[box]This is a guest post from Beth Kelly, who is a freelance writer and blogger. Born and raised in Michigan, she moved to Chicago to attend DePaul University where she graduated in 2011. She lived in Krakow, Poland briefly before moving to South Korea to teach English. She writes most frequently on health and technology topics. You can follow her on Twitter @bkelly_88.[/box]
Most people in the United States take their ability to access the Internet for granted. However, according to a recent article in the Washington Post, around 60 million Americans do not use the internet, or about 1 in 6. While that may seem unimaginable to a population totally absorbed in their smart phones, the global statistics are even more jarring: more than 4.5 billion people of the 7 billion on Earth do not have any sort of internet access, public or private.
The rise of the Internet, and the advent of social media, has changed how we work, learn, and maintain relationships with those close to us. We no longer need physical spaces to meet with friends or hold business meetings; we can do it wherever we happen to be. With the Internet, it’s convenient to download music, software, and all kinds of interesting information while carrying out multiple different tasks at once. Both print and film mediums have had to navigate the consequences of inhabiting and increasingly digitized society, transferring the bulk of their business to the web, while bookstores have shut their doors and Blockbuster video stores have gone the way of the dodo.
But the on-line world is not truly separate from the off-line one. The Internet in its entirety contributes to global growth, productivity and employment. The U.S. is the key player in the global Internet ecosystem, accounting for more than 30 percent of global Internet revenues and more than 40 percent of net income. But, what does this mean for the people of the U.S.? With so much “happening” virtually, it’s still important to step back and analyze how we utilize the most important invention of the 21st century. The Internet represents the ultimate convenience. What would happen if we weren’t online? That question is almost impossible to answer. Most of us are “online” in some form almost constantly, but without a clear objective, it’s easy to be distracted and more difficult to be productive in the hours we spend in front of our computers.
Many of us turn on our computers without purpose, waiting for them to show us what to prioritize. The Internet is not necessarily the source of the problem; our brains are wired to be constantly scanning for changes, directing their attention towards new incoming stimuli. We’ve all been there, opening up the laptop with an intent to study/work/edit/write/etc. only to spend the next three hours Googling pet Halloween costumes or photos of Kim Kardashian’s baby. For folks of the “Millennial” generation, who have come of age embedded in the virtual world, it’s even more difficult to view the Internet purely as a “tool.” We have had unfettered access to interactive game consoles, satellite internet, and instant messaging since we were in primary school. For most of us, it’s simply another space we occupy, as real as the physical world, as “real” as anything else we come into contact with on a daily basis.
So, how can we keep this in perspective? If you feel you spend far too much time browsing, and too little time crossing goals off of your to-do list, try these few tips:
Don’t use the net without a purpose. Write down exactly what you intend to use the Internet for, before you open your laptop screen. Be mindful of the thoughts you have before the deluge of online distractions – the thoughts that are yours alone, not the ones copy/pasted from someone else’s Tumblr. Keep an offline diary to catch these thoughts and supplant them into your daily workflow.
Don’t worry about “missing” something that “happened” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Sometimes it’s important to be reminded that if you didn’t see it in the brief amount of time it occurred on social media, it probably wasn’t that important. (And if it was, someone will probably tell you about it. IRL.)
Use a music player that works off-line. It’s easy to get off track if you keep re-opening YouTube to look for songs to be productive to.
Establish distraction barriers. It can be as easy as logging out of your online accounts (Facebook, Gmail) or removing shortcuts from your desktop or bookmarks bar. By making it more difficult to access offending pages, you will give yourself time to pause and reflect on your desire to visit Reddit or Pinterest again before falling asleep.
Give your deadlines authority. If you have a laptop, remove the power cord and give yourself the duration of your battery to finish your task. Work away from home, and you’ll have no choice but to complete the work in the time you have or get up and leave.
Set reasonable expectations for yourself. Procrastination and distraction are facts of life, the most crucial factor is self-awareness. Estimate how long it typically takes you to complete your work, and then attempt to do it in 80% of that time span.
The proliferation of the Internet has changed everything. With just a click of the mouse, you’re connected to someone a world away, billions of pages of information, or the television program you missed last night. Use it mindfully, recognize its inherent limitations (and your own) and allow it to be the medium through which your best ideas flow. Let the web adapt to your workflow and your learning style – not the other way around.