I had mentioned a month ago that I would be indulging in a social-network detox experiment by not logging on to twitter and gtalk for a month.
I couldn’t stay off gtalk since from time to time I had to converse with my colleagues who are in college when I was at home. However, I have been able to stay off twitter for a whole month. What was the experience like ?
My greatest worry about twitter was that when I felt a bit bored or tired, my first impulse was to check my twitter feed and get lost in the world of puns and politics. However, the problem started becoming worse when I found myself craving for information even when I was doing something that required hard focus, say like making a presentation or reading a paper, or some lengthy blogpost. After a couple of minutes into any of these, subconsciously I would start thinking, “Wait, let me check if @XYZ has posted anything funny”, or, “Did anyone respond to that pun I posted.”. I was beginning to realize that if I don’t curb this now, it would be hard for me to do so at a later point in time. I tried resisting the urge, but there were times when I would be trying to make sense of some convoluted argument in something that I am reading, and despite having spent quite some time on it, it wouldn’t make any sense. During such times, I couldn’t resist the urge of escaping this temporary boredom by checking my twitter feed. This was bad, because when I revisited that paper/blogpost after sometime, I had to do the mental gymnastics all over again. In other words, I was observing that my ability to focus on one thing was deteriorating rapidly.
Having sensed this, I decided to take a break. Just not log on to twitter at all. For a good measure, I set my password to something lengthy random string, which I had no hope of remembering. I did the same for the email account through which I had registered for a twitter account. The idea was that whenever an urge to check the twitter feed would arise, it would conflict with the extra work that had to be done to log on to twitter.
And it worked! For the first few days, there were withdrawal symptoms. I wasn’t able to read anything for more than 5-10 minutes without feeling the need to check the twitter feed. But I would remind myself of the hoops I had to jump if I wanted to do that and get back to reading. After a few days, the situation improved, and these days, I am able to read for an hour without feeling distracted.
As a result, I was able to read a couple of papers that I had to finish. I also finished reading DVG’s “bALigondu nambike”. I have made quite a bit of progress in my sanskrit studies(which I shall mention in another post), I finished listening to a bunch of upanyAsas on rAmAyaNa by Shatavadhani Dr R Ganesh which inspired me to write the rAmAyaNa post. Also, these days I am able to read lengthy blogposts/new articles in full without feeling the need to switch tabs!
From my experiences, I do feel that twitter (or for that matter any social network of this kind) can create a positive response feedback loop that rewards you with instant gratification each time you login and slowly your brain becomes addicted to it. Initially it appears harmless, because you’re spending just a couple of minutes reading/posting about something. But as time passes, as you start following more and more people, as you get involved in a social circle, you get attached to it.
Having said this, I ask myself, what if I had nothing else to do. Would twitter still be a hindrance? I think not. In fact I have discovered several interesting things through twitter and have come across some really awesome persons as well. So, I need to learn to moderate my twitter use. Probably the best thing to do would be to allocate sometime in the day for just this. Not login to twitter during any other time. The only potential disadvantage of this is the Abhimanyu syndrome, i.e, “able to login, but unable to log-out”, especially if you are in the middle of an interesting discussion.
So that’s the plan for the next one month. Use twitter sparingly. Enforce time-limits. And learn to let go when it is time to. I am sure this is going to be harder than refraining from logging on to twitter at all!