Dig­i­tal tricks to tame an In­ter­net ad­dic­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - WEB IN SITES - by Melissa Bell This col­umn aims to help you tame the In­ter­net beast and de­mys­tify the on­line world. What are you cu­ri­ous about? What con­founds you? Let us know. E-mail bellm@wash­post.com.

In the age of the In­ter­net, two min­utes of do­ing noth­ing

can feel like for­ever. The sec­onds ooze by, my mind skip­ping from din­ner plans ( healthy acorn squash or a cheese­burger?) to a Brian Adams song I can’t get out ofmy head (“ Ev­ery­thing I do, I do it for

you!”), to theMoscow bomb­ing. I look at the timer.

A newe-mail pops up inmy in­box. My hand shakes a lit­tle, hov­er­ing over the mouse. I re­ally want to check it. In­stead, I stare at the sun­set pho­to­graph onmy com­puter screen, lis­ten to the ocean waves crash and try very, very hard not to be dis­tracted by the count­down on screen.

At this point, barely a minute has passed.

TheWeb site hold­ing me cap­tive— DoNoth­ing for 2

Min­utes— drew1 mil­lion unique vis­i­tors in its first five days. No doubt most of those vis­i­tors weren’t just cu­ri­ous, but peo­ple likeme who could re­ally use some dig­i­tal med­i­ta­tion space.

“Detox from in­for­ma­tion over­load,” PopJam CEO Alex Tew, who co-founded TwoMin­utes, tweeted when he re­leased the site last week. “ Technology has taken away some­thing from us,” he added by phone from London. “It would be cool to let technology give us that back. That thing be­ing a moment of calm, of course.”

Sci­ence writer Jonah Lehrer calls this “in­for­ma­tion crav­ing,” and it’s fu­eled by tiny kicks of dopamine, one of the brain’s plea­sure chem­i­cals, ev­ery time we find some­thing new. As we jug­gle PDAs, com­puter screens and mul­ti­ple so­cial ac­counts, we di­vide our at­ten­tion into in­creas­ingly tiny sliv­ers.

TwoMin­utes­may be a quick fix, but there are op­tions for en­forc­ing longer breaks from all the dig­i­tal dis­trac­tions, giv­ing us time to do more than noth­ing.

AuthorsNora Ephron, Nick Hornby and Dave Eggers all swear by a $10 pro­gram aptly called Free­dom, which shuts down In­ter­net ac­cess on a PC or Mac for how­ever long you choose.

In other words, you pay for the In­ter­net to come into your home, and now you can pay for it to dis­ap­pear.

Just down­load the pro­gram onto your com­puter from

MacFree­dom.com and set a limit — from 15 min­utes to eight hours — and the In­ter­net is off. If you can’t re­sist and must get back on­line be­fore your time is up, you have to fully re­boot your com­puter. Grad stu­dent Fred Stutz­man de­vel­oped the pro­gram to help him fin­ish his dis­ser­ta­tion.

For the spe­cific so­cial time wasters, Stutz­man also built Anti

So­cial. It costs $15 and blocks only so­cial sites, fromMyS­pace to Vimeo. For par­ents wor­ried about the amount of time their teenagers spend post­ing up­dates to Face­book, this site will set time­outs to help get the home­work done. An­other op­tion, the

StayFo­cusd pro­gram, of­fers up the chance to cus­tom-de­sign your self-im­posed ex­ile. It’s a free ex­ten­sion forGoogle Chrome (so you can still sneak onto other Web browsers) that al­lows you to choose which sites to block and for ex­actly how long each. Spend­ing too much time on eBay but still need to ac­cess Gmail? This is the site for you.

Taken to­gether, these pro­grams give us the power to fight dig­i­tal dis­trac­tions us­ing dig­i­tal tricks. That might even beat two min­utes of do­ing noth­ing.

HARRY CAMP­BELL FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

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