Oh, Internet, How I (Haven't Really) Missed You

In the wee hours of Monday, September 20, my wireless router died quietly in its sleep. Monday morning, I was in denial. It will come back, I told myself. All morning, I did laundry and washed dishes. By noon, my Internet still wasn’t up. I gathered my courage, packed up my computer, and brought it to my parents’ place. On days that I’m not at the library, if I can’t get online, I can’t work. I accept and return all my assignments online, not to mention the regular email accounts that must be checked to make sure I don’t drop the ball on an all-important issue.

Yesterday, my Internet was still down. I went into the library half an hour early, where I accepted two orders from Scribendi using the library connection. Later that night, I went to my parents’ place again to download both orders to my flash drive, so that I could work on them offline until the Internet tech guy came out to my place at 4 today. That means that before 4 pm, there was no one around except me, Microsoft Word, and two long-ish manuscripts in need of editing. Both were due by the end of the day.

Last night, I estimated that the manuscripts would take me about 14 hours to edit; I wasn’t looking forward to the long day, but I need the money and both were at least interesting projects. I felt incredibly impressed with myself as I worked through the first manuscript before lunch; by the time the Internet guy came, I’d done my first pass on the second one, too. In all, both manuscripts took me about eight hours to complete, six hours fewer than I’d predicted. Now, this isn’t totally due to my lack of connectivity; both pieces were in better shape than the pieces I’m used to editing, and I based my estimation on word count alone without taking a peek at the skill of the writers. Still, there was something so incredibly satisfying about having no choice but to dig into those pages, at least while I was seated at my computer. Usually when I’m editing or writing something, a thousand distractions run through my mind: has that client’s payment been deposited into my checking account yet? Do I have new email at Yahoo? What about gmail? What were the guidelines of that publisher I thought might be a good fit for my work? Have any of my friends updated their Livejournals? What’s the current prize on Coppergoose? The gossip on Facebook? Should I update my progress on my “currently reading” shelf at Goodreads? What’s the meaning of sigil, anyway?

I’m sorry to say that my mind grabs onto these distractions when I start to feel bored or stuck with my current project, and I follow them wherever they may take me, taking just “one more click” like an addict needing one more puff on one more cigarette. I justify each one by saying it will only take a few minutes, which is usually true. But snippets of five or ten or fifteen minutes away from my work or my writing add up. The havoc it wreaks on my brain is even worse.

I still had many of these urges today. Knowing I didn’t have immediate gratification, they eventually subsided, and my focus improved. When I really needed a mental break, I had lunch, drank a cup of tea, took a power nap, and even watched an episode of Sex and the City. The difference between this and my usual working habits were that each of those activities had a clear end point. The food and tea run out. Sex and the City episodes are less than 30 minutes long. I had to wake up to let the Internet guy in. This means I was more productive than usual today, but I didn’t feel totally burnt out at the end of it. That’s because I didn’t throw all those tiny increments of time away on the rabbit hole that is the Internet, a place in which there is no end in sight, and willpower alone is your only salvation.

I found myself feeling a little let down when the Internet was back up again. Now that barrage of distractions would once again be part of my life. Not having the Internet in my home isn’t an option; for me, no Internet means no income. Still, it occurred to me for the first time that I have power over whether my computer is connected to the Internet or not. So when I settled in to finish my edits, post-Internet, I pulled the plug on it until I was ready to upload my completed assignments.

What a relief to realize that I have a choice! Sure, the Internet is still only a click away, but that extra step of having to reconnect it makes me think twice before I chase whatever random whim sounds more fun than my work. I’m making a commitment right now to disconnect the Internet when I need to be intensely engaged with writing or editing. I’ve known for a while that multi-tasking is bad for my brain, but now I’m finally going to do something about it. I challenge you to do the same.