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My Resolution for 2011: Stop Blaming the Internet

By posted at 6:00 am on January 10, 2011 7

The Internet was the big bogeyman, the great scapegoat of 2010. In September, I wrote about how social networking was perverting my friendships. In October Millions contributor Emily wrote about how it had eroded her attention span. And at a certain point, it seemed like every time my wife and I had friends over the conversation turned to the ways the Web was ruining all of our lives: how it was destroying our productivity, sapping our sex drives, devouring our precious time on earth.

But in 2011, I say enough with all this bellyaching!  The Internet is just a thing that sits on my desk, if it sits anywhere at all.  If I close the lid of my laptop, it can’t get me. If I walk outside it, can’t follow me.  Blaming the Internet for the novel I didn’t write is a little like blaming a plush sofa for the marathon I didn’t run.  Sure, the couch gave me a comfy place to hide while I was busy not being the man I want to be, but it’s hardly the cause of my problems. Replace the couch with a straw mat and suddenly I’ll run 26 miles? I doubt it. Scuttle the Internet and suddenly I’ll be the writer I’ve always dreamed of being? Hardly.

So, my resolution for 2011 is to stop blaming the Internet for all the ways my days go awry.  There are two reasons, abstracted from recent experiences, that make me think this is achievable.

The first is that the Internet is not actually that addictive.  I know we talk about email and Facebook and the latest headlines on ESPN like they’re allurements on par with strippers and cigarettes, but really?  I spent the week around Christmas at my in-laws’ house which is kind of in the woods and where you can’t pick up a wi-fi signal unless you stand with your computer above your head while balanced on the top railing of the porch on a perfectly clear day.  So I didn’t use the Internet much during that time, and if what followed counts as Internet withdrawal, then the Internet is pretty weak sauce indeed.  A few times I fantasized about my inbox filling up with unread emails and on Christmas Day I wished I could have checked the Celtics score. But there were no cold sweats, no shakes or shimmies, no aching in my groin.  What this made me realize is that the Internet does not have a strong magnetic pull of its own.  It’s more like water, ingenious at filling negative space, at seeping into cracks. So in 2011, I’m going to stop fretting over the Internet and instead think about it the way I think about my bathtub: caulk and forget it.

The second experience took place a few days ago. It was in the morning and I was about to sit down to work and I told myself, “Today I’m not going to waste time on the Internet.” I’ve given myself that same pep talk on thousands of mornings but it resounded differently this time: Suddenly it seemed like such a plainly impoverished ambition. “That’s it,” I thought to myself, “That’s all you hope to get out of the day, to not refresh the nytimes.com over and over?” What I realized then is that the opposite of the Internet is not concentration.  That morning I was indeed successful at staying off the Web, but so what? I fiddled with my pen, adjusted my socks, stared out the window, filled and refilled my water bottle, went to the bathroom. It turns out there are a lot of ways to fritter away time that don’t involve a computer screen.

What I’m after—what I think most of us are after—is sustained, focused engagement in a meaningful task.  If only the Internet were the only thing standing between me and that. So, resolved for 2011, no more complaining about the Internet’s role in my life! If failures do happen to accrue this year, I’ll  place the blame instead where it belongs: on my parents.

(Image: 2/365 from fenris117’s photostream)

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7 Responses to “My Resolution for 2011: Stop Blaming the Internet”

  1. Resolved in ’11: No More Blaming the Internet | Kevin Hartnett
    at 9:03 am on January 10, 2011

    […] for the rest of my life. I’ve written a short essay, appearing today at The Millions, that explains […]

  2. anon
    at 11:46 pm on January 10, 2011

    I remember reading somewhere that the constant changes in stimuli help change our brains. Perhaps the constant use of internet-as-distraction has aided in rewiring your brain. Now, you need the constant distractions, the little distractions, if only to keep the the brain comfortable. Just a thought. But yeah, I’m with you. “Sustained, focused engagement in a meaningful task” is exactly what the doctor ordered.

  3. Mike Mc
    at 10:09 am on January 11, 2011

    So now I’m not writing and wasting time on the internet by reading an article about writing and not wasting time on the internet. I feel woozy.

  4. BBaldwin
    at 3:41 pm on January 11, 2011

    Could not agree more! Though, of course, I am currently using the internet to procrastinate at work…Perhaps you can write a follow-up article detailing your internet avoidance strategies?

  5. Dawn.
    at 10:05 pm on January 15, 2011

    Great points, Kevin. I absolutely agree. Blaming the Internet for having an unproductive day is like blaming your bed for making you oversleep. It’s not the bed, honey, it’s you.

  6. Happy Friday Thoughts « Thoughts from the back
    at 2:57 pm on January 28, 2011

    […] always glad to read about others who share my pain, and my excuses. Daughter #2, make sure you read to the last line for future therapy […]

  7. How Not to Write » Adad Press
    at 6:22 pm on July 30, 2011

    […] a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet.”  Check out these other views on this argument for differing […]

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