nosurf

Created: 2022-01-28 Updated: 2022-05-27

Update: See the feed for my update on this titled "nosurf2"!

Increasingly, I’ve been compulsively surfing the Web, opening more and more browser tabs, and completely losing all sense of time.

This has become automatic and the behavior can be triggered by a variety of situations.

When I say, "losing all sense of time," it is the same experience as driving to a familiar location and arriving with absolutely no memory of the drive itself. Rat-brain, autopilot.

I can sit at a desk with a specific two-hour goal in mind and then get up two hours later, close twenty browser tabs, and have absolutely no idea what happened in the last two hours. I’m losing chunks of my life.

Furthermore, multiple attempts to curb this behavior from various angles have failed miserably. If this isn’t an addiction, then we need a new word for it.

Dopamine

I think what’s happening here is that my brain is hooked on the dopamine that comes with surfing the Web. There’s a "thrill of the hunt" when I look up a new programming language or find a cool new blog. There’s also a gambling element that happens when I head to Hacker News to see if anything exciting has appeared on the main page: sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t.

Checking email has a lot of the same problems - and usually leads to more Web surfing.

Avoidance

Actually, it’s worse than that. I’m not just hooked on the good feelings and easy rewards I get when I surf the Web. I’ve discovered that I’m also using it as a way to avoid bad feelings of any kind. Projects with deadlines or outstanding GitHub issues or an email inbox with some high quality communications I should really reply to…​

The worst part is that I’m getting almost nothing out of the Web surfing. Oh, sure, I pick up interesting tidbits here and there. But most of it doesn’t stick. I’m just skimming the surface of hundreds of subjects, never diving deeply into any of them. And I always feeling like I’m in a big rush because I should really be doing something else. I’m simultaneously wasting time and short on time.

28 Days

I’m going cold-turkey on Web surfing for four weeks.

I’m defining "surfing" as: any aimless browsing or consuming that isn’t accomplishing an immediate task:

  • Looking up an API method’s parameters in official documentation: okay.

  • Reading a blog post about why the API is poorly designed: BAD.

  • Ordering some supplies to build a project: okay.

  • Reading somebody’s build log for a similar project: BAD.

  • Watching a video to learn how to make a household repair: okay.

  • Watching more videos by the same handyman because they’re interesting: BAD.

Instagram and Twitter are out (though if somebody direct-messages me, I can certainly respond). Email is fine as long as I’m careful about not following interesting-looking links.

I’m going to allow myself to play video games, but after each level or mission, I’m shutting it down and doing something else. In general, games haven’t been a problem.

A family movie is fine. Binge-watching shows is not currently one of my problems, but if it were, that would be out.

So Far

I’m still at the beginning of the 28 days (I’m at a laughably small percentage of the challenge) and I’ve already learned so much:

  • The Web is a powerful distraction. Almost nothing lets me avoid mental discomfort as effectively as the Web.

  • My hands actually twitch to open a browser when I have negative thoughts.

  • But that’s happening less already.

  • High-quality, slow-burn sources of information (technical books) are now more appealing.

  • High-quality, slow-burn entertainment like books and board games are now more engrossing.

  • Personal projects are more interesting.

  • Time feels somewhat slower and more plentiful.

  • Ideas bubble up more often and there’s more mental space to ruminate about things.

  • The "old me" is coming back.

In short, get rid of the cheap thrills and everything else gets better.

After?

What happens if I make it to day 28?

Well, I’m hoping for a "reset". Maybe I can responsibly read blogs and technical articles online again. But I don’t know.

I’ll just be happy to make it that far.