Please help me lose 1 internets
March 26, 2011 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Compulsive web-browsing completely dominates my life. How do I physically stop myself from using the internet?

I'm posting this anonymously because it's kind of pathetic and childish and I feel like people might not take this seriously or poke fun at it.

Anyway, I'm addicted to web-browsing: checking e-mail, news sites, MetaFilter, message boards, anything with information. I mean badly, compulsively addicted, like some people are to eating bad foods or gambling. It is without a doubt what consumes the majority of my time and what has consumed it for years now.

In the long-term, I want to make it so that I do not have to use a computer all day so I can stop this. I will switch careers if I have to. I may even try cognitive therapy. That's how serious this is for me. It's the one major change I wish I could effect in my life.

SHORT-TERM, however, I *have* to work on my home computer to do this job for at least the next few months. The other trick is, at least every few days, I will also *have* to have internet access to transfer large files from this computer. So I can't permanently disable it, just turn it off long enough to stop the backslide into compulsion.

Here is how I tried to solve the situation so far.

(1) Unplugged modem, locked it in mailbox outside my house. I feel like this physical distance and time it takes to re-set up would prevent the "oh let's just check one more site" impulse that leads to ENTIRE DAYS, sometimes MULTIPLE DAYS IN A ROW, of internet use without getting any work done. I did this, and it worked, however....

(2) My iMac has a stupid WiFi card inside it, and my neighbor has an open network that I'm using right now. Argh! This is too easy for my addictive impulses to flare up, and indeed they have been. I'd remove the fucking WiFi card but you can't open the back of the iMac, or at least I'm not gonna try. Is there another way to physically impede the WiFi card?

(3) Maybe I should uninstall all web/internet programs and back them up on a hard drive? I think the process of re-installing would be enough for my conscious brain to say "okay, stop this now". But I could still do it when I needed the re-up for work.

(4) I wish there was a mouse that gave you an electric shock when you tried to open Firefox. Just throwing that out there.

posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
Going cold turkey on anything has never worked for me. Just some ideas that work for me sometimes:

Set boundaries for yourself, on paper. Tape it on your monitor. Give yourself a chunk of time (or chunks) every day to do whatever the hell you want on the Internet. Create space for that waste, and create space for your work. Give yourself small, non computer-related rewards for sticking to your allotted spaces.
posted by nitsuj at 9:14 AM on March 26, 2011

I read on here that someone made himself write by setting up two accounts on his computer: one with internet access and one without. Once you're signed into the non-internet one it's a big pain in the butt to log out and sign back into the other. Don't know if that's hardline enough for you, but it might help.
posted by orange swan at 9:23 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Find your /private/etc/hosts file or whatever is your equivalent.

Add some lines like this for any sites that have been problematic:
posted by RobotHero at 9:29 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have had some success with SelfControl on OSX-it lets you create Web black- and whitelists, and once you turn it on, it'll block the stuff you tell it to until the timer is up (even if you delete the application, reboot, etc.).

That site links to some other stop-wasting-time-on-the-Internet apps as well, which also make clear that you're not the only one who struggles with this!
posted by substars at 9:30 AM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I finally found a strategy that works for me, and it's a variation on what nitsuj suggests.

I've been using LeechBlock, and had been setting it so I just turned off all the sites until, say, 6-8pm. In practice, I'd just piss about until I could get back online. Instead, now I've grouped all my most time-wastey sites (hi, MeFi!) and used LeechBlock to allow an hour a day of access to them, with the options off-limits while the sites are blocked. So, I can start the day by wasting the hour, but it means I've no access for the rest of the day, and I'm being pickier about how I use the time too - if I refresh the same site for ages or wander through an acquaintance's photos on Facebook, it'll mean I can't keep up with the things I care about.

(I can still check them via my iPhone, etc, but that's not comfortable enough to be a significant time-suck. Tweaking what's in the filter has taken a bit of work - my blog's not in it, nor is anything I need for research, but I've added in a few more places where I immediately open 6 tabs and settle in for a long read.)
posted by carbide at 9:32 AM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding self-control for osx. A tip I have is putting the timer on before you sleep at night so the next morning, there's no choice to actively make, but simply the 'lack of internet' that helps me work.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 9:33 AM on March 26, 2011

I seriously could have written this post this morning. Somehow my laptop has made it's way into the bed - movies, MetaFilter, games - and I already spend all day at work in front of a computer, and have Words and Angry Birds on my iPhone. I started checking my Words score at the gym yesterday and thought okay phaedon, you're starting to lose it. And this doesn't even cover communications.

I have blocked specific websites using /etc/hosts (I'm 6 months off Facebook) but since my time in front of the internet is still really high I would suggest but also look forward to hearing more about the time block approach, as well as other solutions. Just wanted to chime in that I'm in the same boat.
posted by phaedon at 9:38 AM on March 26, 2011

You don't need to be cuckoo crazy to try therapy and your addiction doesn't need to be so bad that it destroys your life. Because when you write I may even try cognitive therapy. That's how serious this is for me. I get the feeling you think just that. The bare fact that this issue is affecting your quality of life is reason enough to seek therapy. So what if you can't handle this on your own? A lot of people can't quit cigarettes on their own and there's no shame in that.

Which brings me to shame: you've posted this question anonymously, which is fine, but have you told anyone that you have this problem? When you write that this issue is "kind of pathetic and childish and I feel like people might not take this seriously or poke fun at it" I'm lead to think you're feeling a lot of shame over not being able to control yourself. Shame can be a helpful motivator sometimes, but perhaps on this occasion your shame is hurting you?
posted by davidjohnfox at 9:46 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use a combination of leechblocker and chronager. The problem is that I have IE, which isn't blocked by leechblocker and I can look up the chronager password. However, if you use chronager to block your browsers and let someone else hold the password chronager should allow you to either attempt to go cold turkey or limit yourself to X minutes a day or whatever.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:59 AM on March 26, 2011

2nding trying therapy, or telling someone about this.

I imagine you feel happy about using the Internet when you're actually using it. You might try meditation to accept and feel happier about your offline life.
posted by sninctown at 10:10 AM on March 26, 2011

I got some good answers when I asked this previously.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:26 AM on March 26, 2011

Have you tried time-management techniques? Pomodoro is one popular solution: essentially, you work for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and repeat. (It's most effective when enforced with a timer.) I have a similar addiction (though probably not quite as severe), and the structure of a timed work cycle really works wonders.

Also, if your Internet abuse involves a lot of forums or other interactive things, consider getting some accountability. Tell some forum-buddies about your problem, and ask them to call you out if you're online too much.

Nth-ing therapy if the other solutions here don't work out. Good therapists can be expensive, but it's worth it for a problem this big.
posted by skymt at 10:38 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use Freedom.
posted by kestrel251 at 10:44 AM on March 26, 2011

I tried that 30-second delay to load websites that Randall Munroe suggested on xkcd and it worked. However, when I need the computer for work I tend to turn it off and then the procrastination comes back.
posted by mai at 10:53 AM on March 26, 2011

Another leechblock fan here. The biggest help, at least for me, was the little countdown clock in the lower right corner of the browser. It's a tangible, immediate reminder of the value of my browsing time. Having a visible reminder of "I've only got 7:22 left in this period - is this really what I want to be doing?" is a great way, I've found, to kick myself out of the mindless, addictive clicking cycle and become more present.
posted by penguinicity at 11:01 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't have a Mac so I can't help with the tech solution, but I recommend scheduling lots of weekend time with other people, and scheduling work breaks (my time wastage goes up when I'm tired but won't acknowledge I need a break). It helps me disconnect from ways I waste time by having clearly better ways to fill it.
posted by salvia at 11:01 AM on March 26, 2011

I was you. It affected my social life, work work, home life, I did it everywhere I could access the internet. It was getting to the point where I would arrive late to work because I spent most of the morning just browsing forums. I'd always wanted to "search for just one more thing, and I'll be all done," but it just didn't stop, and my laundry would never get finished, I never left the house to pick up the mail, etc. Part of it is due to the fact that I'm a bit of a procrastinator at heart, so I'll prioritize things that I find much more entertaining, like fact finding on the interwebs.

What really stopped me was getting rid of my home computer. It really sucked, but I saw a major improvement in other areas of my life. I don't think I could ever go cold-turkey without the internet so I got an iPhone to replace all my home computing needs. You just can't do as much on the iPhone as on a computer without the extra hassle. Most of the internet was built to be viewed on a computer screen, not a phone screen, so eventually you'll just get tired of trying to make it work on your iPhone and just put the phone down. Also, my work like improved significantly because my phone trained me to be not as reliant on the internet, so I stopped browsing random websites at work. Sure, there are still times when I stay up late playing on my iPhone, but it's no where near as bad as when I had a computer.

Sent from my iPhone
posted by nikkorizz at 11:18 AM on March 26, 2011

Oops, work life* not work like.
posted by nikkorizz at 11:20 AM on March 26, 2011

When you're in this deep, the only cure is 1) therapy and 2) finding something else more enjoyable than web surfing.

1) Therapy helps you figure out why you're doing this. Most likely you're attempting to distract yourself from some stress in your life. If you can't get therapy right this minute, read books on other kinds of addiction. Go to open AA meetings. I am completely serious. Internet addiction is not that different from alcoholism. People recovering from other kinds of addictions cannot drink/use in moderation - at least not for a long while. Which brings me to...

2) Take up a tangible hobby that does not involve computers. Preferably in nature. Hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, whatever. Join a group that meets at specified times and which will expect you to be there. I am guessing that part of your problem is social anxiety. It's very easy to hide out online. You can deal with this in therapy, but for right now, just get outside.

You can defeat any physical block, including selling your computer (although that is the first thing I would do). Deal with this as a psychological addiction.
posted by desjardins at 1:30 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to talk to someone qualified about this; there is certainly something that's making you need to escape into the computer and keep at it for long periods of time. It's OK to admit that it's an addiction.

In the meantime, try to remove yourself in small amounts, like go read a book just for 10 minutes. Take a walk around your house. Use things that can give you timers, like suggested above. But really, really try to find someone who can help you find what's going on underneath before you keep bullying yourself into failure. Take care.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:07 PM on March 26, 2011

Given what you think worked for you before, i.e. locking your modem away, maybe remove Firefox and such from the Mac, and put portable versions of them on a memory stick. Then you can lock that memory stick away somewhere physically inconvenient like you used to do with the modem.
posted by philipy at 4:43 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why don't you set up things to do for yourself away from the house. Preferably set up things that other people can be engaged in and ask them to hold you accountable. Leave the house, leave the computer- go out and do stuff.

I have the same problem. If I am not actively doing something, I'll sit on the computer all day. I go climbing after work, I work from home... on the computer. I ski on the weekends.

That way, when I am on the computer, I can justify it by saying I'm relaxing or I'm winding down, and it works, for the most part.
posted by TheBones at 8:10 PM on March 26, 2011

You have a laptop, and you only need the internet every few days. The solution this suggests to me is that you 1) permanently disable all internet access at your house, and 2) find somewhere else to go to upload those files (like a cafe with free wifi, or a friend's house).

This leaves the problem of the free wireless you're leaching from your neighbor. There are a couple ways you can block this.

1. I might first try an anonymous letter left in their mailbox, something along the lines of "I can access your wifi network from my house and I shouldn't be able to, you need to lock it down before something bad happens." Hackers, child pornography, whatever.

Take the "I'm doing you a favor by telling you that your zipper is unzipped" approach. Don't mention your internet addiction or anything! Just point out to them that their internet is unlocked and accessible from many other homes. They probably don't know this, and maybe it's the kick in the pants they need to lock it down.

2. If that doesn't work, then look into getting another computer - one without a wireless card - like a cheap old desktop. Use this computer exclusively at home. Put your laptop somewhere horribly inconvenient. Use a USB stick to transfer your files from your desktop to your laptop, then take your laptop somewhere with internet access and upload that stuff for work.

Finally, therapy is a good idea. It can help you explore what it is about the internet that you find so irresistible, and help you develop ways to find that intangible quality elsewhere. Like if it's the social aspect, therapy can help give you the tools you need to get that social in real life, from real people.
posted by ErikaB at 8:42 PM on March 26, 2011

I think you're too focused on disabling your internet access without considering what you'll do once you're offline. Are your work goals clearly defined and realistically achievable?

Set ONE achievable goal and don't even think about the next steps until you can do that first thing. You said yourself you need the internet in order to do your work so going offline isn't an option, stop making that the prerequisite for getting your work done.

Also try exercising to complete exhaustion and then attempting work.
posted by laptolain at 6:38 AM on March 27, 2011

Concentrate for Mac is pretty good as well, it can help you be more specific about what you want to block. Sometimes all it takes to break a bad habit is to take a single step that isn't so drastic, especially compared to some of the suggestions I skimmed over in reply to you.
posted by janeylicious at 2:15 AM on March 28, 2011

Do you read books?

If you are anything like me, then you've slipped into consuming info like candy. The type of info that requires no concentration span and gives you a quick addictive sugary fix. It's easy to swap away from what you feel you should be doing, to digest little bits of info, rather than focusing on the job at hand.

Which leads to my books question, try to train your brain back into longer form consumption. Getting a Kindle I think has helped me, got me back into reading and enjoying books again, which I feel has lead to lengthening my concentration span.

Sites like these might help regain your focus:

All of this won't get you back to work, but may be a step in the right direction.

As mentioned earlier, the Pomodoro technique might help too.
posted by ben30 at 6:14 AM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thank you, carbide, for the leechblock suggestion, and goodbye, metafilter.
I'll come back to check on you at 10PM from now on for a bit, but not before.
posted by growabrain at 8:54 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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