Bedtime email checks, clandestine Twitter trawls, Facebook updates… it’s all too easy to get caught in the web. Twenty years after it launched, the Internetis now so pervasive that it’s difficult to escape from.
Some research also claims the web is actually rewiring our brains. We can’t pull the plug, and don’t really want to. But by updating your software-inside your head as well as your computer- you can cut your screen time down to an hour or less a day. Use the MH nine step plan to beat your net-dependency.
Step 1: The log-in
Caught in the web? Find out what kind of browser you are and the action to take.
Step 2: Recognise your inefficiency
Neuroscientists at Washington State University found that your grey matter gets as much of a kick from seeking information as it does from finding it. “For that reason, almost everything we do online can be rewarding,” says Dr Hilarie Cash, founder of restart, the world’s first residential clinic for Internet addicts. Next time you end a marathon web session, write a list -on paper-of anything you’d consider an accomplishment from your web trawl. It’s a short list, right? Understanding how little you achieve online is a crucial step to logging off.
Step 3: Work your social network
“People get a physiological rush when engaging in Facebook and Twitter,” says Cash. Your social reward centres are activated, which keeps the social mavens Tweeting. But to get the same highs without the time-sap, aggregate all your updates in one place using fuser.com. This tool compiles mail from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Friendster and personal email, meaning you don’t have to navigate each one and get distracted by functions specific to each.
Step 4: Install new software
Break that pattern. “When it comes to habits, the brain operates on the ‘efficiency principle’,” explains Professor Ben Fletcher, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, UK. Start by scheduling films, breezy cardio or anything else you find rewarding into the slots that are usually consumed by the web. These activities replace the squirt of dopamine to your brain that you get when researchers at the University of Copenhagen found that regulating this hormone prevents the hunger for further stimulation.
Step 5: Inspect your gadgets
“People who display addictive symptoms use the web disproportionately more for networking, porn and gaming,” says Dr Catriona Morrison, who studies web addiction at Leeds University. To nail down your vices, do your own web audit. Wakoopa.com monitors the time you spend on websites, apps, games, email client or RSS feed. It then automatically recommends software to make your browsing more efficient based on your habits.
Step 6: Build your own firewall
“It’s too easy to get lost in the quick and easy, 24-hour world of the Internet,” says Clare Evans, author of Time Management for Dummies. Using software to block your own access for set periods makes it impossible to spend more time online than you plan to. The Freedom download at macfreedom.com lets you block access entirely or target specific sites for up to eight hours at a time.
Step 7: Curb your eclecticism
Your laptop may be packing the latest gigawhizz processor, but your brain isn’t. “People are terrible at multitasking online,” says Stutzman. He says we’ve been sold a hyper-productivity fallacy. Research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that multi-tasking actually slows your brain down, taking 40 per cent longer to complete tasks when switching between them. So, instead of opening up multiple tabs, focus on one web-based activity at a time.
Step 8: Quit playing games
“Online games with a social component are the most addictive,” says Cash. The social aspect feeds insecurities about socialising offline. If you are conversing more with avatars than real people, use the web to reach out to people in the real word. Video calls on Skype or the iphone’s faceTime app stimulate your desire for actual human contact.
Step 9: The one-hour rule
Controlled use of the Net not only means you get stuff done; it actually enhances your brain. Research from the University of California found that short, sharp Internet use trains your brain in decision-making and even preserves long-term cognitive abilities. Now, aimless trundles down the information superhighway have become smash-and-grab raids by a master of the surf.