Digital tricks to tame an Internet addiction
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.