Twelve was the magic number. Twelve iridescent blobs of smooth, purple glass. Twelve tokens worth fifteen minutes each, representing my allotted time for internet pursuits outside of work and e-mail each week.
The idea for this budget of time hatched out of a blog post by Leo Babauta in which he explained how he limits his computer time to four or five hours per day and breaks that time into thirty-minute segments. This wouldn’t be a realistic for my work, but I began considering my leisure computer time in light of this idea. I discovered Pintrest this summer and became so engrossed with it that I resolved to only visit the site on the weekends. This removed a great deal of distraction during the work week but led to hours of “binge pinning” on Saturdays and Sundays, motivated by the insane thought that “I won’t get to see any of this for another five days so I must see it all now!”
So on the first Sunday of August, I decided to give myself three hours that week to read blogs, surf Pintrest, and natter about on Facebook. I arranged the twelve shiny bubbles on my desk and after spending time in any of the aforementioned activities, I would deposit the corresponding number of tokens in a crystal candy dish (whose primary duty thus far in life had been collecting dust). I figured thirty minutes a day would be ample time to keep up with any important statuses, recipes, and blogs. Plink, plink, plinka, plink. Four purple disks landed in the candy dish Sunday night and I was out of tokens by Thursday.
I was truly shocked. I had used all twelve tokens without even going to Pintrest once! And when I opened Google Reader the following Sunday there were literally 100 new blog posts waiting for me, so clearly I had been spending more than three hours per week on blogs alone. How much time had I actually been devoting to internet pursuits previously? What would I do with that time if the internet wasn’t available to me? Intrigued, I kept my three hours per week rule through the rest of August.
As you can see from the previous posts, one result of this experiment was that I read and reviewed a book for the first time in five months. Not having the option to mindlessly zone out for hours on end compelled me figure out what I really wanted to do each evening. Previously, I would often get online after dinner thinking, “I’ll just make sure I haven’t missed anything on Facebook before getting on with my evening.” Two or even three hours later, I would log off in such a lethargic mental fog that I had no memory of what I intended to do with my evening until I was crawling into bed and found myself startled by the realization that I had no clean shirts to wear tomorrow or that it was someone’s birthday and I had meant to write a card. But for the month of August, such lethargy was largely absent and most of the time “getting on with my evenings” produced a great deal more satisfaction than getting online had.
I also found that having such limited time available for internet pursuits made me more selective in what I did online. Pintrest was suddenly less appealing when pinning pictures of places I may never go and crafts I may never do meant that I wouldn’t have time to look at my friends’ pictures or read their blogs. As it turned out, I never went to the Pintrest site at all during those four weeks. What’s more, I didn’t really miss it the way I had when I was binge pinning on the weekends.
Living in a culture which continually preaches a gospel of “the more you have the happier you’ll be”, I was genuinely surprised to find myself happier with less. It was like going to a cafeteria instead of a buffet. Both restaurants give you a similar variety of choices, but when you’re paying for each item, you’re less likely to end up with the odd pineapple jello salad on your tray just because it was there. My limits made the time that I did spend on the internet more enjoyable because I chose the activities I was most “hungry” for and didn’t gorge myself on twenty movie trailers on Internet Movie Database just because they were available.
So in the end, I’ve decided to keep using the purple tokens, because I value the paradoxical freedom that these personal boundaries have given me and having a tangible cue makes it easier to stick to the plan. However, there are now sixteen bubbles glistening on my desk, because there are a few blogs that take a little longer to read and I’d really like at least fifteen minutes to peruse the latest crock pot chicken recipes on Pintrest.
(Lest you think that this experiment has caused me to ride a little to far on the moral high horse, let me confess that when we were without internet at home for two weeks here in September, I thought I was going to seriously come unglued! It is one thing to choose not to go to the club and it is quite another thing to be denied access altogether.)