Confessions of a Digital Addict

Published on January 23, 2021

Time for a confession: I've drifted back into some bad habits of mine around media consumption. I've been browsing the web and watching YouTube videos when I should be writing, coding, or spending focused time with those I love.

This last week I spent almost 28 hours on Firefox between my phone, iPad, and laptop (the 9 or so hours on my tablet and phone are most concerning). That's almost two-thirds of a full work week! I've also spent 11 hours on Slack and 1.5 hours on YouTube. Add those up and it really is a full work week's worth of time. That's a sobering thought to say the least.

And what have I truly learned to show for it? Has it contributed meaningfully to my happiness? To my knowledge? Do I feel more fulfilled? Have I made an impact on anyone's life because of that time spent?

This is a rhetorical question of course. If I have to ask it, the answer is clearly no! In fact, it's probably done the opposite. I feel more anxious, lethargic, and unproductive. I have no meaningful output to show for this time.

So why do I keep doing it?

When we consume content, it tricks our brain into feeling like we're being productive or taking action, when in fact we are not. It releases dopamine, which provides reinforcement (pleasure) and trains us to do more of the same. The feeling, however, is short lived, because much like any other quick-fix drug, once it wears off (and we stop consuming content) we're left with a feeling of emptiness. We're trapped with nothing but our own thoughts to contend with. And that's a frightening prospect.

People go to extraordinary lengths to avoid being alone with their mind. Reference this study showing how people would sooner shock themselves then be alone in a room for 15 minutes without any external stimulation.

I have fallen into a cycle of numbing and distracting myself instead of working towards meaningful goals in my life. Things like: learning a new programming language, writing more articles to help people learning things, spending quality time with my family.

That stops today.

First, I'm going to be accountable in public. Every day for the next 7 days I'm going to post my application usage each morning for the previous day. If I'm going to get lost in rabbit holes, I'm going to do it in the glare of lights.

Second, I'm going to make more judicious use of tools to block access to time wasting content. Between 9 AM and 3PM daily during the week I'm going to block Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. I might post to them during that time using write-only platforms, but no browsing.

Third, I'm going to publish some short thoughts each day, on something interesting I learned. It might be as short as a few sentences, but it will be an every day thing. This will force my mind to produce and process, rather than simply consume.

These actions will help reverse the cycle I find myself in. I know this because I've done them before to good ends. Here's to it.

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