Online distraction

I spent a weekend recently at the Ecolodge in Lincolnshire, an off-grid cottage in a couple of acres of meadow and woodland. Doop, the Sidney-dog, and I spent a very lovely four days reading, chatting, doing a jigsaw puzzle, snoozing, and walking around the grounds.

It gave rise to some thoughts around distractions and my ability to get things done. There’s no mains electricity at the Ecolodge, so no wireless, no 3G (we turned our phones off on arrival)… No phone calls or texts. No email. No Internet at all.

I was suddenly very aware of my reflex to reach for the refresh button (on my RSS reader, on Twitter, on one of the forums I read) every time I have a moment where I’m not doing something else. Or, more importantly, a moment where I am doing, or trying to do, something else, but in some sense don’t want to be. Something I’m procrastinating on; something I’m scared of; something I’m finding challenging. The myriad distractions of the Glorious Internet are there to help me escape every time I have a difficult moment.

If that were satisfying in itself, perhaps it might be indicate not that I have a distraction problem, but that I need to check how many of the things on my to-do list are really important to me. But it’s not; after half an hour of reading blog posts I rarely feel satisfied, or better about anything much at all. It’s not that there isn’t some great writing out there; it’s about the way I approach that writing, not as a worthwhile thing in itself, but as an escape-route.

After two days of information-detox, I noticed myself feeling calmer, and less twitchy. I even got some writing done. Two days later, though, I could feel the stress levels rising again as I switched my phone back on.

I’ve tried “offline Sundays” before and enjoyed them, but stopped again for no readily apparent reason after a month or two. I’ve tried “two working days a week offline” before, too, and whilst I enjoyed that too, it lasted barely a the fortnight. This time, I broke my attempted resolution of a week off “recreational” browsing about two hours after I got in the front door.

I don’t want these distractions. I don’t want to be numbing my discomfort every time I sit down to tackle a complicated task. I want either to get on with doing that task, or to talk to the monsters a bit and find out why I’m uncomfortable) with it. On the other hand, nor do I want to lose my online reading habit altogether. It’s still true that there is plenty of good stuff out there, and there are friends I want to keep up with.

The problem is that I still don’t know how to manage those things. I’m choosing to see it as a good first step that I’m asking the question; that I’m catching myself when I reach for that refresh button, even if all I do is observe myself allowing the distraction to take over. It’s a start.