Freedom

I have mentioned before how I waste a lot of time wilfing (What am I Looking For) on the net. It is a constant temptation. What starts out as a simple look at my sales figures on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing can turn into a multi-click odyssey in which I scrabble around the whole Amazon site chasing up things that interest me just because they appeared on the also bought list of Death’s Angels. A fact check for my current project can turn into a trail of breadcrumbs which leads to articles on 80’s role-playing games.  Sometimes I am not even aware of how these things start. One link simply leads to another and before you know it you’ve gone from the front page of the Guardian to the home page of some obscure Norwegian Death Metal band. I’m sure you’ve been there. It would be a particularly restrained Internet user who has not.

For a freelance writer such as myself, this represents a terrible hazard. There is no one standing over my shoulder forcing me to get work done. If I waste hours, I have to claw them back later. I can remember, and it is not an illusion, days before the Internet when I was much more productive as a writer.

I’ve speculated before about cutting myself off from the Internet. Freedom is a program that gives me a very simple way of doing it. You install the program, click to start and it lets you decide exactly how long you want to be severed from your networks for. At the end of that time, a message flashes back on screen letting you know you’ve been connected again. I have tried it and it works for me.

Why does it work? More importantly why does it work better for me than simply unplugging my router? In my case, the answer is simple. I am not the only person in the household who uses the network. Ok—why does it work better than switching off the network from the Task Bar of my computer. Because switching the network back on is trivially easy. It’s one click to switch off and one click to switch on. In a moment of weakness, I can easily feed my network addiction by hitting that button. In order to get network connectivity back from Freedom, I need to reboot my computer. That gives me pause for thought. It causes me enough inconvenience to make me think twice about doing so.

There is also the fact that a psychological trick is being played. By switching on Freedom I am making a commitment that it is easy for me to keep and inconvenient for me to break. And the program acts as a timer. I don’t need to keep watching the clock to see how much longer I have to go till I can go online again. This can be a distraction for me all by itself when I am in the mood. I constantly check my watch when I am working to a fixed time. With Freedom I know I will get an alert when the time comes up. The program plays to my deep-seated (if incorrect) fixation with the idea that I can find a technological solution for everything.

I know it is sad that I am reduced to this sort of device to get myself working, but, hey, I am a sad sort of guy. I like the idea that I can cut myself off from the Internet for an hour of solid writing. It makes it easy for me to manage my time too. And I am in good company apparently. I am not the only writer who uses such technological crutches. Nick Hornby, Nora Ephron, Naomi Klein and Seth Godin all use it too.

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Comments

  1. I must admit, I’m aware of Freedom, and I was beginning to think just recently that I really, really might finally have to try and use it. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, there was a sale on Steam recently and I bought Portal 2 dirt cheap . NOT productivity enhancing. Curse you, Steam!

  2. There was a time when I used to give myself a daily meander of fixed duration each day by clicking ‘Random Article’ on Wikipedia five times and reading each that came up. I’d allow myself a few clickthroughs to linked articles without worrying about it too much because generally the randomness was such that, whilst I might find a certain proportion of the articles interesting (some enlighteningly so), I wasn’t very likely to be distracted by each and every one. Yeah, it still took a good thirty or forty minutes of my time each morning, but it was educational and I think the sense of having made a pact with myself made me that much more likely to honour the second part, which, of course, was to come off the internet after the fifth article and actually do some work. I fell out of the habit, and the ‘Random Article’ feature on Wikipedia isn’t what it once was – the make-up of the articles has changed; it’s close to exhaustive now, so quite a substantial portion of them seem to be listings type articles, or very generic information pages on, say, each and every country in the state of Iowa, or on some light rail scheme in a provincial German town.

    Just discovered the blog, by the way, hence wasting a bit of time here reading all the old entries! Ah, it’s easy when you know how…

    • Some awful typos: county, not country, of course, and excuse the superfluous ‘each day’ in a sentence already containing ‘daily’.

    • I like the clicking on the Random Article idea but now is probably the wrong time to test it since I am trying to wean myself off wilfing. I managed 4K words yesterday for the first time in a long time. It was a combination of switching off the Internet and working for longer periods that I normally allow myself to because of my RSI. I hope my hands allow me to keep this up.

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