Studies of Life

Learning by doing.

I’m addicted to the Internet.

09 September 2017 by Jim

The image shows my use of my time in front of screens in September. Blue is virtuous time, red is useless distraction. I am trying to change my behaviour in this regard since the 8th.

I am addicted to the Internet, it seems. And among millennials I am certainly not the only one. I spend on average about 2 or 3 hours on YouTube each day, starting in the early morning when I’m still in bed. Then, being a freelancer working from home, nothing stops me from watching a few videos during the day. I like American Dad clips of 5 minutes or so, many of which I have already seen. And if RescueTime is to be believed (an app that tracks what I do while on my computer or my phone) then I often spend 12-14 hours per day in front of a screen, out of which on average 6 are actual, productive work, which includes work I’m being paid for and online lessons in programming or Japanese.

Even though my excessive use of the Internet has not had tangible negative effects on me (yet) in the sense that what I need to do does get done on time and I successfully completed a 5-year Masters degree in French Literature while working my 4 or 6 hour workday for the past years, it still bothers me.

An hour of wasted time might not be a big issue, but if you want to design your life, to give your everyday experience a shape that you chose for it, you cannot congratulate yourself on spending 6 out of 14 hours virtuously. Virtuously might be a better term than ‘productively’, because to me a virtuous hour includes things like drawing, reading fiction, going for a walk, and cleaning my home, even if those things are not productive in the economic sense of the word.

So something has to change about how I use my time. And since I have RescueTime tracking what I do when in front of a screen, it’ll be easy to measure the results objectively. What has to change is simply the habit of reaching for the phone 100 times per day, of opening YouTube when I have a spare half hour, and of ‘giving away’ an hour or more each day idly browsing the Web while in bed. If I really feel like watching something on YouTube, I can still do so. But my YouTube usage shouldn’t be mostly the same old videos I’ve already watched, just to doze off for a few hours.

I think it’s relevant to say these things here, because I’m not the only one who has this issue. Many people I know do. If you’re sitting at a table with family or friends, and your phone is lying on the table, or worse, if you spend time on your phone while at the table with them, you have a problem. That’s what I think. Living the life you want takes effort, and behavioural change is maybe the most difficult challenge in life. But it’s one we should be willing to take up.

I will report back every week on how this experiment on my part goes. Having strictly limited my use of electronics to mindful moments in the past 48 hours, I got a lot of writing and learning done that I usually struggle to find the time for. In hindsight it seems obvious: remove 6 or 8 hours of idle browsing in a person’s day, and they will need to find other things to do. And I’m trying to fill those freed up hours with more virtuous things.

Hopefully this will inspire a few others to question the use of their time and make some positive changes in their own lives. Addiction is not just the visible, alcohol- or drug related kind. It takes subtler forms, which are just as worthwhile to combat.

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