Step Away from the Wi-fi

Photo by Vasile Cotovanu (flickr CreativeCommons)
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about social networking addiction. You can see it here. At the end of the post I announced there would be a Part 2—more about social networking addiction. But then a funny thing happened. 
I got busy writing. I started writing more and turning off the Internet more. I made a personal decision that when my husband is home or when I’m away from the computer, I won’t check my phone (unless one of our kids calls or texts). Do you know the average person checks his or her cell phone for messages, emails, etc., every ten minutes?

To be honest, I wasn’t even going to write this follow up post (and I felt pretty guilty about it—I said I would write it, and I don’t like reneging on my word). Then something happened to prompt me to write this second part. I was at Target yesterday, and round about when I was in the shampoo aisle, I heard a voice that sounded like a TV show host or a how-to-show host. After a few minutes of hearing it I got curious, figuring it must be a new Target demo or something. But when I turned down the next aisle, all I saw was a little girl (about three years old) in a cart being pushed by her grandma.

And the voice? It was coming from an iPhone the little girl was holding—she was watching videos on youtube (I assumed), glued to the tube, while she was in Target spending time with her grandmother. And here’s what really bothered me. They weren’t interacting at all. Now, lest you think I am being too harsh, that the poor grandma was just distracting the little girl for a few seconds while she picked out a toothpaste. You would be wrong. I kept seeing the two in and out of the same aisles I was in for about fifteen minutes—and only once did I hear them interact—when the little girl said “Look at this, Grandma.” In her only defense, the grandma did look.

I know a little girl watching youtube videos instead of chatting with her grandma at Target is not exactly like a writer being addicted to social networking (nor is it the worst thing in the world, I realize that). But it reminded me once again that sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. It reinforced my desire to disconnect more, to stop looking at my phone (or email or Twitter) every ten minutes, to focus on real life at least as much as I focus on online life.

But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not quite as easy as it might seem. As writers, we spend a lot of time alone, we’re very contemplative and introspective by nature. We don’t all have our grandmas to chat with like that lucky little girl did. And so—even though I know my online “presence” sometimes does interfere with writing—I won’t give up on it completely.

Still, I had to do something. I considered all the great techniques other writers use—left in comments on my first post about social networking addiction, things like: scheduling tweets and posts ahead of time, tweeting and blogging less frequently, slowing down Facebook postings, increasing other non-writing creative endeavors, unplug from the Internet for certain times of day, work outside the house (like at a coffee shop), restrict Twitter to specific times of day and for limited amounts of time, “disappear” (for more prolonged periods) to get writing done, turn off the computer and get away from it, don’t get online after work hours or on the weekends, take a “digital sabbatical,” cut down on the impulse to “check social media nonstop,” step back while the kids are home for summer vacation, don’t get a smart phone.

So last week I started a new routine. When I’m working on my WIP, I turn off the wi-fi. At first I noticed I would still scroll down to check email—I was amazed at how often I tried to check (maybe every ten minutes, go figure)! But after a few days I stopped trying. I remembered that it was writing time. My word count shot up. I started writing at least double what I had been prior to the Internet chill.

Another interesting thing happened, too. It’s easier for me to manage my time in general. I don’t feel as pulled to do a million things at once. In short I’m more focused—which in turn allows me to get even more control over my writing life. And that hopefully will lead me even further down the path to my goal of being a published author.

What about you? Since you read my first post, have you done anything differently to manage your online time? Are you, like I am, trying to limit your iPhone/smart phone time?

Cheers,

Julia

Comments

  1. Mishell says:

    I’ve been net-surfing way more than I’ve been writing, but I think in my case the cause-effect may be reversed. At 8.5 months pregnant, my mind feels like tapioca pudding. When I try to generate prose I find it so frustratingly impossible that I give up and look for social interaction/comfort.

    During times when I feel that discipline is my greatest challenge, I do make a point of trying to limit my Internet usage, but at this particular point in my journey it’s making no difference whatsoever whether the Internet is turned on or off; I still stare at a blank page and go “duhhhhh.”

    My hope is that in a few months I’ll be back to my normal self, and that will be the time to bar myself from Twitter and IM and blog-surfing. Babies are time-consuming, yes, but I know I wrote/rewrote some of my best stuff when my first daughter was a baby. There is just something about pregnancy itself that puts my brain in slllooowwww motionnnn. When you have about three brain cells to rub together and can’t do much that’s physical, the Internet is a godsend. 😉

    • I think that at 8.5 months pregnant, you should do whatever you want to do — I’m not a bit surprised that your mind feels like tapioca pudding (and you say you aren’t generating prose…. that’s a great description of what it feels like). It’s hard to have faith that after the baby things will get back to normal, I remember that feeling. Then suddenly when my son was like 3 months old, I kind of woke up and thought: “Hey, where am I???” Those old brain cells will come back and the the time will speed up, and then you’ll have another sweet baby to cuddle, too. And meanwhile, the Internet is a godsend, I agree!

  2. Another great post, Julia. I can totally understand why the scene with the little girl in Target was a wake-up call for you. If I had visited my 4-year-old grandson in New Mexico (the long-awaited visit, which I’m back from now) and seen his parents letting him do that, I would have been pretty devastated.

    Instead, I was thrilled to see them setting boundaries. Yes, Atreyu and his step-sister can play their beloved Skylanders and do their Wii with the cute little purple dragon. But they also have to turn that off and go outside to play. Atreyu did old-fashioned things of his own accord (like using crayons in a coloring book) as well as computer games (which he was very good at). I’m proud of my daughter and son-in-law for providing that kind of balance.

    To answer your question: Yes, since I read your post I did do something different. I went on vacation and stayed off social media the entire time (except for some Twitter the first day, when I couldn’t resist tweeting from New Mexico from my travel blogging Twitter account). And since I’ve been home I’ve barely done any social media. True, that’s because I’ve been sick. But, still. Your post had an impact on me. I could have tweeted while I was sick … but I kept thinking about your post and I let myself rest instead.

    There’s no saying how addicted I’ll become again once I feel better (and I am making a big push to market my services for writers, so that will partly justify it). But you’ve definitely got me thinking about how to balance things moh bettah. :~)

    P.S. I don’t own a smart phone and my email does not go to my cell phone, so that’s one problem I don’t have.

    • It’s amazing how just getting out of the routine of social networking — as with your vacation and being sick (sorry, hope you feel better!) — gives us the necessary break to see how “addicted” we are. I’ve been through that too. For me, it’s really necessary to re-balance things, whether I go kicking and screaming or not! It is much different, I’m sure with writers like you who must rely on social networking for business reasons; I’d have to get a lot better at self control or scheduling things or something! (p.s. as much as I need to restrict my iphone use, I still wouldn’t be able to part with it, but I won’t be watching videos at Target — and I’m with you, proud your daughter and son-in-law are achieving that balance with their kids!)

  3. Like Fear of Writing, I don’t have a smart phone, so I can only check e-mail at my desk. When I am at my desk, though, I feel pretty tied to the Internet. When I bought a netbook for writing, I didn’t increase the memory like the guy in the store suggested, so the Internet is very slow on that computer. I can check e-mail on it if I’m out of town, but I’m not usually tempted to go online. And I can carry it with me to write wherever I go… out in the garden, at a cafe, on the couch… I really love it.

    • Now that is a very smart move, Shary! To have a netbook designated for writing that isn’t powerful enough for the Internet — genius! It’s funny that you take it to so many places to write. I have a laptop and I almost never leave the dining room table with it, isn’t that crazy? Maybe if I mixed it up a little, like you do, I’d be more distracted by my surroundings and less likely to go on the Internet. Great ideas, thank you!

  4. Ann says:

    Hi Julia….It is SO easy to be on your smart phone often. I have an iPhone and love it and use it frequently. However, since I’m no longer blogging – I’m not on the computer nearly as much. Although I have to say, I do enjoy Instagram!

    • Hi Ann! I love my iphone too… a little too much, maybe. I can well imagine that if I stopped blogging my internet use would go way down — it’s a huge time commitment, isn’t it? As for Instagram, I love it too (although not on it too much), and I love your photos!

  5. That is such a good idea. I forgot I can turn off the Wi-fi. I was feeling the same way around the time of your last post, and I have since un-subscribed from about 5-6 blogs. They were all very good writing blogs, but I felt obligated to read them, which sucked up more time. The second thing I did was get rid of the FB app on my phone, so I can’t just hit the button anymore. We’ll see how long that will last, but it’s good for now.

    • I’m glad you like the idea, Christina! Like you, for a long time I forgot I could turn off the wi-fi on my laptop. It’s such a perfect way to curb my usage, and I hope it works for you. It’s absolutely incredible how much time the blog reading takes up — so I doubly appreciate your time to read (and especially comment on) my post. As for FB, I rarely check it on my phone, so thank goodness that’s one habit I don’t have to break. It is amazing how these little social networking habits creep in without us realizing it! Good luck with the wi-fi, let me know how it goes!

  6. Pet says:

    The best thing is to set the iPhone into Airplane Mode!
    I cannot agree more. Checking constantly on the iPhone is about the worse of the addictions one can get. Where is the Office of the National Drug Control Policy now! :-)

    • Hi Pet! I’ve never tried airplane mode, I’ll have to try that. Yes, it’s almost to the point that there will need to be a national task force to address internet addiction — I know you were half joking, but it is pretty serious, especially when vehicles and texting are involved, right? (p.s. nice to see you! hope you’re having a lovely summer!)

  7. So ironic that you’ve posted this Julia, as I’ve just decided that I have to cut back on my social networking time and set up a routine for my writing. I’m allowing myself certain small chunks of time first thing in the morning (literally, now, as I write this), a bit at lunch time, and then again in the evening. Otherwise, I am logging off! I have done the same as you, scrolling down to look! We do need to interract more in real life don’t we? That’s a really sad story about the little girl and her grandma, and it is indicative of society today. I think as parents/grandparents, we all need to do our bit to make sure that this doesn’t become the norm and that our kids and grandkids grow up with the diversity we had and with social skills that they can use as adults.

    • It does seem to be a trend, doesn’t it, this cutting back on social networking, Internet, commenting, etc.? It definitely has its ups and downs. Right now the down is that I just wasn’t making enough writing progress nor sufficiently plugged into my actual real life (I mean, I don’t want to turn into the Target grandma/little girl situation and have someone blog about me!). I’ll be so interested in how your scheduling works. I still don’t have it completely under control yet, of course, so I’m always looking for more tricks — so keep me posted. Good luck with the no-scroll-down effort! :)

  8. Great post, Julia. I like the honesty.
    For starters, I don’t carry an iphone. Everyone keeps trying to get me to get one, but I don’t think I’d enjoy the intrusion of having to answer emails from clients when I’m out. Right now I keep that activity scheduled to certain times of the day. They know they can call or text me if it’s urgent, which it hardly ever really is.

    “As writers, we spend a lot of time alone, we’re very contemplative and introspective by nature.”

    A very true statement. And I realize that this aspect of our personalities is the very thing that fuels my writing: if I don’t get this ‘alone time’ in my head, no writing comes out of me later. I think a lot of us create in our daydreams and musings, as much as when we sit down to actually write.

    Someone did a post a while back, I think it may have been Natalia. It was a post about feeling like a whole lot of things were going on elsewhere, and we were missing out on them. When I was younger I used to feel this way quite often, but as I got older I realized that really, if it’s not going on right here, right now, it just isn’t of paramount importance to me. I know that probably sounds egotistical, but it’s actually the opposite, because by extension, when we are with our friends (like reading and posting a comment on their blog :-) ) they truly know they are important to us, and we are not just keeping tally.
    Love this post. xoxo

    • So glad you loved the post, Cynthia, and that you can relate! I agree with you — the introspective alone time does fuel my writing, no question. And as an introvert I don’t need a lot of social time. But when I do, especially when it’s on the internet, it seems to derail me. I don’t think your comment (about worrying you might be missing out) was egotistical at all! As you say, quite the opposite — you’re choosing what to focus on and making that a priority. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this post — it means so much to me! xoxo back :-)

  9. Lisa says:

    Julia,

    This is really interesting and made me think of an essay I read somewhere about how we really aren’t capable of multi-tasking in the sense of giving equal quality work to more than one task at a time. However, we think we are, because we live with multiple windows open our computers, constant e-mail distractions, and other forms of technology while we juggle our multiple tasks.

    Anyway, while I am not getting much writing done at the moment (for many reasons, including self-doubt) I am now at a place where I simply don’t have as much access to the internet. My connection is spotty at best, and my phone battery dies if I am online too long. But, although I feel a little guilty each morning when I delete the blog posts that have gathered in my e-mail box rather than reading and responding to every one, I am actually feeling good about the disconnect. If I could only get over my fear of writing, all would be well.

    Lisa

    • I’ve heard that very same thing about multi-tasking! I actually saw a news program about it once — so very interesting that people think they’re doing more when multi-tasking but that in fact we’re accomplishing less. That aside, I’m sorry you’re going through this period of self doubt. I’ve gone through that myself in spades recently — part of the reason I want to redouble my effort to curb social networking. I’m feeling good about the disconnect too (sorry you feel a little guilty, I know that feeling, too!), and I’m crossing my fingers for you that the fear of writing is short lived as it’s been for me … all I can say is what worked for me: making myself write through the fear even though everything I wrote sounded trite to me. Hang in there, Lisa!

  10. I know I’m going to sound like a broken record because I’ve broadcast this on your blog and many others relative to social media, but I seriously think that technology/social media creates some kind of physiological reaction in the brain. Because, just like you, I’ve noticed how much more focused and grounded — and less ‘frenzied’ I feel when I stop social media cold turkey. Maybe it’s because I’m not thinking in 140-character, short, snipped soundbytes, or not rushing 100 MPH to read other blogs, write my own, etc. I feel like I can “breathe” finally. [That’s why your blog is the first and only I’ve been on this week, as well. And now, right back to writing!]

    Some people seem to be able to manage social media with creative endeavors better than others. I wish I were one of them. But for me, creativity simply doesn’t occur when I’m “plugged in.” Period.

    And the iPhone, while I love it, DOES contribute to the constant email checking, which is SO counterproductive to creativity. I have started turning mine OFF completely during writing. The buzzes and beeps are just too tempting.

    • I think you’re right about a physiological reaction — probably very similar to gambling addictions I’m guessing from the studies I’ve looked at. I absolutely love the less “frenzied” (as you say), more peaceful feeling from the wi-fi being disconnected — and that in itself is a bit addictive, I admit. Thank you for commenting on my blog, Melissa, in your brief Internet journey today! Now I, too, should get back to writing!

  11. CMSmith says:

    I was going to comment on your blog post, but then I saw that you had turned your wifi off, so I didn’t. :)

  12. I can’t say that I’ve changed my schedule much over the past two weeks, although I have found out about a service called RescueTime that’s supposed to help with this exact problem. Porter Anderson tweeted about it, and I’ve been “using it” (you don’t do much; it just monitors your activity) for a bit. I haven’t quite decided yet if it actually helps — and I still have to learn how to best implement the feedback — but it’s worth a shot if you’re still wanting to cut back: http://rescuetime.com/ref/448262

    All of these smartphone comments are reinforcing my decision not to get one!

    • Thanks so much for the tip! I will definitely need to check out RescueTime (haven’t heard of it before, so thank you very much!)… I wonder if it’s available as an app for my iphone :-)

  13. It’s frightening how often I check my phone for email, Twitter, or FB news. Last weekend I decided I wouldn’t turn on my computer even ONCE, and it was wonderfully liberating not to get stuck on it for hours, but I did notice that I’d sneak quick peeks here and there on my phone. Still, that’s better than nothing, right? 😉

    Yesterday, since my husband’s on vacation, I cleared my schedule and we went tubing down the river to 2-3 hours. Then we tried this quirky sandwich shop in town. I left my phone in the car the entire time and didn’t miss it, not even a little bit. I’ve realized that when I’m experiencing new things and “seizing the day” I don’t even think about social media. I know not every day can be a river tubing adventure, but maybe it’s all about finding the adventure in the mundane, small moments.

    And I completely agree with you that it’s so much easier to focus with the WIFI off. So glad you’re reconnecting with your writing!!!

    • I think you hit on two things I’ve realized too, Natalia. First, that it is absolutely liberating to be free of social networking even for half a day to a full day. It feels weird at first but then it’s positively wonderful. (And I agree, a few peeks are definitely better than constantly checking!) And second, when I can be with my husband or my kids, I so prefer to be phone/message/email free. I never think about what I miss when I’m away and spending time with them. But when I don’t turn off the social networking when they’re around, I always feel like I’ve missed out by not being fully present with them. As you say, it’s all about adventure in the small moments — and even in enjoying the mundane.

  14. Lisa Ahn says:

    Ugh, I think I’ve actually gotten worse in the last two weeks! I’m going to use you as inspiration. Must turn off email, must turn off email. Thanks Julia!

  15. I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to reconnect with your WIP. I think sometimes we need a subconscious break to work out story bits. While you’re doing other things your mind is still processing the details of your story. Kind of like how REM sleep is supposed to work out things you encountered during the day. :)
    Of course I understand how too much time away can become unsettling.

    Keep us posted on how your story is progressing!

    • The story is moving right along! The absence from the Internet really helps a lot except that I miss chatting with everyone — so although I’m banking plenty of wordage toward first draft (over 25K words), I’m feeling pretty isolated and lonely. Sigh. Now, if I can just learn to balance better, maybe I can have the best of both worlds!

  16. Wonderful post, Julie, and way to go for unplugging from the Internet! :) I am having trouble lately as weddings and out of town trips have thrown my schedule for a loop, but I am determined after the 4th to get back on track. Thank you for helping me through this post!

    • I know what you mean about special events throwing schedules for a loop. I’ve found that those times are my very most challenging to keep focused and stay on task. I know that come the beginning of August, we’ll have a full house again for a few weeks — so I’m really pushing to get the first draft done before that! Talking to other writers (like you) who are also aiming to get back on track really helps! Thank you!

  17. Great conversation here (and the last post on the subject too.) I’m probably about the same since your last post. I DO go through periods throughout the year when I’m better . . . when I read the printed page more and the computer screen less . . . when I write non-blog stuff more.

    AND YES—->”But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not quite as easy as it might seem. As writers, we spend a lot of time alone, we’re very contemplative and introspective by nature.”

    • I know what you mean — the blog writing really pretty much requires high screen time. It’s one of the reasons I may wait another week to blog again as I try to focus on the WIP. I’ve become much less automatic about rushing to check email or Twitter, but I’m still feeling pretty isolated and on my own. Such is the writer’s life!

  18. Interesting post, Julia. I’m terrible at balancing my online time, which means I’m pretty much an all or nothing girl. I’ve been an almost nothing girl for the past several months, and I must admit that I miss the virtual interaction with other writers. Kudos to you on your increasing word counts and balancing act. I hope to follow in your footsteps soon, and find that happy medium.

    • Amanda! I was just thinking about you the other day — wondering how you’re doing, so I’m really glad you commented! I’m not as good at balancing as I’d like to be — but I’m working on it. It’s one of those things that seems to ebb and flow. Some days I can write and do social media and other days not so much — here’s to all of us finding the balance we need to be our happiest and most productive! Great to see you Amanda, I’ve missed you!