Used to be you went to a coffee shop to get away from all the distractions of home or the office—you went there to get something done. Then the internet happened. And now the internet is everywhere. If you have your laptop, or even your phone for that matter, you bring the lion's share of distractions with you. And then there's the attendant filleting of the attention span that's come with our new existence. At this point it's almost an unconscious act for me to open a new tab and look at Facebook or Slog or Twitter when my brain comes to a stopping point in the task at hand (which evidently is about every 30 seconds). It's replacing the opportunity for more thorough thought with instant stimuli, and it feels increasingly unhealthy.
Elsewhere, people are getting "burnt the fuck out":
I think in tweets now. My hands start twitching if I’m away from my phone for more than 30 seconds. I can’t even take a pee now without getting “bored.” I know I’m not the only one tweeting in the bathroom. I’m online so much that I’ve started caring about “memes.” I feel the need to comment on everything, to have a “take,” preferably a “smart take.” The online world, which I struggle to remember represents only a tiny, unrepresentative slice of the American public, has become my world. I spend more time there than in the real world, have more friends there than in meatspace.
...and then shutting the internet out of their lives entirely for pre-determined amounts of time. (In the above case, a year.) I believe the internet is changing the way we think, in fact when we consider the concept of neuroplasticity—which is fairly well documented these days—it seems like a forgone conclusion at this point of our immersion. I also believe some people are more susceptible to its effects than others. My attention span, for one, is shot. I haven't finished a book in more than a year, and my long, intensive projects are forever riddled with errant trips across the internet in chase of god knows what. I check my phone constantly for notifications. My productivity is curbed to a fault, and it's not getting any better with age.
Almost two years ago I wrote about Mac Freedom, which severs a user's access to the internet for a pre-determined amount of time. Back then, it was a life saver for me. I could finally shut off the noise and go to bed. I also slept better knowing that all the chatter was more than the opening of a laptop away. And it helped with the long-term projects as well. But that's one simplistic switch, and then everything—e-mail, networks, auto save—is cut off.
What if you're someone who makes a living using the internet, what if you're researching and need to be online but don't want to fall down another click trap. Most of us don't have the luxury of going off the grid for a year, and many of us need connectivity every day at work.
In the comments section of that Mac Freedom post, commenter WanderingSoul mentioned SelfControl, which "lets you block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet." In typical Me Fashion™, I totally ignored WanderingSoul, in this case much to my detriment. Today, I found it, downloaded it and am already in love. There are a host of similar programs out there, but SelfControl is free and open source, and it's the one I'm trying for now. You can shut off the bad parts of the internet for anywhere from 15 minutes to 24 hours. You'll need a Mac and OS 10.5 or above, so keep fishing if you're on a PC. Six hours in, I haven't checked Facebook (the only one I've shut off for now.), and I still got distracted approximately 50 times while writing this post. Good luck out there.