I learn about travel, science, technology, and countless other things through the internet. While not a replacement for real life experiences, I certainly think it could be considered a high-value experience (personally I think it is better than TV), perhaps on par with reading books.
Sure, if you're spending all your time playing minecraft online... wait we have kids building graphing calculators in minecraft, nevermind.
When you're on the internet, you're engaging in bite-size activities and constant task switching. Quick, how many tabs do you have open right now?
Until about 1999 or 2000, I accomplished at least four times as much per year as I do today. Before that time, there either was no Web to putter around on, or it existed but without the speed and content it has had since then.
Have you ever noticed that your best ideas come when you're in the shower, or maybe on a long drive alone? It's down to focus, and lack of distractions.
Even if you think you're reading long-form journalism or other content online, you're most likely doing it in a window of a browser, with visual clutter all around, from UI elements to menu items to the dock at the bottom of the screen. They're all subtle cues to your mind to stay alert for extra input, and not get too zoned in on whatever you're reading. Not to mention the amazing amount of visual crap most webpages surround their content with.
There's value to the vast amount of information available online, but you have to be discerning. Information for the sake of information is not always worth the mental and time tradeoffs we make for it.
It's even worse in university libraries, where you can actually follow up all the references by grabbing them off the shelf. The number of books piled up around you with post-it notes marking pages is roughly like the number-of-tabs metric...
If you want to read a book, just get off the computer and read a book.
I had no internet in my apt for a few months, and it was also right after I had moved to a new city (it was semi-accidental, due to bullshit with a "pre-wired for ethernet" apartment that I took way longer to give up on than I should have). The mixture of having no internet and not much else in the apt was interesting. It was easier to unwind at the end of the day; go home, cook, read a magazine or book, go to bed. There just wasn't enough in the house to keep me up.
It's true that when you have the internet, with all the information and possibilities, it's like I have both an entire library and an entire workshop always available to me. And how am I going to go to sleep in the middle of all that? But I think it was also important I didn't have much else in my apartment at the time; if I had had a bunch of dead-tree encyclopedias, novels, magazines, etc., I would've just read those.
Has anything less drastic been tried? Like, for example, making Internet access only available to one computer in the household?
If one believes that home Internet access is a bad value proposition I could see that, I guess, but this is such a foreign view point that I don't see how I could have anything to add.
Books? I have a Kindle. TV? I don't have cable, I subscribe to Netflix and Hulu+. Cooking? I find many recipes online. Purchasing things? I buy a lot on Amazon. Keeping in touch with friends? Email, gchat, IRC, facebook, etc.
The Internet isn't a product. It isn't even a technology. It's an efficient overlay communication network. If you communicate with the outside world it can make everything you do better. If one doesn't, then maybe one has no purpose for it but then I have no purpose for that viewpoint because that life doesn't even exist to me.
Actually, willpower is a limited resource:
The people who make the best use of it shape their environments to avoid temptation:
Exactly as this person did.
I stand by my claim that the fundamental problem that the author has is not with the Internet, it's with their willpower.
I read the same article as you many years ago when it was first published.
My conclusion, however, was different from yours. You seem to have stopped at "manipulate your environment to change how you behave." I preferred the conclusion, "manipulate your environment to change how you think." When I have distraction problems with the Internet I'll restructure my environment to provide gratification in different ways. If Internet browsing is rewarding to me to the point where it causes a distraction it now becomes an effective reward mechanism. I can make a schedule wherein a certain amount of work is rewarded with a small amount of Hacker News.
I see many options and "get rid of the Internet" seems the most naive and harmful in this case.
"Just read a book" isn't a solution at all. It doesn't work, and it displays willful ignorance of how willpower works.
I'm glad to see you have now responded with some more nuanced notions, but your arrogant "duh, he's doing it wrong" tone still grates. In particular, you assume that he couldn't possibly have thought about the issues you raise. Maybe if you started with the assumption that he has considered them you'd get someplace more interesting.
If you want to read a book, you take a book, open it, and begin reading.
If you're still having trouble reading it, maybe you don't actually want to read it as much as you are telling yourself you do. Be honest with yourself, listen to yourself, and don't force yourself to be something you're not. If you can't find some psychological lever to help you begin learning to code, or learn French, or to stop playing WOW - something important in your life which makes you want to do this - maybe you should step back and reexamine your life and priorities.
Reading a book shouldn't drain one's willpower; if it is you're doing it wrong.
Also, it sounds like he really does want to do the book reading, in that's what he went and did once he was less distracted. And then tried an experiment to see how he could bring back more of that.
Also, your "it's just that simple" line is contradicted by a lot of research on willpower. (Which, hint hint, I linked.) Maybe it really works that way for you, in which case: bravo, you magnificent alien. But it doesn't work that way for most people, including the the author of the initial article.
Some books are easy books. Other books are hard, but worth the work. Some things are quick and easy gratification, but other only pay off after a while. For humans, at least, one has to set aside the former if you want to pursue the latter.
Age may not bring wisdom, but it does mean more experience. In this case, the experience of thinking that something is utterly simple, having your ass handed to you, and being forced to recognize that apparently simple things are often fiendishly subtle.
"I don't have home internet" is more of a stand-in for "Removing the distraction of the internet is a working form of self control for me" than for "I don't have self control".
Really? I guess I'll "just" stop all my bad habits and replace them with good habits as well, shall I? And I'll "just" stop playing wrong notes on the piano too.
Because, y'know, there's no reason I'm playing wrong notes, is there? There's no reason I have bad habits continuing year on year, there's no reason he's spending too much time on the internet, no complex interplay of a lifetime of biological, neurological and psychological drives and feedbacks, right? Humans are simple. That's why there are no problems in the world and everyone "just" is the ideal person they want to be.
Nobody is saying that it's easy to avoid internet distraction while using the internet. But it is easy to block out a few hours of not using the internet even if you are paying for a connection. It's quite similar to not going to a coffee shop for the same few hours.
To use the internet at the cafe, I have to put on my shoes, my coat, walk 5 minutes, buy a coffee, sit down, open my computer, etc.
It's not hard to do any of that. But it's a lot more effort than pulling my phone out of my pocket.
It's one of the main reasons I find value in having an office, and it is a non-trivial (though, thankfully, subway-based) commute away.
I addressed that rather simply, I thought. It seems that his biggest problem with the Internet was that it was too easily accessible. Not having Internet is a very obdurate way of approaching this, in my opinion. Note that most of the things the writer did as an alternative were not on the computer. Instead of separating the Internet from their computer, I simply suggested separating themselves from the computer.
Sometimes. Sometimes I'm doing one thing and focusing on it.
> Quick, how many tabs do you have open right now?
Not the greatest metric. When I'm working, I often have like seven tabs open, all about what I'm focused on working on. So why would we assume that "number of tabs" is a better indicator of unfocus when discussing leisure time?
The internet is extremely useful. I've learned more from Hacker News alone over the past year than I could have learned from any book. I don't need to list the other benefits; everyone here knows the Internet's advantages.
But...there is a point of diminishing returns. 30-60 minutes of aimless wandering each day can be highly useful. It's the equivalent of keeping your office door open. Can be distracting, but you learn a lot. But I find that if you spend too long on the internet, the value starts to drop off.
But there is much value in reading a book cover to cover, or focussing on a project for hours at a time. I find these things easier to do if I don't have to resist the temptation of the internet in order to do them.
Disconnecting my home connecting was a conscious decision based on the fact that I was spending more time online than I would prefer, and not enough time doing other valuable things. But I do not mean to say that time online is not valuable - far from it.
p.s. TV was a bad example; I don't watch any now. I only included that to show how much time was freed up.
Granted you need to prioritize when there are deadlines, but reading books and / or watching TV can be equally distracting.
Another point I would like to add is that internet, for better and for worse, changes our role from a knowledge consumer to that of a knowledge contributor. which when applied properly, can lead to new questions, new ideas and new conversations.
It is because of the internet, Learning has become dynamic, and humanity is for the better.
It lets you list websites and then set rules around when and how much you can access them. My current way to set it up: during business hours, I have to wait 60 seconds to access a distracting website. And by wait, I mean sit there and stare at the countdown screen; if the window loses focus it cancels the countdown.
I'm amazed at the number of times a day I try to access something like HN when, after 5 seconds of thought, I really don't want to.
When hacking on random stuff while I was online, I'd often find myself starting off opening a browser to load an API reference manual or something similar, and before I knew it I was faffing about on something completely irrelevant. Sometimes it'd be related to the project I was working on (sort of a Wikipedia effect; you can't stop at just one link) and other times it would be random crap.
While I was offline, since I was stuck with the basic essentials related to a particular project (appropriate development packages, documentation etc.), I found myself not only more focused on the task at hand, but generally more interested and enthusiastic about the problem I was working on.
I am currently without a home internet connection again, but this time I have a 'smartphone' that I can tether when necessary. I've noticed having that option available can be a really bad thing for my productivity. I certainly benefit from having absolutely no possibility of accessing the internet, as long as I have all the tools and resources at hand that I need to get the current job done.
I suggest continuing to work from an office of some sort - be it the coffee shop, a co-working space, or renting a room or desk in someone else's office, so you can continue to separate your work and life environments.
You can turn on the internet at your apartment, but place priority in what you actually want to do outside of work by granting those things greater space in that environment. If you like to read, have books easily accessible for you to pick up and read. Get a nice chair/couch for you to sit and enjoy reading. Build a nice wall of bookshelves for your books. Join book clubs, arrange lunch/dinner with people who also like to read, etc.
Make your priorities visual.
Before the internet was such a large part of my life, that time was spent writing in my notebook or reading books (somehow watching TV just made me feel even worse). A lot of that time was also "wasted," but some of it was really valuable time that I spent getting to know myself and my own thoughts better.
One thing wasting time online has never done for me is lift my depression. The only thing that ever does that for me is getting out of my environment and wandering around outside.
What do you regret having now, but you put up with because it's worth the trade-off?
There are some good replies here. The only point I want to make is that the people accusing me of lacking self-control are 100% correct.
I disconnected my internet not because I see no value in it (far from it), but rather because unfettered access was taking too much time away from other things that I value.
Lest you get the wrong idea, I'm quite capable of avoiding the internet. I wrote ~350,000 (profitable) words last year. I got lots of other things done, too.
But, I had to use up willpower at all times to avoid the easy pleasure of surfing the web. It was unpleasant.
Most of my work is on the computer - I'm no technophobe. It's so much easier to use my computer now that it mostly does work related things unless I'm in a cafe.
I readily admit that some people may have no trouble with the internet and self-control. That's great - you have all the advantages of limitless information, and none of the disadvantages of distraction.
Many people, unfortunately, are more like me. The internet is valuable for us, but a potential pitfall. I'm hardly the first to point this out, pg had an essay on point.
I'd be interested to know if he ever figured out a workable system. He posted somewhere on here that his dual computer system eventually broke down.
For me it's about forcing some boredom into your life. With the Internet and TV I feel hyper stimulated all the time. To find entertainment I merely collapse into my chair, click a few buttons, and begin passively consuming.
Without something neurotically occupying my attention (ie internet) I quickly become bored. When bored I then proceed to think through everything I could possibly do, prioritize the ideas, and choose one to act upon. Even if I end up watching a television show the important thing is that I chose to watch that specific show rather than passively accepting whatever was being played at the time. I have not had TV in a long time, so that's not a problem, but whenever I've momentarily had no internet I find I eat better, exercise more, have a cleaner house, and knock more things off of my to do lists.
It's not that I want to go without internet, it's just that I do not want the internet at home. I've been without it before and really enjoyed the experience, now I just have to make the leap of canceling internet completely.
You could try emulating the 'dial-up experience' by forcing some sort of 'connection ritual' that you must go through to get the Internet. An example setup (assuming you only have a laptop) could be to disable wifi, and force yourself to plug in an ethernet cable every time. With this setup you can still have Internet for things like an HTPC, for your television while still having the 'no Internet' on your computer experience.
I've done the no-internet thing before for several months and while it wasn't a magic cure-all, I'd like to do it again. One downside is a certain feeling of lonliness when you're used to being able to swoop in and out of interesting discussions at any time of the day or night.
I’ve actually been running similar experiments, and you can start trying this in a much easier way than cancelling your internet. http://ndrw.me/2012/03/01/afternoon-refresh/
1. A consistent bedtime and better sleep. I usually read books before bedtime, and crashed out earlier.
2. When you do get the internet in your home again inevitably, you appreciate it more. Seriously, it's an amazingly powerful thing, the internet. But we spend so much time drowning in it that we often don't notice/appreciate it enough.
Sadly, I can't easily travel to Cuba for this experiment (US American).
I think your bank is doing something wrong if you need a secure VPN to do online banking.
Maybe it does, but there are enough other unencrypted sites that I'd rather have the VPN.
My laptop is entirely self-contained, with everything from mail archives to my blog in git (and large files managed by git-annex). So when the net does go out I can easily not notice for an hour or two. Or, this winter, when my solar power reserves got really low and I couldn't afford to run the internet connection after dark, it was not a big deal.
In time periods when I have broadband at home, I have considered putting a dialup throttle on it, but could never quite bring myself to do it. :)
I pointed it out earlier but like the author also don't have home Internet. It's pretty easy to avoid grabbing the iPhone and opening up safari for anything more than reading a few blog posts.
I recommend anyone give it a go, and if you haven't get rid of your tv too.
I claim your dismissal of it as simple isn't right.
I do live without a TV quite happily, but I could never live without at least one bidirectional medium. It would mean returning to XIX-century communication methods, which were way too time-expensive for modern life; for example, I'd have to get dressed and leave the house every time I want to communicate, find a shared communication device (public phone, post office, etc) and then have to put up with contention issues and delays (wait for my turn, get a bad line etc) on which I have no control.
OP does that -- he's relying on shared wifi at his coffee shop. Which means he's putting up with slow speed and the impossibility to download large chunks of data -- unless he's being a dick or his coffeeshop is run by Cisco, he won't be able to get that 600mb Linux distro or those 6 Gb of Oracle installers, ever. And the day someone decides to be a dick, good luck downloading your email while the pipe is saturated by Mr. Streetpirate uploading HD movies from the safety of an anonymous IP.
He might be happy with that, I don't doubt it, but his lifestyle is not for everyone.
I run an online business and many times things come up in the middle of the night. I also communicate with most of my friends and family though email or Facebook.
You just need to have some self-control. It's not easy, but it can be done.