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Using your computer as little as possible?
54 points by rbsn on Jan 26, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments
I assume that most readers on Hacker News spent most of their daylight hours (at least Monday to Friday) in front of a computer. Do you try to avoid using your computer outside of working hours, and if so, how do you prevent yourself from wasting hours on Facebook/Twitter/HackerNews/YouTube etc..

Currently I don't have an internet connection at home, not even a cellular plan with data. Which is pretty much an intentional cold turkey strategy.

One summer my computer died and I thought I would be bored and miserable but it was excellent from the first day. Since then, I've understood that constant internet access just doesn't really function for me at this point in my life. It could, perhaps, but I'm very prone to using the internet as a kind of soothing, stupefying, time-wasting refuge. The internet is my comfort zone, I guess.

At home I read a lot, Kindle books and stuff I've loaded on Instapaper while at work. And I listen to podcasts and watch movies. This stuff all comes from the internet, but I have to gather stuff consciously for future offline use, which I find peaceful and constructive.

"Okay, I guess these are the things I have available right now, so I'll engage with them, instead of looking for something else."

What a lot of us are having trouble with isn't computers or the internet, per se, but the constant presence of "infinite jest."

I also do meditation, play guitar, go for walks and runs, cook, and so on. On weekends sometimes I'll go out to a coffee shop and do some internetting. And I'm posting this on Sunday, because I'm actually at the office, playing around with a hobby programming project and surfing the web, so...

The effect on internet disruption on my mind are pretty staggering. For the first hour I feel anxious from the void, then time dilates and then I feel a deep sense of focus into doing anything... 'back against the wall' time perception.

ps: Rich Hickey (of clojure) did a very nice (as usual) talk called "Hammock Driven Development" mentionning getting away from the machine : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f84n5oFoZBc

To extend to this, when I was in college, my grades suffered because of my unnecessary internet usage (reddit, hn, facebook, all that stuff). So after failing to keep up my promise, I decided to actually leave my laptop at home which is 4+ hours away. I didn't have a computer nor smartphone at the time, so all I had left in the house was material necessary for studying. Needless to say, I jumped from being about 80th percentile to 2nd percentile in the class and this allowed me to gain more theoretical knowledge than my I did in my 19 previous years.

Sad thing is, now that I'm working, I have internet and computer back at home, and I waste a lot of time on it...

This is a great comment. I love that you aren't regarding the internet like a junky with remorse, that you are solution focused and have found a pleasing balance in your own life. I'm not sure I could give up internet at home but it does inspire me to experiment with alternate configurations or disciplines.

Cool. I cancelled my home internet service a after I got an office a couple years ago and it's been good. Recommended.

In my case I kept tethering on my phone but it does raise the threshold for doing anything online. It's actually a bit like having dialup, you could call it "intentional internet access."

Yeah, it's essentially the same for me: if I really need/want something from the net, I can just put my shoes on and pop into some café.

One thing I've noticed is that I'm really looking forward to springtime, so I can be outdoors more. I love weekend days when you're just ambling around all day, but it's not so pleasant when it's cold and wet...

>One thing I've noticed is that I'm really looking forward to springtime, so I can be outdoors more. I love weekend days when you're just ambling around all day, but it's not so pleasant when it's cold and wet...

A few years back, I'd have thought that an idle comment. I know I would have. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here (which, if grant the rest of this poor sentence a charitable interpretation, you might find to be the point), but... it's almost like, in "returning to human form," (I suspect many fellow techies use similar phrases in their heads but not in public for fear of being labelled a Luddite) the withdrawal experience "is" re-learning how to do that human thing, only this time, fuck you, you have to do it "algebraically," like you gave yourself Aspergers but for everything. E.g., slightly younger me was too cool for smalltalk about nice weather; current me appreciates a quick, light conversation, appreciates the smiles, appreciates the sun in his face.

Haha, yeah, I kinda maybe know what you mean. Smalltalk and smiles are wonderful but I had to learn that stuff.

Seems like a somewhat extreme disconnect but I've got to ask, what are you doing at the office on a Sunday?

It's revealing that my not having internet at home would be considered "extreme," when I'm online for at least 8 hours every weekday. :)

But to answer your question, I'm actually coding on an IRC client with decent offline support. I run it on a VPS and sync the state so I can read backlogs at home if I want to. Well, it's not so much a need as a fun hobby project...

I can relate to that. I code for fun and relaxation, although weirdness in the ARM architecture is getting under my skin lately. There was a time when I could do that 100% offline although these days it seems everyone just assumes you can go to their site to get a manual or whatever, so while I used to be able to go somewhere quiet and write code, these days it seems like I keep needing to be online.

Edit: it used to be at my house I was the only one who cared if the "Internet" was there or not, now its like oxygen :-)

> don't have an internet connection at home, not even a cellular plan with data

What has worked great for me is apartment buildings with free wifi in the lobby. No internet in the apartment, but if you need to check email or look something up or whatever it's not a big deal to put on some shoes and go downstairs with a laptop. At the same time it's not comfortable enough to lounge around wasting time.

interesting. this is exactly what i do when i'm on vacation.

A computer is a tool, like any other. If your career uses that tool, it doesn't mean that you need avoid the tool in your off hours. Especially if it gives you joy. My buddy drives truck, and loves to drive on the weekends. My uncle is a carpenter, and on his free time, makes furniture in his garage for fun. I'm sure some TV exec at HBO still sits down on a Sunday to watch Breaking Bad (or whatever the hot water cooler show is).

You'll probably see a lot of studies quoted on here about moderation being the key to success. But keep in mind, that a study only looks at the averages, and we know that outliers exist. So as long as you're not hurting yourself or others, do what you feel is right and works for you.

Well said.

My "way" of doing it is simple but probably won't get much love on HN: a good office, a fast (and quiet) desktop computer with lots of ram, a good monitor, a good chair, a good keyboard. Compared to that setup, the experience of using anything else (laptop, tablet, smartphone) is so poor that I just can't stand it.

I "do computer stuff" at my workstation and that's it. I can't stand laptop keyboards compared to real "mechanical" keyboards. I can't sit on a chair for long period of time besides my office's chair. I can't work productively on a tiny 17" screen (On my workstation I'm using a 24" screen with a tiling window manager and about 15 "virtual desktops").

So, to me, the experience of "using a device" is simply not an enjoyable one unless I'm sitting at my desk, in front of my workstation's monitor.

I used to have an iPhone which I let drop (it broke) and now since two years or so I'm back using my very old Nokia 3210 which... Allows to give and receive phonecalls. I know this is not going to be a popular view here but that's basically all I need from my cellphone. That said I may be buying an Android phone one of these days but... It's only to use it as a 2FA.

Doing this already prevents me from "wasting" time using a computer (or a tablet or a smartphone) when I'm not in my office, which is already great.

Now of course there's the issue of wasting time during work time on some of the sites you mentioned... The only really "problematic" one is HN: which I check even on sundays ; )

Got to go now: I'm going to play tennis with my brother ^ ^

Sometimes I put my laptop inside of the couch, my laptop battery in the wardrobe, my laptop mouse in a drawer in the kitchen so it takes a good couple of minutes to assemble all of this stuff.

From the facts that today's Sunday and I'm commenting on HN one can deduce it didn't work too well for me.

I spent almost all of my waking time, every day, on the computer. The way I avoid wasting hours on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, HN, etc is that I don't use the first two, I don't randomly wander on the third one, and I use RSS and only stop in for the interesting things on the final one.

I don't consider time I spend at my computer "wasted". What would be a better use of it? Gardening? Edging my lawn? Detailing my car? Golfing?

Yes people automatically assume that reading a book is automatically better than spending time on the internet.

I'm a bit of a bookworm, so there's my bias. But... reading a book is almost certainly a better use of time than, say, farting around on Imgur, or looking at celebrity gossip web sites, or playing Minecraft.

Is it better than, say, learning differential equations on a MOOC web site? Probably not. I expect the number of people "wasting time" on the Internet far exceeds the number learning DiffEq, though.

I'd say that reading a book is absolutely no better than screwing around on reddit or playing a computer game. Apart from both both being leisure activities, they are entirely different things. Reading a book is not in any way a 'better' activity.

This is pretty much how I am too.

Everyone that I know who says that sitting on the computer is bad just sits around watching TV. At least I am usually learning/doing something interesting vs watching the latest reality TV.

There have been a fair few posts about this on HN. I think some people are actually quite glad of a HN blackout.

I did decide one year that I would not check those sites at work. And it helped. I didn't have the time or space at home to bother also, through exhaustion. I now only briefly fire up HN at work at lunchtime, and just scan the post titles. I'm not as disciplined at home.

At home I was lucky to have my battery die on my laptop, which has stopped me moving the laptop around the house. I'm actually quite glad of the little headspace that it gives me.

My partner cheats on me, by sneaking a tablet into the lounge, and that can feel a little weird. I think this has been discussed before. Couples spending more time with their phones/tablets at the expense of their relationship.

I still idle too much time on the PC. I remember a good activity. Time at the computer isn't that memorable. What happened to the last decade?

See also 'News is bad for you': https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6894244

Oh the paradox.

I don't feel like I'm wasting time when I'm on Facebook or HackerNews (I don't really use Twitter at all, and not super much on youtube except when linked something).

I get a great deal of information through HN, be it articles, discussions or whatever HN might throw at me. Sure, if you do it while you work, I'd probably agree it can be considered a waste, but everywhere else, the wealth of information on HN, I wouldn't call that a waste.

As for Facebook, that's a little harder to not call a waste, but I don't particularly feel it is though. It keeps me updated on my friends and events in a quick manner, but can be sort of a waste if the information I gather from "the wall" isn't of use to me.

Summed up: I don't feel what I do on my computer is a waste of my time. I'm not hooked to my computer, programming is my hobby, and it's not like I have trouble being social without my computer.

It depends. I go through phases. Some weeks, I want nothing to do with a computer when I'm not at work - I read, I work in the yard, I mess around in the shop with whatever idea has popped into my head. Other weeks, you can't pry me away from it - RPGs (of the non-mmo variety) are a big reason, but it can also be something as simple as learning about [insert subject here].

What I won't do, is work. Bringing work home is something I avoid whenever I can. I learned that lesson a while ago - burnout is a bitch. Let your brain do other things. Write code if you want, but don't code on anything work related.

Although it could be classed as procrastination. What I ought to be doing is so incredibly dry that I need to give myself a break most of the time and only work on it when I feel inspired. Case in point, I am supposed to be specifying notation and semantics for tensor operators in the multiparadigm programming language that I have been working on for many years, but yesterday I really didn't feel like it so chose instead to write about the problems Nintendo were having and how they should have built on the success of the Wii with a familiar interface based upon a pair of wireless Nunchuks, rather than alienate the casual market with a cumbersome touchscreen that they couldn't expressively gesticulate with. This led me to hunt for images and YouTube videos to support my argument. Doing this from time to time has improved my writing ability:


I don't feel there is any merit in Facebook / Twitter, but then I haven't got any friends / social life. I suppose I should have a blog for what I write in various fora, but I'd have even more trouble believing that anyone was reading it and I may start making less of an effort with my writing as a result.

Really anything I do that distracts me from boredom stops me slipping into depression. Luckily, I have no work deadlines...

Be proactive.

I make plans to do other things I enjoy. Computer time is a filler if I'm not busy doing something else, like spending time with family/friends, being outdoors, running etc.

I agree with mbrock also that avoiding a smartphone (or having a data-less plan) is a good way to stop time being swallowed up. When you're on a net-connected machine eight hours a day at work, you don't need more screen time!


It keeps you disciplined. It forces you to spend 10-15 hrs / week off a computer. It keeps you healthy. Can't say enough about it.

My smartphone just died and I had to revert back to my trusty old dumb phone that I loved and apparently still do. The first feeling I had was relief: mobile internet is "nice" but the joy of not being able to access anything is great. I'm only available via simple phone calls and text messages, and if I get any of those it's usually important.

Consequently, I need to find my laptop to access internet and I sometimes do that but I don't feel like sitting in front of it like I used to. The magic has moved to mobile internet and because I don't have that anymore I have no desire to glue myself to the laptop for the sake of keeping myself entertained by the endless articles on internet. I mostly just open the laptop when I need to do real work or real chores.

I spent the last two weeks completely disconnected from technology, with the exception of my Canon 5D camera. It was incredibly liberating. I actually found I was remembering people's names better.

Well, I do have to admit, the location helped quite a bit. I was in the Galapagos Islands </brag>

Coming home, I've noticed an immediate reversion back to my old ways, with the addition of a low, simmering anger and slightly less patience towards these things. However, while I used to be angry and impatient when things would work slowly, I find now that I have this low level anger and impatience at the entire concept of the computer.


I have the no computer at home rule. It's been working pretty well. I can only use one at work or coffee shops etc. Problem is I'm in bed writing this from an iphone. :( It's a huge loophole to the rule.

If I had a free second at any point in the day I would end up checking Facebook or reddit. I just couldn't stop myself so I deleted them. I deleted the Facebook and reddit app from my phone and iPad. This helped a lot. I still checked both in the browser so I ended up deactivating my fb account. I also use Stay Focused which is a chrome extension that blocks sites after a set time. I put reddit and a few other sites on the list. I still check HN. I see this site as educational and I don't regret reading the articles.

I second that. GetFocusd is excellent at reminding you why you installed it in the first place. I blocked most of the sites where I waste my time: Facebook, Reddit, News sites and general nonsensical, but entertaining sites. I turn off WiFi and mobile internet on my phone or even set it to airplane mode in extreme cases.

I am on the computer a lot at work, but at home it is different because I am using the computer to pursue my own interests. I don't consider pursuing my interests a waste of time.

I have two safety rules for myself:

- No HackerNews/Reddit/... after 21:00.

- No computers/tablets/... after 22:00.

Other than that, other hobbies decrease computer time: watching series/news with my wife, running, cycling, Geocaching (a great outdoor hobby for the inner geek :)), and reading (generally newspapers).

Besides that, we are expecting our first baby next month. So, there will be no time for computers outside work ;).

Very similar here. Additionally I've got 2 kids 13 and 10, both have ipod/phones that have no wifi access before 8am and after 9pm (router schedule against mac addresses).

I remember when I had similar restrictions imposed on me when I was staying with another family during term time. Personally I hated it, I used to secretly alter the settings so that my time was extended because I didn't like being forced off. Eventually they gave up with the restrictions and I went back to using the internet less, I guess I just wanted it more when I was told I couldn't have it. Not saying its the same for your kids but it just reminded me of my internet rebellion!


I think you're going to get variations on this a lot, but I have lots of hobbies. I am not the most sociable person, but between music, gardening, rebuilding an engine, board game nights and hanging out with friends, at some point, sports, your time behind a computer starts to go down. I am not perfect, but it definitely helps to engage your interests outside of your work.

I think that we waste a lot of time in news feeds (HN/Youtube/Facebook/Twitter/etc). We are afraid of missing something important, and seeing that "something new" feels good. But once you've seen it, you move onto something else immediately. There is some neat research in this (see http://healthland.time.com/2013/08/31/this-is-your-brain-on-..., and I'm sure there are other meaningful sources as well).

I personally have noticed that I have this cycle:

1) I want something to do, perhaps for just a little while.

2) I think about doing something meaningful, but get a feeling of the task being overwealming, so I'm not going to do that right now.

3) I think of something that would be easy to do right now, and HN/FB/etc. comes up. You know, just for a little while.

4) I proceed to the FB/Reddit/HN/etc. cycle and before I know it, I've wasted way more time than I have intended.

This is my cycle, but I'm sure there are others that have something similar.


I have a case of repetitive strain injury (RSI), so I have to minimize my computer use outside of working hours for sure.


I have other things I like to do. I study Buddhism and Meditation at a local center on Wednesday nights. I go out with friends. I read. I listen to audio books. I have a hobby of studying philosophy and religion that takes up a ton of time (personal interest).

I watch Netflix using my gaming systems/tablet (although I try to minimize my gaming time to only on weekends occasionally).

This year I intend to try yoga and tai chi - both are supposed to be good for RSI sufferers.

I have noticed that I tend to read facebook more often if I leave it open on my tablet/phone (as you get notifications constantly). So I stopped that.

I generally try to limit Hacker News / Reddit / etc. to about 1 read a day. I open up all the articles in many tabs, and when I'm through that, I'm through. If I missed something important, it will come up again or someone I know will link me. I still sometimes fall into my cycle above, but at least I am more likely to notice that and avoid it now.

After 9-10hrs behind a computer at work, I don't have much need for computers at home. Wver since I started working, I've noticed my social network usage has gone down mostly because I don't want to stare at a screen some more. Same goes for my iPhone. I wanted to upgrade, but seeing I use it for nothing more that calls and messaging, I've opted out.

I have a power strip to which the wireless router and modem are connected that can be turned off and off by remote control. Click!

Yes, I try to socialize more, to do more sporty activities. I consider my week ideal if I leave my laptop in the office 6 out of 7 days and only spend the nights in my apartment. That could also answer the How? portion of your question.

I'm single which is the main reason for this ;)

These days, I see computer time as a limited resource. My eyes started acting up last summer and so I've cut down on my computer time. I save articles into something like Pocket and use the read-aloud feature while I go take a break from staring at the monitor.

One thing that helps me with hacker news is using an external aggregator (like hckrnews.com) that only shows the top 20 or so news stories. Keeps me focused on the most relevant news without the front page rabbit hole problem.

I don't try to avoid it, I just have other interests. Hard to be browsing the net while you're practising martial arts, or swimming, or singing, or dancing, or - . Well, you get the idea.

Definitely. We obsess about "how to avoid X", while getting fixated on X and trying to come up with an "anti-X" solution, but it's so much easier to be "pro-Y".

i have a dumbphone (motorola razr) that i use when i go out.


i don't feel this way at all. i probably spent about 1/4 of last year without an internet connection at home.

I recently started using rescuetime. Now atleast have an accurate idea of how much time I am wasting each day.

> how do you prevent yourself from wasting hours on Facebook/Twitter/HackerNews/YouTube

Have kids.

can vouch for this method. should advise that it has other caveats. buyer beware.

WasteNoTime safari extension.

deactivated FB account. Not much in youtube.

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