computer, on the other hand, I check hacker news every 5 minutes. Even if I know there's nothing of interest or I've already read all the comments about things I care about, I check just in case.
a. no thanks!
b. heroin for the information addict
That obviously makes this headline untrue. Gambling for money and learning the rules of gambling is not general information. This is not applicable to click-bait.
You can say “Hey, I was goin to tell you... ah nevermind” and they will pester you, “no, tell me!”
I have also found there is also a difference between male and female psychology. Women are much more interested to know the details of something emotionally salient that you’ve indicated you care about. Men let it go and seem to focus more intently on abstract things that may have wide applicability.
Great comments in that thread.
Neural networks can "overfit" and behave like a hash table instead of generalizing.
One method of "regularization" is putting in a score that represents network complexity, information content, etc. and then adding it against the reward function.
We should discount low information dense sources ? or sources that are a long way off in graph terms?
I've had this idea for the better part of my life, that I try to avoid read especially large canonical works deeply, and with few exceptions prefer to read several sources shallowly to reading a few deeply. The exceptions are when I try to learn something entirely new, like a new mathematical topic, or when I encounter something that is both completely at odds with my current mental model, and not obviously false.
From a learning perspective, it could be seen as to adding some kind of noise to input data, and to also have a kind of indirect - but rather strong - validation set through the knowledge contained in the canonical works, as understood by others.
Could this prevent some kinds of over fitting? I honestly don't know, but maybe it could?
It's obviously anecdotal, and extremely so, but it actually seems to be the case that my generalization abilities, my capacity to apply knowledge across disciplines, and to identify behavior on certain scale has had a rather unusual trajectory.
Sometimes it almost appears as if I know things I don't remember ever having learned, or even though about. As if the "data points" have become so numerous that the brain somehow becomess able to generalize over things that one would (superficially) believe to be facts.
Before I realized what was happening, I have had several people, some within highly skilled fields, come to believe I worked in their field after conversing with them for a while. When they realize I'm not, many became confused, and some to the point of being unable to continue the conversation.
Nowadays I generally manage to avoid those situations, but it really was - and is - the strangest thing when it happens.
In particular, once you are exposed to information it ceases to be information anymore.
I think the behavior of "scanning" where you reload the front page of Hacker News or Google News or look at the newspaper over and over again hoping to get something new is particularly pernicious. You are exposing your brain to "information" in once sense but not real information in the sense of learning.
Contrast a compulsive reading habit, where you are getting new information that you need to incorporate into long term memory as opposed to a compulsive video game habit for something like League of Legends or Advance Wars where you are recombining the same elements over and over again. I found that switching from the first to the second helped me feel less anxious, but I still read plenty about topics like 1970-era mainframe transaction processing or whatever I am into.
And from a personal anecdote, learning something new doesn't always feel like a drug or good food. News has always something new and it doesn't feel that great to consume. Learning something new that is applicable feels empowering, sometimes almost to the point of excitement and joy.
“And just as our brains like empty calories from junk food, they can overvalue information that makes us feel good but may not be useful—what some may call idle curiosity.”
THAT is the point of the article. Crap information is addictive.
I knew there was some sort of angle to this.
Case in point: the headline is too ambiguous.
I go through phases, things like aircraft, off grid living, hydropower, welding, CNC, machining, woodworking, electronics, gardening, farming, hydroponics.
Few of those are relevant to my day job or even my current living arrangements. But when I get really interested in a subject I'll devour every shred of information I can find on it.
The problem is, I doubt I'd get distracted in the middle of the working day thinking about Love Island, not so for the more "useful" things I've read and watched.
That said, some of that distraction does actually pay off. (Especially if I can fight the instinct to learn about stuff that needs rarified tools or large-scale projects; I'm not going to build my own airplane no matter how cool it would be.) Being able to graft a tree, tie a fishing lure, or cut a hole with questionable tools are at least usable skills, so if I can to low-tech or relatively commonplace stuff, it's a decent way to channel the urge for distraction into some kind of utility.
Neil Postman touches on this in 'Amusing Ourselves to Death' - here's a nice quote that gets at how I feel. Although he's talking about the telegraph and photography, I think it applies well to the internet and video.
"In a peculiar way, the photograph was the perfect complement to the flood of telegraphic news from nowhere that threatened to submerge readers in a sea of facts from unknown places about strangers with unknown faces. For the photograph gave a concrete reality to the strange-sounding datelines, and attached faces to the unknown names. Thus it provided the illusion, at least, that "the news" had a connection to something within one's sensory experience. It created an apparent context for the "news of the day." And the "news of the day" created a context for the photograph. But the sense of context created by the partnership of photograph and headline was, of course, entirely illusory. You may get a better sense of what I mean here if you imagine a stranger's informing you that the illyx is a subspecies of vero miform plant with articulated leaves that flowers biannually on the island of Aldononjes. And if you wonder aloud, "Yes, but what has that to do with anything?" imagine that your informant replies, "But here is a photograph I want you to see," and hands you a picture labeled Illyx on Aldononjes. "Ah, yes," you might murmur, "now I see." It is true enough that the photograph provides a context for the sentence you have been given, and that the sentence provides a context of sorts for the photograph, and you may even believe for a day or so that you have learned something. But if the event is entirely self-contained, devoid of any relationship to your past knowledge or future plans, if that is the beginning and end of your encounter with the stranger, then the appearance of context provided by the conjunction of sentence and image is illusory, and so is the impression of meaning attached to it. You will, in fact, have "learned" nothing (except perhaps to avoid strangers with photographs), and the illyx will fade from your mental landscape as though it had never been. At best you are left with an amusing bit of trivia, good for trading in cocktail party chatter or solving acrossword puzzle, but nothing more."
Maybe I'm old, or maybe I'm not a visual or aural learner, but I don't get much out of watching Youtube videos. Do you find them a better learning tool than reading a well produced document or tutorial?
>"He told me, Ryan while people wait for the right moment, there are two types of time: Dead time—where they are passive and biding and Alive time—where they are learning and acting and leveraging every second towards their intended future. Which will this be for you?"
Social media is mostly dead time (I would say all dead time, but someone will probably give me shit about it), as is reading the short form versions of the news, TMZ, skimming an article instead of reading the whole thing, etc.
If you spend 30 minutes a day studying a new language you can achieve amazing results in less than a year. Instead of wasting time on facebook, bring a kindle and read about something interesting. Compound growth is very real, and more people should take advantage of it.
>"Compound growth gets discussed as a financial concept, but it works in careers as well, and it is magic. A small productivity gain, compounded over 50 years, is worth a lot. So it’s worth figuring out how to optimize productivity. If you get 10% more done and 1% better every day compared to someone else, the compounded difference is massive. " 
>"You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode’s office and said, How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does? He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years. I simply slunk out of the office!
What Bode was saying was this: Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works 10% more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest. I don’t want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime. I took Bode’s remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done."
End of rant.