Cold Turkey

addict |ˈadikt| noun a person who is addicted to a particular substance, typically an illegal drug : a former heroin addict. • [with adj. ] informal an enthusiastic devotee of a specified thing or activity : a must book for the crossword-puzzle addict | a self-confessed chocolate addict. ORIGIN early 20th cent.: from the obsolete verb addict, which was a back-formation from addicted.

I think I have a problem. Owning up to it has been difficult; in fact, if I weren’t the age I am I might have needed intervention to acknowledge the issue. I’m not talking about drugs or alcohol here, I’m talking about email and Internet addiction, a relatively new malady that has cropped up since high-speed hit us all several years ago. I am probably not alone, although finding an online support group seems like feeding the beast. I’m going to have to fight this on my own, I think. Cold turkey, as they say.

The ridiculous part about this is that it hasn’t been that long ago that I had no internet connection at all. I was thrilled when the first phone line gained me a whopping 1500 bps. It took ten minutes to download mail and god forbid that anyone should send me a photo. Now I have satellite, which is not exactly high-speed Internet, but it’s as close as I’m going to come to it. With this has come a plethora of connectedness that is driving me insane. So, I need to break the habit. But first I had to figure out why I might be addicted to my mail and social networking sites.

* Loneliness? Sure that’s part of it. We live in Costa Rica and my family lives… well, all over the place, but not here.

* Boredom? Yes. But that is part of the above problem. (I’m beating around the proverbial bush here…)

* Low self-esteem? Maybe. I know I do feel good when people want to converse with me.

* Inability to concentrate? Yes. I’m trying to write a memoir and focusing on it is sometimes hard. No, it’s hard all the time, and it’s far easier to “look something up” online and then, hey, there’s an email from so and so. It’s endless.

But enough self-abuse. What to do about it?

I decided at the beginning of the year that I would turn off my internet connection for at least four hours every day. That’s a good start. If there is no connection my little Mail app is not red, showing me that I have umpteen new emails to read. And, in that regard, I have unsubscribed to several dailies I used to get. In reality it had been months since I read The Huffington Post, Mark Allen, Mother Jones,, or Slate. If I want to read them I can go online and read them there. I did keep a daily Costa Rica online news rag, which isn’t very good, but I kept it anyway, and The New York Times.

Another thing I did was dismantle my notification systems for all but Mail. I used to have Growl, which is very efficient, and relentless. Alerted (in any program I was running) when people came online, on Skype, and when mail arrived, I began feeling hunted. It was overbearing to say the least. I simply don’t need to know all that. I have dismantled email notification from facebook, the one vice I am allowing myself to keep—for now. If I behave and can handle the silence I am creating for myself, I can sign in late in the afternoon and read what my friends are up to. I’ll be tardy for a conversation or two, but often that just proves to me that I really needn’t respond at all.

I do belong to an online critiquing group called The Internet Writing Workshop and I’m not giving that up. I’m on three of their lists and they generate a ton of email, but they are useful;  I submit my writing there and get wonderful feedback from gifted writers.

If I’m going to get anything written on this memoir of mine, I’m going to have to block out some of the other distractions. I do find it somewhat ridiculous that we humans are always looking for more of a good thing only to discover shortly afterwards we’ve become consumed by it. Lots a noise out there. Writing really requires reflection and that doesn’t work well with all the chatter around, or I can’t concentrate, anyway. I can’t even listen to music if it has lyrics. So you know how badly I’m distracted. So that’s my plan and I’m going to try to stick with it.

What are your methods of coping with it all?

  4 comments for “Cold Turkey

  1. 20/01/2011 at 10:56 am

    I’ve even thought of getting another laptop and stripping out the Internet-related programs, disabling connectivity, etc. I do have an AlphaSmart NEO that I sometimes use on trips, which of course not only can’t connect but does nothing but capture text…no programs either. Helpful, but the pull of the ‘net is strong.

    We talke about wanting to disconnect, the online habit perceived as an addiction and therefore slightly destructive, but I can remember distinctly the handful of times at work when we lost connectivity for hours and sometimes parts of or whole days. No one can get anything done! Bunch of people wandering around looking for conversations because the Internet / intranet connectivity is so ingrained in the workplace and in our tasks these days.

    The media blackout I wrote about recently continues (successfully so far) and like you I’m now looking at ways to unplug more. If it weren’t deep winter here, I’d head out more with journal and pen, but even that I’ve doing less and less these days because of the need (perceived or real?) to write everything electronic for editing, etc. Maybe we should start a Wannabe Luddite network for folks who want to return to a kindler, gentler analog life!

    • 20/01/2011 at 2:24 pm

      I suppose media addiction is bit like dieting: we are forced to touch it every day and have to limit how much we ingest.

      I don’t know if you saw my facebook link to this essay, but my daughter posted a link to a NYT article about the subject. It explains a lot about how we get into this situation.

      I forget, do you have Scrivener? The program does have a full screen mode that blocks out the entire desktop, but you are still only a click away from diving back into the pond.

      Fortunately we are warm here and the rains are gone for the itme being so getting out and about is a pleasure. Rest easy, spring is on its way.

  2. 19/01/2011 at 9:43 pm

    I’ve found I’ve cut my telly time to under an hour a day. I listen to the radio at bedtime (for read-books usually). Unless I’m writing a blog entry, no more than an hour a day online. Every few days I tweet a bit, have just about cut out FB. Of course, I’m away from the flat most of the day, and evenings, or have company here. I no longer read news online (or in print or watch it on the telly) … if something important happens, I reckon someone will phone or tell me in person.

    I’m reading a great deal. Cailean needs and gets lots of exercise and the snow has gone.

    All different from a year ago when I was spending far too much time online.


    • 19/01/2011 at 10:27 pm

      That gives me hope, Ross. It’s crazy how it crept up on me. And, to think I only got the satellite less than a year ago. While I was writing that blog entry I found a gizmo that actually locks out your time online, something called iPrism which sounds too much like iPrison for me to feel very comfortable using it. Why pay for it. Better to yank the cord out of the wall. But I have hope. Getting rid of the flood of email and all the notifications of same will be a good start.

      And look, I had time yesterday to spend two hours in the bank getting that paper I needed… but I got it! and I got a chance to visit with lots of people I know, one of whom lost her lower leg due to diabetes. She said she needed to go to San José and have that “prostatic” fitted. That line alone was worth the wait. I much prefer people to virtual people, but I would so miss reading your blog as well as chatting with you now and again.

      I’m reading a fabulous book right now called Stolen Worlds: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery. It’s like reading an Elmore Leonard or a Donald Westlake novel, only *real*.

      Glad to hear the snow is gone and you are ebbing into summer, or at least spring.

      Give Cailean a nose bump for me. s

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