Vivek Haldar

Checking into Internet rehab - and sneaking out

I’ve started using the StayFocusd plugin for Chrome to cut down on my random, useless surfing. Give it a list of sites, and a total time limit per day, and it will cut you off when you go over that time. I cranked myself all the way down to 10 minutes per day — I needed to do something drastic — and added all my “jumping off” sites to the list: Google Reader, Twitter, Hacker News and a few others.

The plugin has its own icon next to the address bar. When at a non-blocked site, it is a calm blue. On a blocked site, it turns red. When you are on your last minute, a tiny countdown of the seconds appears on the icon. Your time is about to run out, buddy. And finally, as soon as your time is up, it redirects to a page that says “Shouldn’t you be working?” in large type. At work, it’s more embarrassing to have that up than music videos on YouTube.

The first few times I ran into my limit and got the prod, it was rude and jarring. Are you kidding me? Nobody stops me from surfing the web! But the hundredth time I saw “Shouldn’t you be working?” in big bold type, it made me think, you know what, I really should be working. Those productivity tips on reddit aren’t really increasing my productivity. And you really only need to see NYT once a day. Like a good farm animal, I soon learned to stay away from the prod.

But this wouldn’t be a story about addiction if I didn’t talk about sneaking out of rehab. And there were plenty of ways to do that. The plug-in wouldn’t work in incognito windows. Of course, I could always use another browser, or use another machine, and romp through the web unrestricted. And indeed, during the first few days, I often did that.

There was a barrier to escaping the plugin’s walls, and I did that lesser with time. More surprisingly, after the initial craving for a missing fix, I didn’t enjoy the random surfing as much as I used to. Every morning, I knew I had just 10 minutes,  and I tried to make the most of it. Hit up RSS feeds in Reader, open interesting pieces in new tabs (I know, that’s cheating a little bit), and be done. So I suppose the rehab regimen enforced by the plugin is working.

What do you do to keep yourself from wasteful surfing?