Help me get away from the computer!
January 19, 2008 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I am depressed, have elements of ocd, and one thing that seems to fuel both of these conditions is something I can't really describe as anything other than "internet addiction".

Without getting into a debate about whether there is a such thing, I'll describe my situation: I work a job with long hours, but every evening I rush home and immediately log on to browse the net. First I have a number of sites (discussion boards, blogs, sites like mefi) that I must "check" for updates, read new messages, etc. This is a routine, and I feel distressed if I'm not able to do this for whatever reason. Then I browse various timewasting websites - old mefi posts (there are thousands!), deal a day-type websites, blogs of get the idea. I'll often stay up later than I should to get more internet time in, and am tired the next day at work.

You may think that this is not so horrible, but I do this to the exclusion of everything else in my life - I've shut myself off from friends, family, and don't pursue other interests. Obviously my depression is accountable for much of this as well, and I'm looking into seeing a doctor and will be getting on medication. However, at the same time I'm going to try going cold turkey on the computer, a thought which is quite scary to me. My question is simply this: for those of you who have had similar struggles (or even those who haven't), what do you do during the time you would be using the internet? I've thought of the obvious: reading books, watching TV, even playing video games would be better. One caveat: it needs to be something that I can do in my apartment, so, "Go for a walk" does not work. Other ideas, or suggestions in general to help overcome a computer addiction?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Is "have a pet and play with it" something you could do in your apartment? I think I get the same kind of fixation you're talking about - you want something interactive, or maybe even just active. Maybe even something as simple as an ant farm or a fish to start and work up to a more time-consuming pet from there?
posted by XMLicious at 6:49 AM on January 19, 2008

Consider installing LeechBlock to limit your daily time on time-leeching web sites.
posted by grouse at 6:56 AM on January 19, 2008 [7 favorites]

Bake bread. Rewire found lamps. Pick up a musical instrument (and play it). Do some yoga. Make papier mache sculptures. Really, make anything! Good luck! I struggle with similar issues and it IS a struggle because change means getting out of established patterns and, boy, are we resistant.
posted by tingting at 7:00 AM on January 19, 2008

You're not alone - I tried to "quit" metafilter a few weeks back - you can see how well that worked.

Maybe you need to cut off the high-speed at home. A dose of dialup might help. Sometimes it's just too easy to hit refresh over and over again.
posted by davey_darling at 7:02 AM on January 19, 2008

Also, as means of consolation, try to recognize the value associated with your internet time and then try to recognize the most efficient way of achieving this value. I long considered my internet browsing "procrastination" until I began to associate it positively with my ability to quickly solve problems and know the answers to many random questions asked of me... In order to streamline this activity, I exclusively use RSS feeds to read sites and often "cull" sites that are no longer giving me the same value (measured in enjoyment, information, or otherwise) as others. Finally, know that many tasks expand to fill the time alloted to them--you may soon find that you can read a satisfying amount of information in an hour that would otherwise consume an evening.

Good luck.
posted by zachxman at 7:08 AM on January 19, 2008

Find something to do that ends in results. Tingting was on the same track here I believe. ANYTHING is better than the internet (printing your best answers does not count.)

One of the biggest problems for me in an evening of web-lurking is that it only ends in a headache, eye strain, and usually a heavy dose of frustration.

My best advice is to find something even moderately enjoyable to do, and in the end be able to look down at your hands and see something that time has giving you long term.

I do things like paint miniatures, and tho sometimes the actual act of painting can be tedious and annoying, in the end, I've got this cool little thing I can show my wife.
posted by Palerale at 7:17 AM on January 19, 2008

There are two things specific to the internet that may be feeding this.

One is that it gives you at least the illusion of socializing. I tend to spend too much time online when I'm lonely. A regular dose of low-stress social interaction might help.

The other is that it's feeding you timely information from various points of view. For that, books aren't the best substitute (too slow) and neither is TV (too monolithic). I hate to go all old-media on you, but could you subscribe to some good magazines?
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:22 AM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it will be hard unless you physically separate yourself from the computer, just as it would be hard for a foodie to leave a pile of chocolate chip cookies alone if they were sitting right there on the table.

Consider shutting off your home internet entirely or getting rid of the home computer. Find something to do outside the home in the evenings (I know you said that's not the answer, but maybe you're just bored being at home in the evening). Cooking, playing an instrument, or something physically involving sound like good ideas, but I think you need to do something about the lure of the computer/internet sitting nearby. TV might work, but probably isn't much better than the net. Good luck with this.
posted by DarkForest at 7:29 AM on January 19, 2008

Why can't you go outside? It sounds like exercise would help. It would give you something to do, improve your fitness, and would very probably vastly improve your mood.
posted by fire&wings at 7:30 AM on January 19, 2008

A couple of other tricks I've used:

I use a combination of technology tricks to focus what I read. I do the RSS feed thing, and also the Firefox Morning Coffee extension for things that don't work as well on an RSS feed for one reason or another.

I also set a timer: when I come home from work and want to get other things done, I might set it for 45 minutes or an hour, and when that time is up, I'm done. (I might give myself 5 minutes to finish a post somewhere, but that's it, but resetting the timer makes it a conscious choice. I use Minuteur, which is a Mac program, but there are lots of options out there.

Like zachxman, I consider my Internet important to a lot of other things that matter to me (including work-related stuff.) I just also want to keep it in balance with other things. Focusing on what each individual reading choice brings me very so often (I re-evaluate about every 3 months) helps a lot.
posted by modernhypatia at 7:32 AM on January 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

The internet is seductive because it gives you that illusion of interacting with other people, but you really aren't. At least not in any meaningful way. Maybe you need to replace that obsession with a different obsession. I do mail art projects. You make strange things or recycle things and send them off to all parts of the world where they end up in shows, books or blogs. I've had pieces in Brazil and Nepal and all over the US. It's a hobby; it feels a little more productive than staring at the internet. I was looped in much more so when I first got a computer. I get bored more easily now, though.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:54 AM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is something, likely a strong negative emotion such as anger or anxiety, which you don't want to think about. You surf the net and obsess to avoid it. Work on paying attention to your thoughts as you leave work, head for home and what you are thinking about when you get home. Then experience that feeling, even if it is something you don't want to feel.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:57 AM on January 19, 2008 [5 favorites]

I do mail art projects.

Your domain has expired.
posted by DarkForest at 8:06 AM on January 19, 2008

can you get a piece of exercise equipment? i agree that taking a walk is actually a great way to "reset" your brain, but if you are agoraphobic or live in a crappy neighborhood, maybe getting a treadmill or a little home gym or even a yoga video will help. exercise is a great way to discharge your anxiety. or, would you be amenable to stopping at a gym on your way home from work?

i personally love to cook. if you like it, get a classic cookbook and make one dish from it each night.

get a subscription to netflix and make a list of movies you've always wanted to see, or work your way through afi or roger ebert's 100 best movies of all time or whatever.

teach yourself another language. rosetta stone is expensive, but it's supposed to work really well.

clean your house, top to bottom.

i agree that getting rid of high-speed internet might help, although sometimes it does come in handy, so maybe one of those blocking programs is a better solution.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:08 AM on January 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

Oh, that sucks! Thanks DarkForest. Here is a different link about mail art and current projects you can submit to:
posted by 45moore45 at 8:14 AM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Call someone (your parents? a single friend?)

Make things - get some beads, knitting supplies, or little shelves to hang on your wall, or draw, or write in a nice blank book, plan a budget, design some stationery for yourself

Gentle stretching might be a really good idea; loosen your neck and shoulders, work on gradually touching your toes, things like that. It may not make a huge difference at first, but eventually it will probably really help.

If you're not "musical", get an easy musical instrument and dork with it. This can be very relaxing. Believe it or not, a small harp always sounds good (once you tune it, which is easy with an electronic tuner). Ditto a vibraphone. If you get a "real" instrument, it will be a bit more compelling than an electronic keyboard, but the keyboards are very fun! And some of them have substantial feature sets and manuals - what a way to geek out!

If you're at work a lot of the time, then a cat or dog is probably not a good idea, but fish are great.

Finally, I'd strongly suggest making your environment in the apartment truly your own. Paint, do get those fish if you want them, get furniture (easy-to-move furniture), build shelves if you want. You can start with just cleaning and organizing your stuff, if it needs it. Clean the kitchen, get the crud out of the oven if it's there, throw out all the moldy / past due food. Throw out the expired medications.

Then move on to my favorite, painting: pick up some color samples that you like at the local paint store, move all your furniture away from the "sample" walls, put down some drop cloths and tape the edges of the wall to prevent overpainting, and then go to town, paint the samples up there and see what you like. The next day, see which one you like, and prepare the rest of the room for painting. Then, you get to paint the whole room! It's actually a very rewarding activity, and it will help you love your life more because you have a) control of your environment and b) an environment that you like more.

I know it's an apartment. If you're really stuck in a rut, it may be worth it to re-paint with white later if you must. Or, you can paint a subtle color (antique white? Cream) that might be OK. If you absolutely can't paint, then you can still make the apartment a better, happier place to be, somewhere you might strongly prefer over the net.
posted by amtho at 8:30 AM on January 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

It would be good to know WHY you can't/won't leave your apartment - you can e-mail a mod with an update. If it's a psychological reason, like agoraphobia, you would do well to get treatment for it. Therapy + meds have absolutely changed my life.

I was exactly where you were, years ago, and the Internet addiction enabled (or was enabled by) my agoraphobia. I was afraid to leave the house, and hey, I didn't have to, because look at all this stuff I could do online! I was "interacting" with people, right?

When it had totally consumed my life, I shut it off - literally. I returned the cable modem. I e-mailed the dozens of "friends" I'd made online (who I'd never met and never would) and told them I was taking a break. That was 5 years ago. Obviously I'm online now, so I've been able to get past my addiction. I can go on camping trips to places w/o electricity, let alone internet, and not feel that pull. I often don't check or respond to my personal e-mail for days at a time.

When I was internet-free, I got out of the house as much as possible. I biked and hiked and went to the local coffeeshop. I'll take your word that it's not an option for you. So I'd invite people over to your house. Host a book club, knitting club, whatever. Make it a weekly thing, so you're forced to keep a reasonably clean house.

I have four pets, and I enjoy playing with them. I can't say I enjoy housework, but it was a hell of a lot easier to get it done without the distraction of the Internet. I do non-online things on my computer - I've taught myself Photoshop and Illustrator. I have real art supplies but I'll confess I haven't done much with those yet. One of the best things I do for myself is meditation. This lets me become aware of what I'm feeling (like Ironmouth said above) and also helps me to just "be" without needing to "do" something. I've built up a higher tolerance for boredom in this way, which helps a lot when you don't have the Internet.
posted by desjardins at 8:39 AM on January 19, 2008

Have some fun redesigning your apartment. While redesigning your apartment, take this opportunity to throw a bunch of stuff out. It's helpful for both cleanliness and depression to get rid of clutter.

I'd say "read a book," but let's be honest: if you wanted to do that, you'd be doing it. I still say "read a book," but you're going to need something more active to keep yourself occupied. You need to get the ball rolling with your pursuit of activities outside of the computer. You also need to start structuring your day with multiple activities, with some degree of scheduling. It's harder to get sucked into 4chan or whatever when you know that you ought to be doing something at that moment.

Take up a hobby where you have something to show for it: painting, or sculpture. Try out a "prison workout." This might sound like an idiotic suggestion, but seriously, why not get a Wii? You'll be moving around and it's an experience dissimilar from nosing around message boards. After some Wii-ing, you might be more inclined to become a reader of books and magazines.

After you've structured your life and taken some time away from the computer, you'll quickly see which sites were worth looking at and which ones have zero importance whatsoever, and it'll become easier and easier to let the computer just exist as a thing which is useful for some things but not for others.

Good luck!
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:49 AM on January 19, 2008

I have housemates, so there is motivation to go into the living room and hang out/watch tv (both to seem friendly, and because they're fun to spend time with).

An effective replacement activity is cooking - start making elaborate meals after you get home from work, and then not only have you occupied yourself for an hour but you reward yourself with delicious food! Then you get to wash the dishes, and pack an awesome lunch for work the next day, and oh look, it's time for bed.

When I visit my parents house, I tend to read several books a day and the entire newspaper, and often watch some tv as well, instead of spending all my time online.
posted by jacalata at 8:52 AM on January 19, 2008

I've got similar issues...not nearly as severe but I understand.

I've been thinking this lately...the computer is something that I have a lot of control over. For the most part it works, it does what I want it to. Other things are not like that.

My room is definitely not like that. It's a mess. It's easy to keep my desktop (computer) organized, but much much harder to keep my physical room organized. So there is no insentive to sit on my couch and read a book, because it's covered with junk. I wouldn't want to have a friend over, because it's a mess. I wouldn't want to cook because I haven't done the dishes.

I don't want to make the impression that I'm never doing any of these things, but there is a tendency to just sit at the computer when things are bad because it's so easy and gives the illusion of getting things done, even if I'm not.

So I'm working on keeping my room a lot cleaner and doing more non-computer things around the house. It's tough because computers are quite useful, but finding a balance is really difficult.
posted by sully75 at 9:35 AM on January 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I find that one reason I spend a lot of time online is that I just get bored without some kind of input, and television doesn't provide the right kind. So when I spend time doing offline projects - art, making things, cleaning, etc. - I usually do it while listening to podcasts or audiobooks. That way I'm getting that "incoming information" feeling, but am also occupied with a non-computer task. "Listening to the internet" might be a good halfway step for you to wean yourself off staring at the screen, while giving some of these other suggestions a shot.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 9:53 AM on January 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

One way I manage the addiction is to use an RSS aggregator. Put the things I care about in there, and then when I've exhausted what's in there, I know I'm done.

I used to have a bad addiction until I realized it was a disfunctional environment. I quit cold turkey and feel much better now.
posted by gjc at 10:24 AM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Slight derail: is there anything out there like LeechBlock (which grouse listed above) that works with Internet Explorer?
posted by Quidam at 11:12 AM on January 19, 2008

Try coloring fuzzy posters. It's surprising satisfying.

Plan a vacation you're going to take this summer.

Come up with a cool design for a new tattoo.

Do a research project on something random. For example, anatomy of fish. Just go to the library and learn all about it, then put together a little report, complete with pictures from magazines, and a nice binder.

Teach yourself how to juggle.

Get a karate weapon- eg nunchucks, bo, si. Practice it in your living room. Tell no one.

Make bullets. This may not be the best suggestion if you are depressed- but getting a gun and making bullets is a great way to spend time in the evenings (if you don't have children.)

Make colored sand art.

It's hard to muster up the motivation to do something if no one is going to see it. But remember, nothing you do is wasted. That research project on fish you put together, and your nunchuck skills, will come in handy some day. (For me, that day is right now.)
posted by proj08 at 2:03 PM on January 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

What did you like as a kid? For me, my passions then and now are still art and reading. If you're into art, get some books and work through them. I like Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain. If you're into reading, make a list of classics and work through them, or pick a sci fi author and borrow ten books from the library (Anne McCaffrey has heaps!). Our library also has music and videos to borrow for free.

Tidy and organise your living space. As a hobby, this is a little weird, but it brings me pleasure. Again, many books in this area. Throw away any clothes you haven't worn in a year, wash the spots of walls.

Take a course, distance education. Unfortunately, there may be computer time involved, but it would be different computer time.

Learn how to pay Patience with real cards. Learn card tricks. Print off some of these things and do them. Write a journal. Write a book.

Learn meditation, tai chi, pilates (via your dvd). Take up boot scooting. (again, probably available on dvd - hey don't look at me, I haven't touched the stuff, since I threw away that video in the 90s). Learn to sew, or embroider or knit or crochet or quilt. Think about what your ancestors would have done in the down time and do that. Think about what you're going to miss when you've got kids and a partner blah-blah-blahing at you, and no time for yourself and do that. Start on a path of self discovery by working through every self help book in the library (some of these are absolute tragedies and may inspire you to write your own self help book). Learn history and put together a family tree for the UK royal family. See how far back you can go. (hint: you will need a really big piece of paper so maybe use sticky notes and a big wall).
posted by b33j at 5:14 PM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have similar challanges - learning to have "down time" has been a long-term project for me. Practice helps. Role modelling by friends who are good at chilling helps. And as I get better at learning to relax, I spend less time on my time-wasting activities.

I think each person is going to be different in terms of what activities are fulfilling - but what a great list above!

Great question, and good luck! Don't forget to reward yourself, acknowledging the successes when you do choose different choices other than your addicitive behaviors. I've found that focusing on the positive - the times I *do* choose different behavior - has been key for me as I make similar changes.
posted by quinoa at 6:02 PM on January 19, 2008

I've been trying to cut back/structure my internet time better, and increase time spent on other things I want to get done -- creative projects, reading books, getting daily exercise, blah blah. A few weeks ago I was frustrated with my lack of progress, and I hung up two makeshift gigantic, opaque curtains (OK, OK, fine, they're bedsheets) that blocked off my desk and blocked off another part of the room where I'd also usually waste time.

When I walk into my study now, all I can see are the curtains [I'll make real curtains sometime soon] and a small clear space with a chair, lamp, some books, the bicycle trainer, etc. And I've learned that I am, infact, seemingly too lazy to push aside a curtain to get to my desk and computer (!!!) Maybe 90% of the time, I'll hang out in the new/clear space and actually do what I'm supposed to be doing. Right now I'm in the little curtained desk-space to read a bit and pay a bill online -- but I don't sit here for hours at a time anymore, now that it's not as comfortable.
posted by oldtimey at 6:19 PM on January 19, 2008

Be somewhat skeptical of self-analysis. Your computer usage could be a cause, a symptom, or completely irrelevant. I've figured out through therapy that I tend to blame my problems on external factors that aren't necessarily relevant. For example, if I'm anxious, I might blame it on internet addiction when really I'm avoiding thinking about an issue with my gf or something. Or I'll blame my feeling of exhaustion on depression when really I just didn't get enough sleep the night before. Etc. This is where a good professional can be really helpful.
posted by callmejay at 8:41 AM on January 20, 2008

All these suggestions are good, but elements of OCD can certainly override all these suggestions. If you try a few things and still feel those compulsions, please look into therapy. /speaking as an OCD sufferer myself
posted by agregoli at 8:50 AM on January 22, 2008

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