When I started writing it was before social media, before every home had the internet. My parents never got the net while I was still living there and though I did get it when I moved out, the internet was a lot different than it is now.
Chatting to friends was done via MSN or AOL messenger rather than on platforms like Facebook. Everyone used Yahoo as their search engine because Google wasn’t around.
If you searched for anything you got interesting webpages right on the first page. Not tons of ads and some of the rubbish you get now that doesn’t even link to anything you’re actually looking for.
That being said I don’t hate the internet but I have noticed a change. Both in its use and its effect.
Despite the fact I ran several busy Yahoo Communities and usually had about 10 chat windows open at once, in those early years I go so much done. I could write well over 1000 words a day (even on days where I was working full time and maintaining my house).
It was nice to be able to interact with friends in chat or group IM convos together and have a brainstorm.
As the years have moved on I find the internet (among other things) has become a real distraction. Not to mention an addiction.
I had a blog on OpenDiary that was private and set to allow about 10 people to view it. Again this became a small enjoyable community and I had a website that allowed me to meet some great people who became close friends.
Typical Day online
Almost every day I will check my emails. Please note I CHECK the emails but I almost never reply to any or even file/delete any.
No, I seem to like the punishment of checking emails for about a week before getting overwhelmed with the amount in my inbox and spending hours clearing through.
I check my shop. Understandable as it’s a business with orders to be processed and shipped. But I check my shop a little too often and refresh my stats page more than I should.
I check my blogs but until recently was not updating them as much as I should have been.
I check deviantArt though I am almost never in the frame of mind to reply to all the comments.
I check the news. I hate the news, it really depresses me and I could do without it every day. But it’s become habit.
I will then usually repeat all this, almost immediately (after all, I may have received a new email….that I am not ready to reply to!)
If I’m being good I will log in to my degree module I’m studying to check where I should be up to.
Attention Span? What Attention Span?
It has been suggested that due to short bursts of programmes on TV (most 30min shows are actually less than 20mins when you remove the ads) that we are losing our attention span.
The internet also does this and worse, if your broadband takes more than like 10 seconds we are all raging. We will open multiple tabs to check things all at the same time. While waiting for email to load we dive to another tab and check the forum…
I caught myself doing this recently and was shocked at just how bad I had got. Locked in the obsession of finding something else to check.
How often have you spent HOURS online without actually being able to clearly account for your time? We jump from page to page, one article leading to another, the first barely being read before we move on.
For over a year my writing has suffered. I find myself struggling to focus long enough to actually WRITE them.
This is affecting everything – writing, studying, my business, my full time job. I have a lot of balls in the air and am struggling to even focus on them, never mind keep them up there.
What Can Be Done?
Acknowledge – Acknowledging the problem is the first step. Think about yourself, do you do the above? Do you jump between tabs, flit endlessly on the internet, check your phone every few minutes just in case a text message slipped through when you coughed?
Stop – Try and notice when you’re actually doing it. When you realise, stop, pull back and wait. If you are jumping between tasks and not giving anything true focus. Stop. Shut all but one of your browsers, and focus on just one thing.
Waiting or Stepping away – If you find things take time to load, force yourself to wait or step away.
Make a list – Before you go online, if you have actual things to do like checking emails, checking bank balances etc. Make a list then do those things first.
Decide on your time – Do you want to spend 2 hours on Pinterest or Facebook or a forum? If you do, fine but plan it! Otherwise limit your time to say 30mins. Get a timer, put it on and go.
Switch off – If you have finished being on the computer, close it. Don’t leave it “just in case” because you will find an excuse to go back online. The same can be said for your phone. If you aren’t expecting a call and don’t really need it, switch it off, put it on silent, put it in another room.
Understand you might fail – When you realise you are suffering from Distraction Syndrome your brain will fight your attempts. You will find your mind flitting between tasks, trying to remind you all the things you need to do. Give your mind some quiet time.
A Day Without – If you can, try and go a day without the internet or your phone. Even better if you can make this a weekly thing. Or try a cut off such as no internet except between 8pm and 10pm every day.
We writers are living many lives. Characters that are important to us are always beneath the surface. Their stories, personalities, sorrows, joys always present. Add to that life’s responsibilities and everything else, then distraction can be very damaging.
After all we need time and energy to release these characters, to tell their stories before we become weighed down by them.
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