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My Internet Diet

Yesterday ended my Internet diet.  It was definitely a diet: non-sustainable but quick results.  Like the Grapefruit Diet, except with considerably less grapefruit.

Perhaps because I’ve been thinking about how I changed the way I eat, I could see all the similarities between my relationship with food (unhealthy) and my relationship with the Internet (unhealthy).  Yet, with one of those unhealthy habits, I changed my relationship into something that is healthy, reasonable and… just to repeat the word again… sustainable.  That seems to be the key here.  I didn’t change my relationship with the Internet into something sensibly proportioned with my life.  I went on what amounted to an Internet fast, and now the fast is over and I’ve reverted — within MINUTES — back to my unhealthy ways which leads to my “ill” feelings (you know, in the same way that I felt like crap physically due to what I ate prior to changing my eating habits).

I knew my Internet diet wasn’t realistic due to the enormous amount of work that went into the ability to go on an Internet fast.  I had to do all the work I would normally do during that time period.  In the interest of full disclosure, there were about three days when I tacked on an extra 10 minutes to my allotted 30 minutes because I had to deal with something work-related.  I didn’t want to give up my personal 30 minutes, and I reasoned that work has to come before diets.  I was fairly miserable working ahead in order to go on my Internet fast.  I used the computer double the amount I would normally do since I was doing my normal workload plus my future workload.  There were a few days when I didn’t get dressed.  I just sat in front of the computer and typed and typed and typed.

My blog was the easiest element to deal with during my Internet diet.  I write double what I post, so I just unleashed a few posts that had been sitting in the draft folder, ready to go.  It meant that I wasn’t creating commentary on anything in real time, but that’s fine.  Not every post needs to reflect the present moment.  Yet I felt oddly detached from this space because I had written the posts and set them to run and then didn’t really go back into my blog except for the times when I uploaded people to the IComLeavWe list.  I wrote every day, though I did so longhand.  Which felt honestly like a pain-in-the-ass since I’m accustomed to the speed to typing.  But I knew that if I allowed myself to type, I would find a reason to look up “just one thing.”  So I didn’t allow myself to type.  And it felt weird.

The hardest thing — and the place where I perhaps learned the most about myself — was with reading blogs.  I didn’t leave as many comments as I would have liked, and that made me feel like crap.  Not leaving comments made me anxious.  I also ended up not reading any feeds in my Reader that didn’t belong to a personal blog.  I have a tendency to read like I eat: candy first, protein second.  But during my diet, I got rid of ALL the candy: Jezebel, Gawker, Lifehacker, Slate, Mashable, HuffingtonPost.  I just hit “mark all as read” every day, and then dove into the heart of my Reader, which are all personal blogs.  When you only have 20 minutes to read blogs because you used up 10 minutes reading emails, you want the best.  You want the protein that is going to stick with you until you get your next online meal.

30 minutes goes awfully quick.

I started my diet on a weekend, which is a time when I’m usually online less than a weekday, so it felt like a good starting point.  It wasn’t hard to fill the time with other things: craft projects (um… more like futilely going to stores to collect supplies for said project and finding that they don’t carry what I want and then changing my mind several thousand times… it’s a long story), reading books, chillaxing with the kids.  It was Succot, so we celebrated Succot.  Actually, the biggest thing I did with my new-found time was read.  I mean, I chillax with the kids during a normal week.  But reading books always falls by the wayside.  I read pages here and there, but I rarely have the time to sit down after the kids are in bed and read for hours.  But that’s what I did — I read for hours.   And I loved it.  I forgot how relaxed I feel after being in a story or a structured piece of non-fiction, a peace I don’t find as I jump from blog to blog.

Perhaps that is because when you read blogs, you are jumping from writing style to writing style, topic to topic.  I feel the same way about magazines; I don’t walk away from reading magazines feeling relaxed.  I walk away feeling as if my mind is buzzing.  And that’s how I feel when I leave blog reading.  Blogs make me think and they make me want to write, but they don’t really allow me to enter that deep state of imagination or consideration that can be found in books.

I can’t say the diet was impossibly hard or that I wanted to gnaw off my own hand as I went through Internet withdrawal.  There were times when I was itching to go online and see if a post received any comments or if someone had emailed back, but for the most part, I was able to put the Internet out of my mind when it wasn’t my allotted half hour.

And then Simchat Torah ended (the last day after Succot) and I lifted my Internet ban, allowing myself to fall back into normal usage.  The story we all kid ourselves with when we do any sort of diet is that we’ll be able to sustain the results; they’ll jump start a new habit.  But that’s not what happened at all.  The moment I allowed myself open usage of the Internet, I felt my familiar online-induced anxiety.  The pile of emails needed responses.  There were blog posts I wanted to return to comment on that were screaming for my attention now, now, now.  People had made various requests for my time during the fast that I felt fine putting off under the excuse that I was on an Internet diet.  But now I had to deal with all those requests.  Even though they’d take hours to fulfill, I felt like they were all sitting on my chest, having to deal with their full weight all at once.

Within minutes, I felt stretched thin.  The soup I wanted to make didn’t get done.

My inbox felt cluttered, and that in turn affected my train of thoughts.

All within one evening of normal Internet usage.

I’m not sure what the answer is.  I already limit my Internet usage in many ways including not being online for the most part when the twins are at home and awake.  I could say no to more things, but I think we all know that isn’t very realistic.  I mean, yes, I can say no, but it would mean not paying forward what others have done for me, and that doesn’t sound like a very enticing way to live.  Being a dick is easy; finding balance between doing things for others while still finding time for myself is much harder.

I think that in a few more days, everything will shake out and return to normal.  I’m in that place now where I’ve been Internet starving so now I’m over-consuming.  And soon I will return to my normal state of Internet-induced guilt about non-returned emails or comments not left, and also find time to finish Rowling’s new book.  I hope.

Even though it totally didn’t work as a sustainable solution, since we have another 8-day holiday in the spring (Pesach), I think I’m going to repeat this experiment again.  Even if I know it doesn’t bring long term results.  Just because.


1 a { 10.10.12 at 9:26 am }

It’s hard to overcome that feeling of missing out on something, isn’t it? Sigh…maybe you should get an assistant to read all those non-blog things and pick out the juicy stuff?

And how is Rowling’s new book? All the reviews I’ve seen have an undercurrent of “well, it’s not Harry Potter” to them.

2 serenity { 10.10.12 at 9:27 am }

I wish I knew the answer, too. I have been toying with a Facebook and email diet myself, to see if I can find something more sustainable. For me, it’s less about the anxiety of having to DO stuff (I suppose I’m lucky there that my work doesn’t really need the Internet?), really, it’s more that I use it as an escape. Too much, it seems – there are days where I NEED my focus or to invest energy into my family, and I end up wasting all this time tooling around the internet.

I really need to figure out a way to strike a balance with my own internet usage.

So you are definitely not alone with trying to figure this out, that’s for sure.


3 Donna { 10.10.12 at 9:49 am }

I’m in the same place you are……only years ahead of you. My children are raised, my nest has been empty for 12 years and I am still waiting for life to slow down so I can take a deep breath.

My husband and I run a small construction business, something that had been in his family for years, a used equipment business, and we run 500 plus head of cattle. All of the bookkeeping is done by myself and a part-time secretary in a fairly large home office on computer.

The construction business employs 4 full time people and numerous part time. The ranch employs one full time and one seasonal, the equipment sales is run by our son & two full time employees.

My part-time secretary and myself share this office with my husband who spends much of his time online with streaming video of equipment auctions keeping the inventory up for the Equipment business.

We live in northern South Dakota where the winters usually slowed life down. I have been for many years now waiting for a slow winter and now I realize with the Internet in my life it will never happen.

Seems it made it easier for everything to just happen faster and more often.

4 Justine { 10.10.12 at 1:02 pm }

I have comment guilt. Someone told me recently they read and comment regularly on 300 blogs. I nearly passed out.

But I think that even if an Internet fast isn’t the answer, seeing it as a “cleanse” is useful; when you take yourself away from unhealthy overuse/overeating, you start to see what’s really important, and eventually, you crave more vegetables. Well, ideally, anyway. 😉

5 Alexicographer { 10.10.12 at 4:04 pm }

I use the internet a bunch, probably too much. Mostly I consume, though I do comment (and email and, rarely, like monthly, post a FB update). All those are I think fine for me … some I probably do to excess, but they are basically recreation for me.

It’s those moments — and really, they are far more than moments, really they are many many moments stretching into hours — when I am online but not doing *anything*. Clicking from blog to blog to NYTimes page hoping someone, somewhere has posted an catchy update or story. It’s those (numerous!) moments I need to work out how to eliminate.

6 The Steadfast Warrior { 10.11.12 at 6:53 am }

I feel like I live a split life, one online and one in the “Real World”. I feel guilty because as my daughter gets older (almost 3) she demands more of my time and then what little time I have is stretched between far too many things, none of which I devote the energy I should and WANT to devote. I’m sure we all would wish for a few more hours in the day, but let’s face it, they’d be filled before we blinked. That balance is one I haven’t figured out, especially since I’m trying to start a business and work from home (just call me crazy…) and it involves a fair bit of time on the computer.

I think I like Justine’s idea of considering it a cleanse. Just a brief break to reset your mind so that you can go forth. Balance is my goal but I’m not sure what that exactly looks like in my life right now. It seems to be an ever changing benchmark!

7 Meena { 10.11.12 at 2:48 pm }

Cleansing or fasting is good.. be it food or internet.. 🙂

To get away from the digital world is made difficult by the smartphones.. What I do is temporarily switch my sim card to a dumphone for a brief period of time when I plan to do it… 🙂

8 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.11.12 at 7:44 pm }

The thing is, with a food diet, you shed. With an Internet diet, you accumulate (things pile up).

I am really glad you’re back!

9 Keiko { 10.12.12 at 7:06 pm }

Mel, I know I’ve brought this up before – have you considered taking part in the National Day of Unplugging (March of next year)? http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/unplug/

Alternatively, the Sabbath Manifesto encourages folks to unplug. Perhaps, like many crash diets, be it internet or food, it’s better to make a gradual lifestyle change. So instead of 10 days at a time, just 1 day a week. Or maybe one half-day a week. I dunno, just a thought.

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