Inside the Internet impulse

A 2005 salary.com and America Online survey found that the average American worker admits to frittering away more than two hours per day online. Over the course of a year, that adds up to financial losses in the tens of billions, nationally.

by Laura Orsini — 

Much is being made these days about the proliferation of Internet porn, and the destruction left in its wake. But who needs porn? For an information junkie, the whole Internet can be as addicting as pornography or any hard drug. And we are not referring to things like e-mail, IM, games, chat rooms, forums, shopping or quizzes, not to mention all the social networking hangouts like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. Who needs any of those frivolities when sites like NYTimes.com, salon.com, IMDB, wisdomology.com, biography.com and Wikipedia are out there? We are strictly talking information here, and the Internet makes our access to it virtually endless.

Information, thy name is resistance

A 2005 salary.com and America Online survey found that the average American worker admits to frittering away more than two hours per day online. Over the course of a year, that adds up to financial losses in the tens of billions, nationally. But what about those of us who are our own bosses? If a large company is losing many thousands of dollars monthly due to its employees’ Internet distractions, how much are “solopreneurs” and self-employed individuals losing, in terms of time and income, because of unnecessary time spent online?

There is no denying the value of the Web. Who can imagine going back to the days of encyclopedias or libraries to find answers to our questions, big and small? The problem is no longer that information is hard to come by; rather, there is now so much available that sifting through it can be a real challenge. For those of us who are constant learners, more information is not always better; it can actually become a liability when we allow it to serve as a distraction and a means to foster our resistance.

According to Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, “Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work. … Rationalization is Resistance’s spin-doctor. … Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.” Is your online research a true need, or simply a rationalization?

Ways to streamline Internet use

Searching can be easy if you know precisely what you are looking for and use exacting, qualifying search terms. Utilizing quotation marks around your keywords helps delimit your search, as does adding geocentric, gender or industry-specific parameters. But things can get challenging if you are researching a more general topic. What if you are looking for information about broad subjects like marketing, self-esteem or spirituality? The wider the sphere of your original search term, the vaster your results will be and the more time you will spend poring through them.

How many times have you been looking for something specific, found a site with that information, followed a link to another highly useful site or article, followed yet another link, and looked up to find that two or three hours had passed without your realizing it? Steve Cebalt, of http://nonprofitprforum.blogspot.com, calls this “accidental research.”

Want to know how much you may have let your Web use get away from you? Look at your bookmarks. Have you bookmarked every other page from every search for the last six months? Are your bookmarks arranged in an order that makes sense, or does scrolling through them to find the one you want take longer than it would to do a brand new search?

Techniques for controlling Internet use

I worked in a newspaper library back in the mid-80s, and the public would call us with all kinds of crazy questions and bar bets, things for which they would now simply go online: How do you spell Schwarzenegger? What are the names of the Seven Dwarves? How many strikeouts did Cy Young throw? So we had a rule: if it took less than five minutes to find the answer, we would do the research for free. Anything taking longer than five minutes required a credit card number at a rate of $50 per hour. You can do something similar with your searches.

Limit the time you spend on your research. Set a timer — if it takes longer than five or 10 minutes to find the answer, perhaps a reevaluation is in order. Do you really need that piece of information? Is it critical or is it just a way for you to procrastinate and dither around?

Set aside your questions and do all your research at once.  Schedule a regular time each day, or every other day, to do your research. Give yourself permission to go crazy during this time — but set time boundaries and be sure to stick to them. If it helps, schedule meetings, phone calls or other must-do events on either side of your designated online research time to ensure you adhere to your limits.

Weed out your subscriptions. Newsletters are prolific; chances are you are subscribed to a few. Set up folders within your e-mail program for your subscriptions so they no longer clutter your inbox and you can find and sort them easily. Set aside regular time for reading and deleting. Once every few months, go through your subscription list and cull the ones you do not read or that take up a disproportionate amount of your time.

Use a phone book or dictionary. If simply venturing online can lead you down the road to distraction, virtual phone directories and dictionary.com may not be your best allies. Know your own boundaries and limits; if need be, go back to keeping physical resources on hand.

When time-wasting crosses into addiction

For many, the time we spend online can serve us, although almost all of us occasionally find ourselves piddling away the minutes and hours. For others, Internet addiction is a serious and troubling problem. Dr. Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, has developed a test to measure mildly, moderately and severely addictive Internet use. Visit www.netaddiction.com/resources/internet_addiction_test.htm to see a 20-question version of the test. If you have moved beyond the category of simply loitering and lingering online, into the arena of addiction, you will likely need to work with a behaviorist to help you manage the problem.

Ultimately, you are the chief decision-maker when it comes to how you spend your time. If you are self-employed, particularly, time is money. One way many of us can improve our time management is by learning to master our use of the Internet. In this way, we can control the tool, rather than having the tool control us.

 

Laura Orsini is a professional editor, writer and marketing advisor with a BA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Arizona. laura@writemarketdesign.com or 602-518-5376 

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 4, August/September 2007.

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