Perhaps sensing a shift in the zeitgeist, The New York Timeshas run no less than three stories over the past week about unplugging from the Internet.
In the most widely read, Pico Iyer’s “The Joy of Quiet,” the author posits the idea that solitude is the new luxury. Getting away from your PC, your phone and your iPad, Iyer argues, will allow you to get absorbed in a book, a conversation or a piece of music and bring you joy. In another essay, “A Time to Tune Out,” Roger Cohen cites the destructive effects of being addicted to one’s BlackBerry.
Finally, Nick Bilton, writing in The Times‘s Bits blog, resolves to spend 30 minutes a day without his iPhone or any other electronics this year.
Perhaps, as 2012 dawns, you too are feeling the need to curb your Internet usage. You may find that it’s a bit harder than you first thought. Try an “Internet Sabbath,” for instance, and you may feel that it’s all but impossible to get through a Saturday without checking your email or Twitter or your Words With Friends games.
For those of you who fall into this category, there are some software programs that may help you achieve your goal this year. After all, what’s better to fight a software addiction than software itself? Below are a few programs out there that will keep you from breaking your digital resolution.
The grandaddy of the Internet restriction programs, Freedom has garnered celeb fans like Dave Eggers, Nick Hornby, Seth Godin and Nora Ephron with a simple promise: Set the $10 program and you’ll be barred from surfing the net for up to eight hours at a time.
Fred Stutzman, a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, developed the software in 2008 after a local coffee bar got Wi-Fi. Before that, Stutzman and others had liked the fact that they could go to the cafe and get work done. Afterwards, “It really changed my experience,” he says. “There was a totally different clientele.”
More than 300,000 people have downloaded Freedom since that time. However, since then, the mobile web has become much bigger, leading to the question of whether there will ever be a Freedom app for your iPhone. Stutzman says that won’t happen any time soon. “I wish there was something for that,” Stutzman says, noting that neither iOS nor Android lets you override their web-browsing functions.
For those not ready to go whole hog on their Internet deprivation, Stutzman also sells a $15 program called Anti-Social that blocks “distracting” social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, as well as any other sites you specify. Stutzman got the idea for Anti-Social when he fell into the “Wikipedia Trap” one day in which he got sidetracked by interesting, but irrelevant information on that site as he was trying to do research.
A free alternative to Anti-Social is LeechBlock, a Firefox add-on that is designed to “block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day,” according to its website.
Another alternative to going cold turkey is to shame yourself into using your computer time more efficiently. This can be achieved with programs like RescueTime, Klok, Slife and ManicTime. RescueTime, the best known of the bunch, gives you a readout at the end of the day (and year if you opt for the $6 a month Pro version) of your web activities.
Jason Grimes, VP of product marketing, says most people are astonished to learn that their eight-hour day translates to just four or five hours of productive time. Of course “productive time” is a slippery definition for most people. What if your job requires you to go on Facebook, for instance? Grimes says he has a simple rule: Time on HootsSuite is productive while time on Facebook or Twitter is goofing off.
Finally, for those who just want to use their computers as a word processor — at least for a time — there are ways to do just that. The Mac-based WriteRoom and its Windows counterpart, Dark Room, promise “distraction-free writing” by paring your screen down to one function: Writing.
For those who already have Microsoft Word, though, you can also get the same effect with a little tinkering.