What I learned after a few days of attempting to reduce my computer usage was that giving up my cell phone or car would have been easier. On Monday and Tuesday, I went the entire day without using my computer, making some interesting and unanticipated adjustments along the way. To track down a business address, for example, I used a phone book for the first time in ages. I didn’t listen to music all day because I rely on Pandora and iTunes for that. By Wednesday, I started breaking the rules, but I really felt I had to– I needed to communicate via e-mail with people involved in the chapbook reading, and of course none of us had one another’s phone numbers. Despite my indiscretions, I still managed to stay away from Facebook, Twitter, and blogging.
Tracking my reactions to the computer-less days revealed the positive effects of restricting my future usage to set times. I noticed feelings of:
- Contentment as opposed to disappointment: for some reason, a vague sense of dissatisfaction pervades my day when I’m glancing at my open e-mail every few minutes.
- Focus as opposed to distraction: wedded to the idea of being “always connected,” it’s hard for me to complete a task efficiently. While hiking or running with my son and dog, freed from the compulsion to look at my iPhone, I just enjoyed being in nature.
- Productivity as opposed to idleness: I accomplished quite a few tasks I’d been procrastinating on for weeks because I often wiled my son’s naptimes away doing supposedly necessary computer-related work.
- Anticipation as opposed to boredom: I looked forward to using the computer for a limited time later in the evening rather than feeling subtly let down by the inadequate entertainment value of leaving it on all day.
- Efficiency as opposed to inefficiency: When I did get on the computer to do my online coursework and catch up on e-mail, I was quick about it; I got done what I needed to do without lingering and browsing unnecessarily.
While I don’t think it’s necessary to always be as restrictive about my computer use as I was on Monday and Tuesday, I find value in a few principles: first, limiting my computer activity to two hours per day or night and using it only when my son is asleep seem like appropriate restrictions. Second, under-using the iPhone’s browsing capabilities helps me stay in the moment when I’m away. Third, leaving the computer shut down while I’m not using it frees me from the compulsion to use it constantly. Fourth, social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter are, for me, best enjoyed sparingly, otherwise a strange feeling of social anxiety creeps in. Finally, using the computer with a purpose is not only helpful, but necessary: if I know what I need to accomplish on the computer before I switch it on, I’m less likely to waste hours surfing or doing goodness knows what else.