I sometimes ask my students to do a “media fast,” in which everyone tries to give
up whatever is getting in the way.
The last time I assigned the “media fast,” I had noticed that I would often ask my older son read a book to my younger daughter, as a way of keeping them both occupied while I tried to finish an e-mail or blog entry. So while most of my students tried to give up TV or Facebook, I promised to stop using “the book game” as a babysitter.
Since then, I’ve gotten WiFi in my house, and I know I’m looking forward to getting a WiFi iPod Touch, thus letting me check my e-mail during commercial breaks or while the kids are momentarily occupied with snacks or Legos or swingsets. Of course, this means that I will more frequently be interrupted by coming across the “important” e-mails that demand concentration.
This January, I taught an online course that had pretty tightly enforced deadlines. Starting at 9am, I would grade any late assignments that hadn’t been submitted yesterday, after which I would record zeros for missing work and close out the assignment. Then I would start marking that day’s submissions, taking a break for lunch, and then marking any submissions that were slightly late. By 2pm I was usually finished marking, so I’d start creating the next assignment, and by 4 or 5 I’d send an e-mail that reflected on the day and looked ahead. Then I’d walk upstairs, finished with my work for the day. I would check in again around 11pm, but at that moment, I was truly finished — there was nothing else that needed my attention. My wife was stunned, since she imagined that I’d be online teaching 16 hours a day.
A former student sent me this link about a cartoonist who decided to do something about what happens when hopping onto the internet for a few minutes is so easy that it ends up consuming huge blocks of time. (Thanks for the link, Leslie.)
Over the last several years, the Internet has evolved from being a
distraction to something that feels more sinister. Even when I am away
from the computer I am aware that I AM AWAY FROM MY COMPUTER and am
scheming about how to GET BACK ON THE COMPUTER. I’ve tried various
strategies to limit my time online: leaving my laptop at my studio when I
go home, leaving it at home when I go to my studio, a Saturday
moratorium on usage. But nothing has worked for long. More and more
hours of my life evaporate in front of YouTube. Supposedly addiction
isn’t a moral failing, but it feels as if it is. —James Sturm, Slate