How can I get back to doing old-fashioned activities that don't involve the internet?
July 16, 2011 7:30 AM   Subscribe

How can I get back to doing old-fashioned activities that don't involve the internet?

I used to love reading - I went through books like crazy. And I've never been a big TV watcher but I turned it on occasionally and would watch for a bit if something funny was on. Lately, though (as in, the past year or two!) I pretty much don't do books or TV at all. I'll pick up a book that's supposedly a page-turner (the type that would've appealed to the old me), read a page or two, put it down and won't pick it back up. And I don't think it's that I'm reading the wrong books; I just think I've lost the attention span for it.

The problem is that I love my laptop and the internet. I love reading my e-mail and AskMeFi questions. For whatever reason, the internet holds my attention in a way that books and TV do not.

I feel badly about this...I feel like I've become a less interesting person since I've essentially eliminated hobbies like reading and TV.

I guess my question is multi-part:
1) Does anyone else have the same problem? (or if you don't consider it problematic, why?) Am I completely abnormal?
2) How did you re-develop an interest in books, TV, etc?

posted by whitelily to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
Read every night before you go to sleep. If you take mass-transit, read while you commute. It's easy to fall out of the habit of reading. YMMV, but I do best when I'm consuming one author voraciously... I read everything Murakami wrote all in a row, then McCarthy, then Hemmingway etc.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:45 AM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

1. Yes, I have the same problem. Especially in the winter, or on days like this when I'm stuck in the house due to the heat. I do consider it problematic for me - I'm Elly Vortex the artist and musician, not Elly Vortex the websurfer. But I feel like I've kind of got sucked in to the interwebs and my musical instruments and art supplies have gotten dusty. I feel like I've kind of lost track of myself. I also don't go hiking and biking as much as I used to.

I think part of it comes with a stressful job - when I get home after a long defeating day, I don't feel like going hiking or putting in a good hour on the banjo. I want to zone out in front of the computer. And I do.

2. Here's my solution, won't work for everybody: got rid of stressful job. Got new job that will take up less time and be less stressful.

I am moving to place with no residential high-speed internet.

Holy crow that thought scares the hell out of me right now. At this time next month I'll be in the land of dial-up, and a spotty 3G network.

But! It is also a beautiful place with tons of outdoors activities and a good art community. I'm hoping that the lack of high speed internet will hurt just a little and then I can get back to doing What Makes Me Me. I think that the withdrawal will sting, though. But at this point - when I'm online/connected all freaking day long and I sleep with my android on my pillow at night - I think that it'll be a good thing for me to back up and revisit my priorities.

Seriously, I fear this more than I feared quitting smoking and caffeine. But I think it'll be for the best. I keep saying that. I need to convince myself of it. It's all for the best. Yes.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:48 AM on July 16, 2011

Sign up for a 5k. Then train for it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:52 AM on July 16, 2011

Yeah, I'm there with you. Yes, I consider it a problem. No, you're not abnormal -- it is a very common problem these days.

However, I also read books on the internet and on my computer, so I haven't gone "off reading" quite so far as you have. I've downloaded all of the ereaders (kindle, nook, adobe, whatever will open an ebook) onto my computer so if I get bored with the interwebs (and yes, they get old, quickly) I can pull up a book and read without having to put the computer down.

But, I also put the computer away at times - I just. don't. open. it. so I can get other stuff done. Like, sewing, and crocheting, and things which do not require me to look at the screen -- reading too. ^_^ I think it helps that my wifi connection sucks at home, but I like to tell myself that I've got the will to set it aside, it makes me feel better. But that's the real trick. You have to just put the computer DOWN and not open it AT ALL to do the things you want to do that don't require a computer. Easier said than done? You betcha. But it can be done.
posted by patheral at 8:02 AM on July 16, 2011

1. Having this kind of problem is INCREDIBLY COMMON. It's so common that I think not having this problem--at least for people who spend significant amounts of time on the computer--is the truly "abnormal" situation. When you get so used to flitting about on the net, it can make you incredibly antsy when you need to devote your attention to one single thing, even if you previously found that thing entertaining all on its own. You are not alone!

2. I'm still working on this, but I'm getting better. I would suggest starting small. Pick something that you know is an easy, entertaining read, and read it for half an hour. The idea is to gradually develop your attention span back to where it used to be. As you get back into the habit of reading, it should become easier to read for longer periods and to read more challenging material without feeling antsy.

If you ever read books or articles on the net, consider downloading what you want to read and then turning off your network so you don't have the urge to refresh your favorite sites.

Consider putting a limit on the amount of time you spend on the internet unless you are actually using it for work. If necessary, buy an egg timer. When time is up, turn off the internet and find something else to do.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:36 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a similar problem to you some days. If I get on the computer too early in the day and I'm not careful about it, it flips some kind of switch in my head where I no longer feel like doing anything but sitting around refreshing MetaFilter. Hours later I feel lethargic and regret it. It helps that my computer is a laptop with a broken monitor so I have to drag it out and plug it into another monitor. Since I can't just flip it open and turn it on, I'm a lot less likely to use it unless I have a specific reason for doing so. It's kind of nice, in that way.

I think a good way to use the computer less is to resolve not to use it on some days. Just don't turn it on and it won't have a chance to latch onto you. I try to use it only when I need it for something or I've finished all of my more important doings. (practicing piano and things of that nature)
posted by Gymnopedist at 8:37 AM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Gymnopedist just described my broken relationship with the internet! I find with reading in particular if I can manage to read say a chapter of a book I'm golden but getting through the first chapter or so is hard.

I try to read places where I don't have computer access like public transit, the bath, coffee shops etc. I seem to be better once a book is started.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:57 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

GO OUTSIDE. Without a laptop. Maybe leave your smartphone at home. Basically have no way to get to the Internet for awhile. Works for me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:12 AM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Limit your computer time and/or designate some time to read or watch TV. Things don't tend to get done unless you earmark some time just for them.
posted by orange swan at 9:19 AM on July 16, 2011

No laptop in bed! I banned my laptop from my bedroom. Moved my desk into the living room. I try to only use my laptop at my desk, although I will allow myself to lie on the couch with my laptop in my... lap. If you live in just one room because you have roommates you can still do this. Commit to only using the laptop in a coffee shop or something.

In my bedroom the only electronic thing allowed is an iPod dock. So music, reading, crossword puzzles, etc. I am feeling much better about things since I made this change. I also do take public transit so I read a lot on the bus and train. Dinnertime is great reading time, too. Put the smart phone down!
posted by pazazygeek at 9:28 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't turn on your laptop one day. And do all the things you wanted to do. Once the laptop is on, there's no way you'll pull yourself away from it to do other things. Tell yourself "no internet until 2 pm." Or go to a park or a coffee shop with a book and don't bring your laptop.
posted by at 9:49 AM on July 16, 2011

Me three. I have strategies, no solutions or cures. This is a "manage not cure" sort of thing. As others have hinted, what really helps me is physical signifiers. When I walk away from the laptop, CLOSE it and make sure it goes to sleep. It looks much less inviting without a screen showing you all sorts of NEW.INTERESTING.THINGS. When working without the computer, put it away so its not on your desk tempting you to fiddle with it.

Also, oddly, my smartphone has helped a bit. It tells me when things happen so I no longer have the lets just have a looksie did anything interesting possibly happen?? instinct, but its not quite inviting enough to suck me in like my computer and its 50 tabs and twitter client and skype and gchat and rss reader and cheese grater.

You don't have to force yourself to read, thats putting the cart in front of the horse. Just give your attention span a chance to rally and put the seeker-of-shiny-things within you in the corner until he calms down, and the reading will come.
posted by tempythethird at 10:04 AM on July 16, 2011

I recently read this article ("How to survive the age of distraction"), which I enjoyed. As the article suggests, no, what you describe isn't unique to you, and yes, we're probably missing something from not reading physical books (but we're probably getting something else out of it too, which the article doesn't go into).

People will probably have their own suggestions, some of which will work for you. I actually just got back from a weeklong stay at a friend of a friend's house where there was actually NO INTERNET (in this day and age: imagine!). Once I got back, I thought I'd try limiting the hours when I would turn on the internet connection on my computer, just to see what would happen. It's day 3 right now, so don't know I can tell you what good or bad it's doing. I still let myself use my phone (with wifi capability) for emergencies (or not), so I'm allowing myself that. Might cut myself off from that or limit it in some way later on, we'll see.

I'm pretty strict about the hours: 11 to 12, 3 to 4, 7 to 8. I'm not even using Spotify outside of those hours, although, as I said, I'm letting myself use my phone. But I think I'll give myself at least a week with these specific hours. Once I let myself say, eh, I'll give myself an fifteen minutes right now at 2 o'clock and pay myself later, that might defeat the purpose of this experiment.

I'm also using my Kindle. I actually find it easier to read books with it, especially big tomes like Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Not that I'm reading it cover to cover, mind you, but the bits like "The Basics of Buying Fresh Produce" or whatever. I also have 600 Practical Chess Exercises and Man's Search for Meaning. Whatever works, I say.
posted by Busoni at 10:25 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are things on the internet that cross over into the real world. Like, geocaching. And you can get your gaming fix by getting some friends together and play boardgames . Modern boardgames are not your grandpa's crappy monopoly.

Also you can use the internet to exercise check out nike+

Also, when I read this post, I thought I'd written it last night while sleep walking. :) I think this happens to everybody. Good luck.
posted by hot_monster at 11:28 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't turn on your laptop one day. And do all the things you wanted to do. Once the laptop is on, there's no way you'll pull yourself away from it to do other things. Tell yourself "no internet until 2 pm."

This is the key for me. I habitually check my email and websites during breakfast— this is fine on a workday, but on a weekend I just never get up from breakfast, and pretty soon it's 5pm and I've done nothing all day. If I escape the trap at breakfast, though, I can do other things all day, and it turns out I can stay caught up on everything I actually care about with just a few hours in the evening anyway.

The hard part is that lots of the other things I might do have some internet component. I want to see if my friend mailed me back about doing that thing, or look up a datasheet, or a bus route, and SHLORP the internet has me again.
posted by hattifattener at 1:50 PM on July 16, 2011

Yep, don't even turn it on! That's the key. I have this problem even more with the television. I turn on the damn thing just for background noise, but then I check out the guide and see that Oooh, there's a cooking show about tacos on after this -- I love tacos! And so on, until it's dinnertime and I hate myself. But I definitely have this problem with the internet, too, and sometimes it's TV and internet at once. I am so ashamed :( I feel like I just confessed to eating an ice cream sundae with french fries on top.

I just moved across the country with my boyfriend. He has a job and I do not, yet. This gives me lots of time to waste, but also lots of time to do stuff that would be really great if I could just tear myself away from the Glowing Rectangles. For the first couple of days I completely zoned out in front of the TV. But now what I do is get up, check the internet (for email/weather/apartment hunting -- just the practicalities of the day, and I DO NOT turn on the TV), and then get the hell out of the house. I only have a bike, so I load up my backpack with a book, a crossword book and a bike map and set off. I'm in Marin county, where there are lots of little towns to check out and great cafes to sit at with a book. I really need to leave the house to do any good reading, and after taking a long-ish bike ride there's nothing better than to sit outside at a cafe with a book and an iced coffee. Getting the exercise kinda clears my head and makes me less restless, so more able to take it easy and focus on a book.

So maybe try that -- start the day with some form of exercise, and don't go home right after. Bring your Thing You Want to Do (a book, a crossword, etc.) with you and find a park or coffee shop to hang out at for awhile. It's definitely working for me, and it's so much better than sitting in a stuffy house with my screens :)
posted by imalaowai at 2:17 PM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've found that setting up a daily reading rule on Health Month has helped me get back to reading every day. It's not quite the same as when I was younger and would read voraciously for hours, but after a while it's gotten to the point where I'm looking forward to doing my reading for the day. I find that the accountability makes it a lot easier for me to pull myself away from the computer and get other important things done.
posted by mindless progress at 7:29 AM on July 17, 2011

I started using my iCal to keep track of my time spent doing useful things. Exercise, reading, writing, cooking, knitting, meditation... these all get pretty little colored blocks of time to show I've done something good that day. Blank spots? That's TV or internet. I try to avoid having blank spots dominate my day.
posted by RedEmma at 8:13 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about setting up some sort of external accountability system that does involve the internet? (The internet is not the problem. Lack of moderation is the problem.)

For instance, make it a goal that you will blaze through a novel/complete an exercise/go shopping for that very specific thing to the end of writing a blog post or composing a song to post to soundcloud or putting together a FPP. It's kind of the reverse of Geocaching (which is also a good idea), that is, allowing the internet to complement real life.
posted by stroke_count at 8:19 PM on July 17, 2011

If you want to start reading again - find short stories.
You kind of need to get 'up to speed' again, and a book of short stories gets me back in the game - and I'm a big reader, but after not reading for awhile? I just cannot finish a novel. I lose interest too fast.
posted by Elysum at 11:54 PM on July 18, 2011

Don't be too hard on yourself. I think it's a common problem, & I doubt if you're becoming a less interesting person.

Some general ways to improve concentration:
* meditation
* regular exercise
* get enough sleep
* watch your diet (some people avoid food dyes, for example)

More specific ways to get back into reading:

* Maybe try audiobooks, perhaps during a commute. They keep moving even when your focus drifts, which I find helps force my concentration. (I thought that the "Hunger Games" audiobook was riveting.)

* I find that group reads help keep me motivated. You can look for one on the internet or join a book club. I regularly read books along with the Pynchon-L(ist). The nice thing about a group read on the internet is that there can be lots on ongoing communication--so you get to turn the internet addition into motivation for reading.
posted by agog at 8:11 AM on July 22, 2011

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