Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2011/ Distraction


For years I have known that I cannot write effectively when I am around the Internet. Whether at work or at school, a composition that would take me an hour at home easily takes me five or six when I am outside the house. I used to think that this was because I could focus better at home. However, I don't think that is the case. I am flighty and distracted everywhere. The difference is the nature of my distraction.

I find writing difficult, and it is getting harder. My vocabulary, sense of spelling, and grammar are deteriorating. Expressing ideas effectively is frustration, and when dealing with frustration my temptation is to give up. At home, I "give up" by listening to the lyrics of my background music, by playing a game of solitaire, by taking a nap, or by getting up to stuff my fat face with food. None of these are great habits, but with the exception of napping they are quick distractions. Soon I have either finished the activity or I am sufficiently bored that I can get back to the task at hand.

Trying to write at work, school, or any other place with readily-available Internet is a totally different story. I still get frustrated and I still give up, but I do so by checking my e-mail, convincing myself that I have to do "internet research" (aka web surfing), or reading blogs. Once I get started on any of these activities I don't stop. I routinely get frustrated, turn to the blogs, and waste two hours of time at a stretch before I finally turn back to work. Then ten minutes later I will get frustrated again.

All of this would be cute except that it is destroying my life. I am chronically deprived of sleep. I have few activities outside of spending time at work. And I am not even productive at work, because I spend hours and hours at work sunk in distraction. I am deeply unhappy and feel stuck and hopeless, partially because I spend so much time at the office.

So why not exercise some self-control? That is easier said than done, especially given that I cannot do my job without the Internet. A good deal of my work involves troubleshooting and problem-solving, and in this day and age that means trawling through a lot of web searches. It's not even enough to split "good internet" from "bad internet" -- I can easily follow unproductive but entertaining research paths when doing work-related web searches, and every once in a while I read something in my personal web-searching that is applicable to work. I have been trying to change and dampen these bad habits for years, and I keep failing.

Maybe it would be better if I had internet access at home. Then maybe I would do less personal web surfing at work. Or maybe I would be on the computer all the time -- at work and at home. Then I would get no respite at all.

I don't think there is a good way out of this. And given that the trend is towards more connectivity, not less, I think it is just going to get worse for me. How long will it be until I am completely unemployable?