Going on an Internet diet

Living on a college campus for the past year has meant that I’ve become used to having an always-on high speed internet connection. It’s certainly very convenient to have the internet available at a moment’s notice. Furthermore campus-wide wireless means that I’m not limited to working at my desk. On the flip side though, it’s a challenge to make sure that I stay on the internet only as long as I need (or want to). The internet, for all it’s uses (and perhaps because of them) can be very addictive.

I’m leaving for India today and I’ll be away from an internet connection for at least a day, perhaps two. I do have a decent internet connection at home (256Kbps DSL), it doesn’t really compare to what I’m used to. And there’s certainly no wireless. Last time I was home, this situation was sometimes frustrating. However this time, I’ve decided to do a little experiment. I’ll be home for just over a month and I’m going to try to be keeping my internet usage to under an hour a day. ‘Internet usage’ in this case means email, browsing, reading my blogs and feeds and checking Facebook. I can’t feasibly cram in writing posts along with other activities into a hour time slot. But since I plan on writing regularly, I’ve decided that the best thing to do would be to write my posts offline and then copy/paste them into WordPress. Any time I spend looking up links will count towards the one hour quota though.

There are a number of things that I’m looking to accomplish with this diet. Firstly, the Internet is a great information source, but the signal to noise ratio can be dangerously low at times. I’m hoping that under time pressure I’ll learn to be more discerning about what I choose to pay attention to and what I don’t look at. I hope that I’ll be able to use the extra time to do something productive. I haven’t read as much over the last semester as I should have and I think that this experiment will be a good way to catch up and maybe make a new habit. At the same time, I’m going to be looking closely at whether or not having the internet affects other computer tasks that don’t need connectivity. In particular I’m looking to make substantial headway on my research project which will involve a lot of coding. I’m familiar enough with Python that I don’t need to constantly look up the reference docs, so it’ll be interesting to see if not being online all the time let’s me write code faster (or slower).

There are some details that I need to work around. For example, if I get into a conversation with a friend do I need to disconnect at the one hour mark or can I keep talking if I don’t have anything better to do? I’m also certain that I will ocassionally need to look up Python documentation and I’m not sure whether or not that should count towards my internet usage. I’ll be starting the diet from the start of next week after I’ve reached home and had a chance to recover from the trip. I should have the above questions resolved in a week and after that it’ll be up to me to actually enforce my diet. Whatever happens, I should have some interesting conclusions at the end of it.

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Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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