My niece Lyndall has written this thoughtful piece about how to use the Internet responsibly. Her title offers a helpful metaphor when dealing with something in our lives that requires us to have the kind of discipline and purpose that are also needed when herding unruly livestock.
I struggle a lot with getting distracted online. As I write this, I’m fighting the temptation to go check Facebook. I’ll often go online for one specific thing, and before I know it I’ve gone down five different rabbit trails and spent an hour online. This has been an ongoing struggle for a number of years, but I’ve come up with a few suggestions that have helped me manage my time online. I’d like to share them with you. Now, this absolutely does not mean I have everything figured out, but I am learning.
So here are some guidelines and suggestions that I use to help manage myself online. (Note that I call them suggestions. If I call them rules, my sin nature automatically wants to disobey them. And then I’m fighting both the distraction of the internet and the sin nature, which is exhausting.)
1. Be intentional. This is what I consider the most important point. If I think about why I’m going online, and actually have a plan, I’m far less likely to get distracted and fritter away time. If I connect to the internet mindlessly, I’ll use it mindlessly. Forcing myself to think beforehand also reveals when I’m going online out of boredom or procrastination, and helps me to reconsider my decision. Go online with purpose.
2. Write a plan to keep you on track. This is closely related to being intentional. I find a list helps me to not be as easily distracted by links or scrolling through home feeds on sites like Facebook.
3. Recognize that the internet sucks energy and creativity from you. Generally, the internet takes energy rather than giving refreshment. This is not true in all circumstances, but if I am passively taking in information, or mindlessly scrolling through Pinterest, I find it has the same effect on my brain as watching TV. Also, reading articles online requires energy to process and think about what I’ve just read. This leads me to my next point. . . .
4. Go online to contribute, not consume. What is my aim for being online? Do I just want to catch up with the latest happenings on Facebook, or will I comment on other people’s pages and encourage them? Do I read this article just to add to a bunch of random facts in my brain, or will I think about it, work to understand, and contribute to my store of knowledge? Am I just collecting these craft ideas, or will I actually use them in real life? This point is related to being intentional.
5. Set certain days or times to go online. If I don’t have a certain time to go online, I’ll connect whenever the whim hits. But if I know I’m going online after supper, this gives me time to think about what to do, and compile a list. I also try to set Pinterest and Facebook days, when I allow myself to go on these websites and scroll through the home feed, and do a bit more browsing. Usually, not a whole lot has happened on the sites in the past 2-3 days since I last logged in, and I didn’t miss that much.
6. Read home feeds backwards. Pinterest and Facebook both have annoying home pages. The home feed seems infinite, like you could scroll down for days. To keep myself from scrolling for hours, I will click down a set number of clicks first (say, three), and work from that point up to the top (newest posts). As a bonus, you’re then reading things in chronological order!
7. Tell your friends and family your internet-usage plans. I’ve posted things on Facebook that say things like “For the next while, I’m only going to be on Facebook on Wednesdays and Saturdays”. Then, when I think about going on Facebook on Friday, I think, “Oh no, what if someone sees that I’m online and I’m not keeping my word”, and that helps keep me in check.
8. Set a timer, if you have to. I haven’t done this yet, since I don’t know where our timer is—but I’m sure it would be effective.
9. Don’t beat yourself up if you got distracted. Do better now.
10. Make it physically more difficult to go online. Turn off the WI-FI when it’s not in use. Log out of websites, so it’s harder to access them. I find that if I’m going on Facebook because I’m bored or lazy, then logging in can be a deterrent, or at least it makes me think about why I’m going online. Also, I changed my password to something that reminds me to use the internet intentionally.
11. Finally, and very importantly, Pray. James says, “You have not, because you ask not.” So many times I got depressed and upset that I got distracted again. But then I realized that I hadn’t asked God to help me use the internet intentionally. Try asking Him for help. It can be that simple.
Those are my suggestions. In short, Use the internet intentionally. I’m still learning this. I hope you’ve found my suggestions helpful. What methods do you use to keep yourself focused online?