Overcoming Internet Addiction

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hi, my name is Irina and I am an Internet addict.

No longer can I deny that this is a problem. It first started about two years ago when I was looking for a way to consume information on the Internet. Back then, I was still (surprisingly) starving for information. Over the last two years, I have worked out a system that has consumed all my free time and has eaten into my sleep. It is no longer sustainable.

It started with answering emails as promptly as I can. Then I let Google dictate the rest of my life. I started making use of Google Reader and subscribing to any blog that caught my attention. This included economics blogs, life-in-Paris blogs and fashion blogs. I then moved on to attempting to read every article from the Gmail "Web Clip" sidebar (the one on top of your most recent messages)that caught my attention. I picked those articles based on how much the headline would spark my interest. Finally, I read all articles and blog posts for full content and understanding, which left me with no time to listen to my own thoughts.

I cannot do this any longer. This is a problem. There has to be a better system than consuming ALL the information that is coming at you, even if you have signed up for it. Now that I am back at school for my last quarter, I am busier than I have ever been in college. I still need to keep up with current events and my interests, but I have to do it in the most productive way. I need to come up with explicit rules.

So I searched for "dealing with information overload" on Google. And, of course, I got a lot of hits. I was looking for actual tips that I could implement, not simply discussions that technology is transforming the way our brain functions (there are a lot of these). Here are the few useful implementable tips, adapted from the different sources I surveyed:

  1. Commit to checking email only 2-3 times a day. Well, it is more like 10 for me right now and that is down from what it used to be. However, I now try to keep my Gmail window closed unless I am actually working directly with Gmail. I used to have this window open "just in case," but it really only resulted in me going back to it every minute or so when I wanted a break from what I was working on. Well, it is better to just look at the ceiling. It is pretty liberating to have that "Gmail - Inbox..." tab closed.
  2. Turn off GChat. I use GChat inside the browser and I used to always have it open. This leads to a great productivity loss, since I expend my mental energy on checking who is online and having meaningless exchanges with many of those people. Now, I only sign into GChat if I have the intention of speaking to someone specifically. Otherwise, off!
  3. Update RSS feed regularly. My Google Reader displays only unread posts. If there are posts that have been unread for longer than a week, chances are they are not that important. No reason to spend time on them. Hit "Mark all as read."
  4. Read off the Internet, on paper. I know that seems like a crazy idea and you are asking yourself why you would ever want to do it, considering how sweet the Internet is. Well, it helps your brain to calm down. You cannot switch from one book to another as easily as you can switch from tab to tab. It teaches your brain how to focus in case it forgot. I also find that my heart rate slows down when I read a book. Good all around.
  5. Do not try to constantly keep up on all news. The world will not stop if you fall behind. And do not be afraid to fall behind. The first two weeks after Lehman went bankrupt, I read 20 news stories about it a day. When the bailout plan came out, I read 20 news stories about it a day. Then I burned out. I could not do it anymore. So now I limit my intake of finance-related news to about 1 article a day. And miraculously, Congress is still negotiating on the bailout. I think. Or not. I do not know, because I have not read about it in a couple of days.
  6. Read a novel that has nothing to do with classes or work before going to sleep to prevent your brain from functioning at the same pace as during work. This is especially helpful for those of us who work right up until going to sleep. My current novel of choice is Emile Zola's "Thérèse Raquin." In French. Which is great, because I end up focusing on understanding the novel and trying to immerse myself in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris and the raw animalistic emotions of the main characters, which takes my mind completely off work and the Internet. Then I can fall asleep faster.
These are my first attempts at optimizing my information intake and productivity subject to the constraints of my time and energy. I think the most important realization was that I need to deal with this explicitly, make specific rules and stick to them. Or...let's be real...almost stick.

Most useful sources:
  1. How to Reduce Information Overload
  2. Dealing with Information Overload
  3. Eight tips to thriving on information overload


Joseph said...

Hi Irina,

Great blog entry. I really enjoyed reading it and found it very insightful. Congratulations on graduating from Standford!

Keep up the great work and I look forward to reading more of your blogs


Barry Kwok said...

Hi Irina,

I too have succumbed to information addiction. I used to use Google Reader as an RSS aggregator but realized it got out of hand when I would have 2000+ unread feeds.

Some things I changed was using netvibes to subscribe to one/two feeds per topic area so I'm not getting similar feeds on the same topic. For gmail I use the gmail manager extension for Firefox that allows me to keep an eye on my inbox without having to sign in as it gives me pop ups of messages as they come in and I only reply when it's urgent.

I definitely will be putting your tips to practice though! :)