I started a five-day weekend today—my last bit of time off before I start the full-time job. I am going to miss having the extra time to work on my own stuff that the part-time work has given me. However, I’ve been observing the way I use the extra time I have lately, and I’ve noticed some curious things about my habits.
I made the decision several months ago to spend more time away from the computer when I am at home in order to get more things done. I’ve stopped staying logged in to chat clients all evening that left me tied to the keyboard (just in case someone might want to talk to me, even though it was rare that they did in reality). I leave my laptop in my office where I have to come to do computer work rather than carrying it with me out into the sunroom or the living room where I enjoy most of my time. I’ve even switched the notifications on my phone, so that I don’t get “buzzed” every time I get an email. It just rings for phone calls. I’ve been so much more productive and my mood has been much better since I’ve made this change.
But I still notice that I get twitchy when I’m away from the computer for very long. I still check my phone to see whether I happen to have messages way more often than is necessary (since most of the time there are none). I make excuses to come check email/Facebook/Twitter/RSS feeds/blog stats quite often (sometimes multiple times an hour unless I’ve really gotten involved in something else—like a good book). I even check my phone for messages when I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. It’s the last thing I check before bed and the first think I check when I wake up. Since there is so seldom anything new updates of importance on any of these communication channels, this is truly odd behavior. And it has therefore gotten me curious. Why do I do this?
My initial theory is that although I am an introvert, I am perhaps lonelier than I admit to myself, and my constant checking was a way of feeling connected to the outside world. That sounds like a very reasonable explanation, but it doesn’t seem to fit the data. In fact, it doesn’t fit at all with most of these items because I am not receiving personal communications there. It is just the usual daily emails I get from organizations I have signed up for, blog updates for the many blogs I follow, and mundane chatter on Facebook and Twitter. Even the blog and Etsy stats are so slow that checking them is more likely to depress me than anything. And I don’t feel the slightest big lonely most of the time.
It is more likely that I am looking for reminders that I am not invisible. It’s not that I want company; I just want to know that I have some significance of some kind. I want to know that I am making a difference, and right now, those are the only measures I have, weak as they are. This desire to know that I matter makes more sense to me, and I think that this is a part of the motivation, but I am well aware of how unlikely this is to be a clear indicator of my worth or my value, so I don’t think that this is the primary motivator.
I think the real issue is that I am afraid that I will miss something important. What if there is some bit of news, an actual bit of personal communication, some exciting quote/picture/link that I will miss seeing right away? When I am unplugged, I am afraid that the world is moving on without me and that I am “out of the loop.” Without TV or radio input, my online channels are the only place where I am connected to news and the larger world.
I read a study not long ago that said that our brains react to updates to social media the same way that addicts react to their addictive substance of choice (I wish I could find that study again to link to it, but I don’t have it accessible at the moment). Each new update/email/Tweet/RSS count is another “hit” to that addiction center in our brains. This feels more like what I am experiencing. I feel like a lab rat that is hitting the lever (refresh button) over and over again hoping for the next “hit.” Surely if I hit refresh one more time, the ultimate hit that I’ve been waiting for will be there! Just this one more refresh, and I’ll go do something else. Oh wait, just one more … this one will really be it.
Who am I kidding? It’s never just one more. I have to tear myself away each and every time, and even then it’s only a matter of time until I sneak back to check it again. This behavior is not only interfering with me being as productive as I’d like, it also is not healthy for my emotional state. This addiction cycle takes it toll on me. Something needs to change!
I am still very dependent on the Internet for getting weather, news, doing research for my writing or other needed information, accessing financial information, and doing my work. I can’t simply go Internet-free. However, I think it may be time to invest in one of those selective site-blockers where I can lock myself out of specified sites (like Facebook) for certain time periods every day. I need to create the open space to really dive into my reading and my writing without the distraction of checking my feeds one more time every little while. I’m not sure what this looks like yet, but it is time that I admit I need the help to retrain my brain to focus deeply again.
I’m looking forward to seeing what a difference this makes for me once I find something that works for me! I have too many more important things to be doing—things that really do make a difference in this world.
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