When I was a freshman in college, one of our required “general education” courses was titled “Mechanical Bride.” Gen Ed was, as a rule, considered to be a colossal waste of time. This course consisted of three professors, who took turns speculating on the future role of the computer in our lives. In 1984, we were the first freshman class required to compose class papers on a computer, and to that effect, we were given free access to a room full of TRS-80 machines. It was the kind where you had to slide a large floppy disk in to make it go, and heaven forbid if you forgot to save your document before you pulled the disk out again! We were allowed to use dot matrix printers for rough drafts, and there was always a line for one of the two daisy-wheel printers, where we printed our final copies. Two years later, a geology professor required us to get our assignments by going to the basement and typing a password into a machine with a three-line gray screen. The assignment was printed out by the dot matrix printer that sat next to it. It was a precursor to e-mail.
I had thought, back then, that my professors were vastly over-exagerrating. There was no way we were going to have a computer in every house. Why would we? Why not leave work at work? I had absolutely no desire to enter the digital world. Rocks were solid, tangible. X-ray crystallography yielded results that were easily interpreted from peaks on a print-out. MInerals were best identified under a fully analog polarizing microscope. The concept of programming my thermostat from hundreds of miles away was best left for the well-worn pages of Robert E. Heinlein novels.
How ironic, then, that I am an internet addict. Access to various forums is easy via devices that are both portable and ubiquitous. Just as I never thought I’d ever become a self-employed writer, I had never thought that I would set a kitchen timer to monitor my FaceBook browsing, only to ignore it’s annoying beeping, only to dive into yet another inane article or a cute video. Novels are not written by browsing social media. What I needed was an enforcer. As I realized this unpleasant fact, I noticed that one of my favorite authors seems largely absent from all the social platforms where we used to brush word against a word in the past. Today, I found out why. His blog appeared on Goodreads – he now utilizes software that blocks problematic and addictive websites during work periods, and permits only certain daily allotment of time for these escapist time-sinks. He writes that he had never been happier.
A quick search indicated that every browser has a quick, free add-on that functions as an Internet nanny. I got them downloaded, installed, and I tagged my poisons of choice. Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, LiveJournal, DeviantArt… all locked away. I can check my web mail before or after my official, self-imposed working hours. And I better not take more than 60 minutes. If I do, the screen will turn to a big white page with white letters. “Shouldn’t you be working?” The screen asks when I run out of time.
Electronic distractions lower productivity by 30%, I am told. Even the anticipation of a text coming in can ruin the flow of a productive writing session. If you want to feel “in the zone,” I recommend you give these extreme measures a try. You have nothing to lose, and you might even get most of your life back.