On beating the machine

A couple months ago, this strip came out on xkcd, a webcomic that I read:

(xkcd No. 862)

What really made me stop and pay attention wasn’t the punch line, which is kind of inscrutable really, but the alt-text, which is a thing this guy does where some words pop up when you hover your mouse over the picture when you’re reading it on the site. The alt-text, unusually long, goes like this: “After years of trying, I broke this habit in a day by decoupling the action and the neurological reward. I set up a simple 30-second delay I had to wait through, in which I couldn’t do anything else, before any new page or chat client would load (and only allowed one to run at once). The urge to check all those sites magically vanished–and my ‘productive’ computer use was unaffected.”

I don’t know if I’ve talked about it much, but for a long time I’ve had the same exact problem that Luke here had. I became addicted to the internet—I’m convinced that that’s the best way to explain what happened. Most nights, if I had a computer (which I usually did) and nothing in particular to do, I would stay up until about 3:00 reading things I didn’t really have a compelling reason to read. Mainly it was webcomics and funny things. I enjoyed the stuff I was reading, but the problem with funny stuff on the internet is that even though you enjoy it, there’s just so much funny stuff on the internet. Everyone knows the internet is first and foremost full of porn, but underneath that, there’s another thriving layer of funny stuff. It’s impossible to read and watch it all. But for a long time I tried my darnedest. It was really a problem. It cut into my sleep schedule, and it cut out my interactions with real people. I knew it was a problem, too, and I wrote about it in my journal night after night. Each night I would say something like: “Then I spent too much time on the internet and then went to sleep.” At first this would be accompanied with, “No more of this. I will improve.” Later on it became, “All right, that was ridiculous. No more internet for the rest of the week, outside essential stuff like emails.” And then there were variations like, “I went way over the one hour I allotted myself for internet today. I’ll take it out of tomorrow’s allowance.” But I always slipped back into the same old patterns.

Then that xkcd comic came out, with an alt-text that talked about a solution that sounded downright workable. I had no idea how to implement a 30-second delay like the one he talked about, but I found an add-on that I could install on my browser that does something similar. It’s called StayFocusd. It only works on Chrome, but there are things like it for other browsers, like Firefox. The basic principle is that you give it a list of sites where you waste a lot of your time, and it allows you a certain amount of time per day to spend looking at those sites. There are all sorts of customizations you can do, depending on how much self-control you have and how high your standards are for yourself. You can allow yourself certain unproductive hours each day, when you’re free to visit whatever sites you want, if you’re not too concerned about that. Or on the other hand, you can set it so that to change any settings (like to give yourself more time, or to take some sites off the list), you first have to type a paragraph about procrastination, letter for letter, with no typos and no backspacing. I’ve tried it. It’s pretty much impossible.

It’s sort of a booster for self-control. I have it set to allow me 15 minutes a day. By now I’ve gotten pretty used to not going to all the sites I used to go to for screwing around. In fact, I feel like I may even have managed to get myself to lose the taste for them—although I haven’t tried taking turning off the add-on yet. I might do that sometime in the future, but for now it’s too useful, and my life is too stressful—I always want to blow off some steam by watching stupid YouTube videos or something. What I’m getting at, though is that I feel like I’ve finally succeeded at kicking my years-long internet addiction, and, well, it feels really good.

Speaking of a stressful life! The past couple weeks have been possibly the busiest ones I’ve ever had here. In the last nights, I’ve pulled an all-nighter, then slept for five hours, then slept for 3½ hours. I’ve also slept partway through two classes while napping off my sleepless nights. It’s because my due dates for all of my classes all coalesced in these two weeks. On the all-nighter, I was writing up the results of my analysis of the data from my MAP. It took forever, but in the end, it was cool, because it confirmed my hypothesis, or at least one of them. On the five-hour night I had to write a methods section for an imaginary research proposal, like the MAP proposal I wrote, except that I’m not actually going to do this project. Last night was the 3½-hour night, which was when I was writing a literature review for my class about mapping stuff. All very time-consuming stuff. Before that was more, different, time-consuming stuff. I’ve been pretty much unable to breathe for two weeks. This weekend I can catch up on sleep, and then do things, things that I want to do.

I could write about how I interviewed with Flying Cloud today, or about how I sent off my documents to the government to get apostilles for them, which are basically super-notarizations, so the South Korean government will accept them, or about how I went to the bank because I left my checkbook at Ohio but instead of checks I got $2 bills and then went and bought money orders (but not with the $2 bills). But I’m tired, so I’ll just give a rundown of how cool today was. I went and saw True Grit for free on campus, and it was excellent; then on my way back to my room there were people selling frybread from a window, and one of them was even a Native American (Tlingit, from southern Alaska—I mentioned Smoke Signals and we agreed it was good that I was finally getting an authentic Indian frybread experience); then there was a bunch of standup comedy and stuff. I’m feeling more content than I have in a while. But less eloquent, more rambly. So I’m going to quit writing before this gets any more incoherent. Someday, my blog entries will stop being boring and aimless. But that day is not today.

File under: deep thoughts, technology, computers


Anonymous

History

Aimless and boring? Never. Your laziest writing is better than the very best that most of the world can put together. Never forget that, because right now I assume you are surrounded by egghead type Grinnellians who would have to write well or wouldn't even be there. So your perspective is a little skewed. But, the real world awaits you, and it's very exciting. And I hope those gingersnaps will help your energy level, but I'm also glad you're going to get some sleep, too. Grandma

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Anonymous

History

Don't worry about keeping us addicted to your internet addiction. Just scribble some stuff down and some relative from future generations can publish it all posthumously.

My latest resolutions is to read older books. Next up is G.K. Chesterton's "The Everlasting Man". I am sold on CS Lesis' assertion that "modern thought" handicaps us as we are all blind to the age we are in, and this internet age is a VERY blinding one in my opinion. He(CS Lewis) recommended that ANYONE who reads, should read older books to keep "the fresh breeze of the ages" always flowing through your mind.

Chronological snobbery is a killer.

Dave

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Chuck

History

That's an interesting thought. I haven't been reading much old stuff recently, because a big emphasis in scholarship is to be up to date with the very most recent contributions to the literature. But I do like old books, and I've been thinking of grounding myself more in them once I have time. I've never read John Bunyan, or much of Mark Twain, or Wordsworth's poems, or a lot of stuff like that. Ironic that in order to read this stuff I probably need to finish college first. I'm actually looking forward to learning a lot after I graduate. I've asked a couple professors for syllabuses to read from once I've graduated. So I can learn about ecology and hunter-gatherers and stuff. I actually might have four syllabuses to take to Korea once I finish gathering them… so I'll be taking a full courseload if I keep up with them. Minus the assignments, of course.

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Oxtrox

History

Okay, seriously. Take a full load while in Korea? WTF man! Leave the books behind and put one foot in front of the other, repeat until cultured. Really, you will be in a foreign land and will probably never have that chance again, and you will bury your head in books instead of taking in everything possible?

I know, I'm harsh on you sometimes, but seriously, this is your chance to go out and learn, not sit on your butt and read.

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Chuck

History

Well, of course going out and experiencing the culture comes first. I aim to disprove all the Americans who go there and say Korea has no culture. But once I'm about six months in I'm betting I'll have exhausted all the big things to do in my area, and I'll be left with small things like occasionally playing baduk (if I actually find people to play it with… I hope so, because it's darn fun) and eating at restaurants, plus big things that require a weekend trip or something. Around the time I start hitting that point is when I'll probably start cracking books. And some other stuff, like working on my fonts, learning guitar, and maybe writing a book, if I decide I know enough to write one that I'll find meaningful.

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Anonymous

History

After reading all of the comments about hair on facebook, I can conclude that either you do not really want the korea job enough cut your hair and shave or that you are lingering in adolescents far to long or both. Well which is it? Self introspection may be important here if you want that job.

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Chuck

History

No no no. I expect I'll shave, and even cut my hair if I have to. I'm not going to give up the Korea job because of hair. That would be idiotic. As for lingering in adolescence, what? What does long hair have to do with adolescence? Joe's had long hair for longer than I've been alive. Cutting my hair isn't growing up, and if I have to cut it, I still plan on growing it back out when I get back to the US.

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Anonymous

History

As for Joe's hair. I rest my case. Never use Joe as a reason to do or not do something. There are loftier ideals.

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Chuck

History

Joe's hair is not what got him into trouble.

I know plenty other long-haired men who have done just fine for themselves. We're not freaks, at least not in the US. It's not like the days when any longhaired man was a pinko commie. Now it's just a hairstyle choice, even if it's a slightly more uncommon one than most.

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Anonymous

History

Rationalize all you want but it won't get you to Korea or anywhere else for that matter. However, to be on your side, the USA is a great place to work and live and go to school. How about grad school.

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Chuck

History

I'm not rationalizing. Here's what's going on:

1. I'm planning to go to Korea.

2. I discovered they don't like long hair.

3. I accepted that I would have to change, but complained about it and wondered just how much of a change it will have to be.

I guess you think I'm going to choose my hairstyle over Korea? I don't know. What part of this is making you think I'm immature and not ready to be an adult? I don't get it.

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Anonymous

History

On reconsideration I believe I have been wrong. Do what you want with your hair and love to live with it. If the result is positive - great. If the result is negative - great . You got to decide.

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