An avalanche of information
The fact is, with the avalanche of digital information bombarding us from every side, there’s a new epidemic around. It’s called internet addiction – and it’s not a joke. Permanently under stress, waiting for the revelation of something new and exciting that will transform their day – or their lives – internet addicts suffer from feelings of anxiety, inadequacy and permanent discontent, and exhibit behaviour comparable to that of more familiar obsessive-compulsive disorders. Their attention span is reduced to a minimum, their work productivity is affected, and their personal lives suffer. Even if they aren’t so extremely affected, they certainly irritate their friends with their constant phone-checking. This is a real public health problem, and to combat it professional treatment centres are being set up in a growing number of countries.
Psychologist Richard Balding from the University of Worcester in the UK recently presented the findings from a study in which a relationship was found to exist between stress and the number of times people check their phones. Dr Richard Balding said: “Organizations will not flourish if their employees are stressed, irrespective of the source of stress, so it is in their interest to encourage their employees to switch their phones off, cut the number of work emails sent out of hours, and reduce people’s temptation to check their devices.”
Are you an internet addict?
Take a few minutes to answer these questions. Be honest. Your answers may indicate that you should seriously consider changing your relationship to the internet.
1. When you wake up, is the first thing you do to check the internet?
2. Do you feel impatient and nervous if you can’t check what’s happening online?
3. Can you do anything that demands sustained concentration without checking online?
4. Do you think it’s socially acceptable to check your email during dinner with other people?
5. Do you lie to other people about your internet usage and lose track of time when you’re online?
6. Do you constantly interrupt your daily tasks at work to check the internet/watch videos/skim your blog feeds?
7. Do you secretly text while you’re driving even though you know it’s dangerous and/or illegal?
8. How many sites do you check regularly? More than 20?
What can you do to break the addiction?
If you suspect you spend too long online, you can change. Maybe you’ve already made attempts to cut down. But first you need to acknowledge the fact, and then take steps to improve the situation.
1. Recognise that it’s a waste of time. Monitor your browsing habits and discover your prime time wasters. You can do this by tracking your software usage, for example with time snapper for Windows®. Also, stop trying to multitask. We all want to be superman/woman, but it’s been proved time and again that the quality of our work is reduced when we try to do too many different things at the same time.
2. Designate one day a week as an “offline” day. You’ll find it very restful. On that day, you simply do not go online. If that’s too extreme for you, you are allowed to go online but strictly only for work purposes. An even better option is to have “online hours”. That means that you’re only allowed to go online for example for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. You’ll be surprised by the amount of “real” work you get done.
3. Turn off your smartphone during work hours and keep it in your bag or your pocket. The harder it is to reach, the better.
4. Stop using Twitter and Facebook for private purposes at work. Even the co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone, has warned users that spending hours on the site is “unhealthy”. There is no bigger time waster, which is why many companies don’t allow it. Not only that, when you’re rushing to post a message, you may well write something you later come to regret: in a recent survey, a quarter of people regretted posting something on a social media site. So go to your Twitter settings page and tell it not to notify you during work hours. It won’t ruin your social life; you can catch up later, at home, without feeling guilty.
5. Cut down on the tweets. If you have friends who constantly interrupt your work, you can filter their tweets using TweetDeck or Kiwi, or reduce the font size. And if you suspect you yourself are a compulsive tweeter, remember this: at least 50% of what you write is not interesting to anyone else and they probably wish you’d stop.
6. Disable instant messaging alerts to further minimize interruption. You have learned to associate the ping of an incoming message or the flashing icon with pleasure, and that’s hard to resist. So just check your emails at sensible, regular intervals, and stop letting yourself be interrupted.
7. Finally, don’t create the expectation that you’re someone who immediately responds to all types of messages. If you’re enjoying some free time, check for messages later, and then don’t apologize for having taken a while to respond. It’s your FREE TIME, you’re allowed to have that.
The internet and social media are exciting, invaluable tools which exist to make our lives more convenient. Just remember, though: the internet is something you can switch off. It’s there to help you work, to entertain you and to keep you in touch with what’s going on. And remember, normal life was possible before the internet, too!