How can I stop spending so much time on the Internet?
June 16, 2014 10:07 AM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm addicted to the Internet. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is go on my smartphone and Reddit for at least half an hour. I live at home and spend most of my day on the computer listening to music and surfing the web into the early hours of the morning.

I go on the same websites over and over again, just waiting for new content show up (it feels like an addiction). I'm so bored of it all but it's a comfortable (yet sad) existence. As soon as I find new content it makes me feel good for a brief moment, then I back to feeling sad. I feel like my web use is ruining my brain.

I'm currently unemployed and am really lacking motivation to do anything. The thing I enjoy most is playing guitar and singing but even then I'm using the Internet to look up chords and lyrics. I used to be an avid reader but books just don't hold my attention any more, I got bored and my mind wanders really easily. Same goes for films and TV shows, I can never just sit down and watch things I constantly keep opening new tabs and checking my phone for notifications.

It just feels like all of my time is orientated around the Internet either through my computer and/or smartphone. Pretty much all of the media I consume Music/TV/Games/Movies is through them and I never just do one activity at a time like listening to music. Reading is the only activity I partake in which isn't on a computer.
I have all these new habits that I want to pick up like running, meditation and self-compassion but I give up really easily or listen to the excuses my brain makes to not maintain these things.

How can I get out of this rut? I miss having a good attention span and I feel really unhappy.
posted by fallingleaves to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
One way to make sure you get out of the house is to sign up for a recurring shift as a volunteer somewhere.
posted by aniola at 10:13 AM on June 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Every time you sit down to use the computer, set a physical timer that reminds you to step away from the computer and take a walk, have a snack, do a chore, etc.
posted by aniola at 10:15 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have had a lot of luck with keeping my phone in a box next to the door. I try to put my phone in the box right when I walk inside so that I am not carrying it around at home. I then give myself a goal - don't check my phone until 8pm - and I only let myself use the phone for a set amount of time. I also took off a lot of the social apps so the only thing I really do on my phone now is Metafilter. No Facebook on my phone has been great.

I used to keep my phone under my pillow when I slept and that means it's the first thing I reach for when I wake up. Keeping it in the box by my front door makes me a lot less likely to just reach for it first thing in the morning.

I shut my computer off fully at night and that helps too. It's a conscious choice to turn the machine on.

If playing the guitar and singing is your favorite thing try to make a challenge of doing it by only using books of chords or by playing by ear. If you don't know the lyrics, make up your own. Write down a list of all the things that you wanted to look up (lyrics for songs, chord progressions, whatever) and then set aside a time to look up those specific things online.

Basically, scheduling your computer time can really be helpful. "I have two hours to use the computer and my phone today. What do I want to do while I'm on the computer?" - this makes your Internet use much more structured and planned. You can put "browse Reddit" on the list of things you want to do, along with the more specific goals like "find out the lyrics to that song I was playing on the guitar last night" or what have you.

You have already determined that this is something you do not want to do with your time and that you want to change it. That is the biggest step. Now, you just need to come up with a plan and try to stick to that plan. Write down your successes and be kind to yourself but honest about when you've failed.

You could even use "unstructured Internet time" as a reward for some of those things you want to take up (running, meditation) - for every half-hour that you run, give yourself 10 minutes of goofing off online. Set a timer like aniola suggests and stick to it.

It's a hard habit to kick, but you want to kick it and that is the most important thing. Good luck.
posted by sockermom at 10:28 AM on June 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sometimes when you're in a rut it takes a big jolt to get you out of it. Try going cold turkey for at least a day, a week if you're brave. I know it's hard to do that with the smartphone because you need it for, you know, phone stuff, but you could try using parental controls to turn off the data and/or you could resolve to only charge it once a day/every other day so that you'll run out of batteries if you're surfing or watching movies. Literally unplug the computer from the wall. Hide it.

It's going to feel really boring, but I think you'd benefit a lot from just having to entertain yourself without your computer for a couple of days. Go for a walk. Make yourself or your family a meal. You don't have to have some big project to do, there's lots of stuff to do, but you have to get away from the instant gratification of reddit, ask mefi, etc.
posted by mskyle at 10:36 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Right know you are SELF focused.
I would definitely follow Aniola's advice and get out and do something for someone else.
A friend, a family member, a complete stranger (through a volunteer organization).

Right now you are throwing yourself one hell of a pity party, and the best way to stop that is to actually help another human being.

Reddit is a fucking time sink. There is NOTHING on Reddit that you need to know. Learn the difference between news and information. Reddit is full of information, but it's empty calories. Delete the app from your phone and from your browser. Delete your account and don't pay attention to all those Imaginary Internet Points that you will lose. Who cares? No one.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and you're going to have to replace all those crappy activities above with something else.

Make a list:
Old Me: Nap
New Me: Meditation

Old Me: Internet
New Me: Volunteering. Sending out resumes. Helping around the house by cleaning, fixing, dusting, vacuuming, etc.

Old me: Movies or TV shows.
New Me: Walk for 30 minutes each and every day

Old Me: Internet All Day
New Me: 30 minutes a day, then TURN THE COMPUTER OFF

You can do this, but you need to put on your Big Boy or Big Girl Pants and do it. Deciding to take action is the most important thing you can do, the next important thing is actually taking that action.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 11:06 AM on June 16, 2014 [14 favorites]

Dust off some old-fashioned devices that might be lying around the house, or buy some cheap and used, and pretend you've gone back in time. Put your smartphone and laptop in a drawer, and see how long you can function with just:
-a non-smartphone that lets you talk (and maybe text) but nothing else
-a radio
-a CD player
-a watch
-an alarm clock
-books (including music books, chord books, etc.)
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:41 AM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Leave your phone and laptop at home and spend some time at a library.
posted by sacrifix at 11:53 AM on June 16, 2014

Hi, you could be me a lot of the time.

I think internet addiction is a real thing but I don't think you (or I) have it. To test: plan a day trip somewhere you won't need your phone (so somewhere you're pretty sure you won't get lost) and deliberately turn your phone off the night before. Inform relevant people where you'll be and that you'll be out of communication for 24 hours and not to worry, you're just taking a break from being hooked in for a little bit. But, bring your phone with you. It's not about removing temptation, it's about having it right there and being able to ignore it in favor of other things. Then see how you did when you come home. Do you sink down and check all your sites with palpable relief? Were you panicked or anxious during the day, not because of your surroundings but because you hadn't checked your email? Did you turn your phone on at all during the day? One thing - it helps to have a watch, and to bring a book, small notebook and pen. Some of the types of places you could go are - a zoo or big easy hiking location, a huge flea market, shopping in a big city's retail district, a sizable art museum, a touristy river cruise. Combine a few of these into a full day of activities, add travel time, and don't turn on your phone or computer until the next morning.

If you do okay with one day not online, because you had a mission and had pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone (your house) and had lots of distracting surroundings, you then need to combine bringing those aspects into your home and making yourself go out more often. Look into free things, try to volunteer (it really does help!) and avoid swapping one crutch for another. (For example, I would not suggest you go drinking regularly in lieu of perusing reddit.)

If you don't do okay, examine if it was because of the lack of online factor, or if it was something else. A lot of the time when someone is using the internet in such a self-soothing way, it's a cover for other problems. In my case, it's depression and anxiety, sometimes caused by social interactions but also invasive thoughts. In your case it might be something else. What are you scared of, that you're avoiding? What makes you angry? What do you want most that you don't have? I know that every time I'm using the internet in the way you describe, it's because I have a new (or recurring) problem I'm just not dealing with. You have to be both more introspective about this and simultaneously push outside of yourself.

I suspect most of your problem is that you're unemployed and don't know how to spend all that extra time you have. I know how that goes. Find places in your town you can spend time in, and don't bring your phone with you. Coffeeshop? Park by the water? Library? Do bring music to listen to (used ipod nano) a notebook to write in and/or a book to read. Schedule it, at least three times a week. Maybe there are local sports teams you don't know about, like roller derby or football or rugby or something that would be fun for you to sit and watch, that would also be free or low cost (and possibly for charity.) Forcibly give yourself structure.

Once you have a little structure like that, look into local musician's resources. There's likely to be an amateur group that would welcome a vocalist or guitar player. Is there a choir, maybe, or an orchestra? Even if they're terrible musicians, the social interaction and focus on one thing at a time will help on two fronts: It will make your mind work in different ways, unrutting it, and it will give you a sense of worth that will really help lessen the self-pity that's rolling off you in waves. If you have enough savings, look into a class. Then you'll really be obligated to follow through so you don't waste your money. But in my experience, volunteer and amateur organizations are better for making myself and my time feel valued.

This is hard. It's so much harder than people blithely declare! It makes me kind of angry just thinking about how dismissive people can be when you say it's hard to fix. But it's fixable, and it's different from just going cold turkey or eking out tiny chunks of indulgence time every day. You have to address the underlying problems. The internet and technology is not inherently bad, but it is a honey trap of easy entertainment, free information, and low-stress interaction that can become a way to block out big, difficult, pieces of your life. I wish you all the best.
posted by Mizu at 12:32 PM on June 16, 2014 [21 favorites]

Aniola is right, go and volunteer!

Also make sure to go outside every single day and get some sun. If you just sit around all day in the house, browsing the net, you might get vitamin D deficient real quick. Read up on it, if this is news to you. If you lack Vit D your mood might gradually get worse over time, up to a point where you lack motivation to do ANYTHING.

I love the internet, but the way you describe it, does not sound like a fun way to use it. Put some tool like Harvest, StayFocusd, RescueTime or some such on your machines to limit the amount of time you sped on the internet and ideally increase productivity.

Tell your mom you want to cook every night this week. It will get you away from the screen, be a nice thing to do and give you a sense of accomplishment every day.

Sign up for some group activity. It sounds like most things you do are solitary but you actually crave the interaction with people (checking an re-checking for new content and notifications). Being around people might boost your mood.
Good luck.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:41 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I found to kick Facebook addicts was to just cancel my account. The day I did that, I didn't really notice after a week and my life got better. Maybe what you need to do is reset your internet equilibrium? Maybe cut your internet subscription for a month and then when you resubscribe you will have developed a more constricted use of the internet. If you need the internet for some business uses, use the library or go to a friend's house ( I wouldn't do sensitive financial work over a public internet) . When you do, your force yourself to have to put several steps between you and the internet and makes easy access harder. Also, many public library's only give you an hour use and then the time limit will help keep you on track.
posted by eq21 at 1:24 PM on June 16, 2014

I experienced this (perhaps more mildly). Eventually I just traded my smartphone in for a flip phone. I don't own a laptop.

I still spend more time online than I'd consider ideal, but these very real constraints keep me engaged in the world, rather than absorbed in the Internet. A quick fix would never have worked for me.
posted by duffell at 5:53 PM on June 16, 2014

I've gone through this, and probably still am. For me it was internet-as-procrastination.

At its worst, I had to take my laptop to a library or some place where I did not have internet access and write up my job applications from there.

Nthing the advice to volunteer plus also to do anything to get yourself out of the house. I found meeting up with friends was pretty effective. Doesn't have to be expensive - you can walk/exercise, window shop, nurse one cheap drink etc.

This isn't a cure, but it can be a small step out of the rut - I set myself one task per day, and made sure I did it before I turned on the computer. Once the computer was on, I was pretty much on it for the rest of the day. When I say to set a task, I don't mean anything that you would ordinarily do (you don't get to say I'll shower then I'll spend the rest of the day online!) but more like exercising, or phoning up 2 contacts to see if they have work for you. Or even reading a chapter of a book. Just do whatever your online time is keeping you from doing. You might find that once you get started on something, you'll keep going. But even if you just do that one thing and get straight back online, you'll still have done that thing. It's better than nothing, and it'll add up.
posted by pianissimo at 8:00 PM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

1. Get out of the house regularly (on a schedule).
2. Leave the phone at home.

Just walk or bicycle or take your guitar to the park. Set a routine that you stick to every day. You always get up at 8:00 and have a shower and get dressed because precisely at 9:00 AM, seven days a week, you walk down to the park with a book or a pen and paper, or you ride your bike along the river or around the reservoir or whatever there is in your area. Maybe you sit in the park and write to your friend far away (using a pen and paper and no spell-checker): "Dear Matilda, I'm sitting in the park and thinking about..." If you absolutely have to know the time while you're out, take a wind-up watch or an hourglass, or sit within sight of a public clock. No phone. Just you and the physical world. And you always spend at least two or three hours doing this. You come back for a good lunch that you do not eat in front of the computer or television.

You could take a notebook (paper, not electronic) and go on expeditions.

Here's one: "Using a library book (not the internet), I will identify all the species of trees I see. I will collect leaves for verification. Describe the bark. Map locations. If anyone asks, I'm doing a botany study or something mumble mumble."

Here's another: "Today I will describe all of the smells I notice. I will look for smells. I will try not to get taken away by the cops, but I might sniff stuff you don't normally sniff."

And another: "Today I will look for interesting architectural details and note them (no electronics) for looking up in the library."

And of course: "Today I will go to the library."

Also, see someone about your depression.
posted by pracowity at 12:33 AM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you live alone? For what it's worth, I find myself doing this when I'm on my own. Having roommates or family close by help alot.
posted by tinymegalo at 11:16 AM on June 17, 2014

I have certain sites blocked in my hosts file to prevent me from going there and wasting time. At work I have self-blocked reddit, metafilter, and twitter occasionally. I still reflexively type "reddit" into the browser bar, so instead of loading the front page it just comes up blank. A good guide to using your hosts file is here

Breaking my reddit addiction is a long hard battle, but I'm winning it, which I contribute to subscribing to /r/shitredditsays for a sample of how terrible the site is, and after a while I become so disgusted I close the browser. YMMV
posted by hellojed at 6:51 PM on June 17, 2014

I'd start by creating a rule where you spend one day per week with the phone and laptop locked in a cabinet from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM. That day will be scheduled with all the activities and/or habits you want to cultivate -- running, meditation, writing experimental prose, cooking an elaborate recipe, exploring your city, starting an Idea Journal, calling an old friend and catching up, going to a free public event, etc.

The world is your oyster. Good luck!
posted by tackypink at 7:40 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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