Life off the Grid

plugIt is the afternoon on the day after my last Bar exam and I am finally awake.

This is also my first post in quite a while. A month prior to the start of my exams, I decided to stop writing to focus on my studies. On some days I even severed all my network connections completely.

My experience didn’t help me discover the meaning of life, but it was illuminating in other ways.

In early April of this year I read about James Sturm’s experiment to abstain from the technological marvel that is the internet for an extended period of time. He was motivated primarily because of his addiction to the pull of being online. In fact he discovered that he would actively notice being away from his computer.

There is something addictive about checking your email, Facebook and clicking on link after link after link. Although I tried to pry myself away from my computer when I needed to study, inevitably I found myself being drawn towards a quick fix of the internet. Not only did this break up my periods of study, it also meant that I was unable to retain crucial information as it would all be muddled together with the inconsequential drivel that sullies the network pipes.

Something had to be done, and I decided that I had to essentially go into hibernation.

The biggest threat to a focussed studying environment is the constant stream of notifications. Firstly, I use TweetDeck to monitor my Facebook, Twitter, Buzz, LinkedIn, and Foursquare profiles. Next, I use Digsby to consolidate my Yahoo, MSN, GTalk and Facebook Chat accounts. Digsby also has a useful email notification system. Finally, my HTC Magic (a smartphone running Google’s Android 2.2) notifies me of any emails, instant messages, messages on WhatsApp and PingChat and Facebook and Twitter updates. Suffice to say in the course of an ordinary day I am inundated with beeps, buzzes and blinking lights.

The first thing I had to do when I cut the cord was to decide when I would allow myself to check my notifications. I decided that I would do it only during breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. My logic was that since I was taking a break for a meal anyway I may as well check my notifications.

Secondly, I had to silence all my notifications. Firstly, I simply closed TweetDeck completely. Next, I logged out of Digsby. This was a little problematic as I would often be using instant messages to discuss revision points with my friends. However, I realised that more often than not I was merely discussing the latest television shows, hence Digsby had to go. I had a bit of a dilemma in turning off the notifications on my phone. I couldn’t turn off the notifications on my phone completely since that would leave me completely incommunicado. However, I realised that if it was urgent then my friends and family would SMS or call me. Hence, I merely switched off the data connection. This disabled all updates and notifications that required a data connection but it allowed me to receive standard SMS and phone calls.

Finally, I had to ration my time on Google Chrome. I couldn’t just uninstall or disable Chrome completely since I needed it to look up a legal point during my revision. Hence, I merely hid my bookmarks bar to avoid the temptation of being sucked into aimlessly surfing the web.

Cutting the cord in this manner allowed me to study productively during the day and then later at night I allowed myself a break to go through my RSS feeds and just generally troll through the internet.

Of course, that last paragraph is a complete lie. I was unable to tear myself away from the internet for more than an hour at a time. In fact it was only on certain days when I was particularly stressed about an upcoming exam that I was able to completely shut everything down.

I realised that my biggest problem was that I was essentially sitting on a desk in front of a computer with nothing to do. Revision is a fairly passive exercise and unless there is a particular point that is interesting or difficult my mind tends to wander. So, the only solution would be for me to go online and take a break. Unfortunately, these breaks became longer and more frequent.

The internet is such a great tool for procrastination because it is infinite and easily accessible. After checking my email, Facebook and Twitter, I would check my hundreds of RSS feeds. Once those were exhausted I would move to the major news sites and read their articles. Once these too were exhausted I would blankly refresh my Twitter and Facebook page hoping for a compelling update for me to wile my time away with. Unlike, watching a film, reading a book or playing a computer game, the time investment required for surfing the net is small. However, repeatedly browsing the web multiple times in a day can turn this “small” investment into hours of pointlessness.

Happy surfing!

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