As a full time technical writer and a part-time travel writer, a great deal of my life is online. My email is often the first thing I check in the morning, and the last thing I shut down at night. There are times when I get panicked if I’m away from the computer for so long.
For example, as I’m writing this on my lunch break, the office’s Internet is down. I keep sporadically refreshing my browser, just in case I miss something important. Like an email announcing the implosion of the universe.
The same goes for writing online. I spend so much time talking to Matador Life’s editor Leigh Shulman that our work chats eventually lead to men discussions or stories about the tadpoles in the backyard of her garden. I even know the color of her new couch. Red, custom made.
We editors are all spread out across the globe, so the Internet is really our only option.
But the world doesn’t stop when you’re offline. I came to this realization last week, when I had planned on devoting my entire Sunday afternoon to catching up on work. But the day was uncharacteristically beautiful, the first hint of spring, and I was aching to get outside. My roommate Renee and I went for a three hour hike instead, we ate ice-cream and sat atop Signal Hill looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. I thought, “These moments are the kind you live for. Not the ones sitting in front of a computer screen.”
While it’s impractical to cut out the Internet entirely, here are a few ways to cut back on your Internet addiction.
Understand your offline relationships are the most important.
I like to think the people I’ve encountered over the past few months are my friends. They’re an amazing support network, a community of like-minded people. But it’s important to nurture the “real life” relationships, the people who have been there from the beginning. The kind of friends who will bail you out of the drunk tank, or lend you some money when all you can afford to eat is canned soup. This especially applies to family members.
Take time everyday to enjoy moments with friends and family. If you’re like me, working from 9-5, you spend most of your life with colleagues. Sanity needs to be preserved.
Make time to connect with Internet friends offline.
If you’re connecting with so many people online, actually make the effort to meet up with them in real life. Meeting someone for the first time offline is more than a little intimidating, but you really can’t tell what kind of a bond you actually have until you’re face to face. Attend a Travel Blog Exchange, book a suite apartment with a bunch of travelers and party until daylight. Or crash on someone’s couch via Couchsurfing.
Resist fancy phones with data packages.
I have purposely refused to buy an iPhone simply because I know I’ll be checking my phone constantly for texts and Facebook messages. Sometimes I find myself out with friends, checking my emails. Why? What is the hurry?
You’ll end up being that douchebag, the one with his/her nose buried in a phone being too arrogant to participate in real conversation.
If you’re a traveler and you need your phone to get work done, this may not work for you. But at least limit your phone time. Buy a more restrictive phone package, or simply place it in a drawer far from sight for a period of time each day.
Have an unplugged, offline day.
One whole day, sun-up to sun-down. Think you can handle it? Make a big breakfast, finish some laundry, run some errands, join a friend for a cup of tea, read something from the stack of books on your nightstand, go for a jog, sit outside in the sun. Life really does happen beyond the computer.
Find other ways to connect with people.
Facebook, instant messenger, and email are the most popular methods of communication between me and my real life friends. It’s convenient and quick, and a great way to communicate with several people at once.
But draw the line somewhere. Instead of instant messaging a friend to ask if they’d like to go for a walk, pick up the phone. Show up unannounced at their door, if you don’t mind being that annoying “pop-in” person.
Don’t be available all the time.
This is my biggest issue. At my office, we use the Internet and instant messaging freely while working. Some days I get people messaging me to chat, and then they get furious when I don’t reply. It is absolutely necessary to separate work time from personal time. If you keep socializing with the outside world at work, you’re asking to be fired.
The same goes for phones. I’ve had several people over the years say, “Why don’t you ever answer your phone?” Sometimes I don’t want to. It’s a choice, and it should be respected. Also, I may or may not like you and would rather not say it to your face. Sometimes it’s best not to ask questions.
Write a list of everything you used to do before you were addicted to the Internet.
I find it difficult to imagine exactly what I used to do with my spare time, but I feel it involved a lot of reading and letter writing. If you put it all down on paper, you’ll get a good idea of just how much time you’re wasting.
Seriously, if you have a real Internet addiction, get help.
There’s actually oodles of information for people who are addicted to cyber-sex and Facebook. If you’re drawn to whipping out your genitals on live webcamera in front of an audience, you should probably heed real, professional advice.
Not convinced these ideas will work? Try a web application that will help monitor your Internet time. Ironic, no?