Why the Internet is like snow

It’s not a Mac. It’s a Lesnowvo ThinkPad.

Sat­ur­day was really busy though I got almost noth­ing done. I did, how­ever, spend a lot of time lost in cyber­space.  If the day passed in a blur, my take-away was clear: The time has come for me to reclaim my so-called (online) life.

But how to go about it?

In the social media cul­ture wars—Face­book, force for good or evil?—I come down unabashedly on the pos­i­tive side. Thanks to the Inter­net, I’ve recon­nected with child­hood friends and made many new ones. I’ve found jobs, kept up with the news, learned where to get my bike repaired, and heard about new nov­els.  Sim­ply put, I can’t imag­ine my time in Plan B Nation with­out the sup­port, good cheer, and humor that I’ve found online.

That being said, there are lim­its. I hit mine last week­end and went look­ing for strategies.

I started with one of my favorite blog­gers, Havi Brooks, who thinks of the Inter­net as a river and has a com­pre­hen­sive tech­nique for man­ag­ing her time there. I liked the idea in the­ory, but it didn’t really speak to me. Then I came upon an image con­jured by R. Tay­lor, who said he finds it use­ful to think of the Inter­net as a mall.

The Inter­net as Mall. Bingo! I felt a click.

It’s said that Eski­mos have hun­dreds of words for snow. In fact, this turns out to be the Inuit equiv­a­lent of an urban myth, but nonethe­less it got me thinking.

There isn’t a sin­gle Inter­net. Rather our Inter­nets are legion.

There’s the infor­ma­tion kiosk-Internet, the water cooler-Internet, the research-library Inter­net, the employ­ment office-Internet, and the linen-and-housewares-store Inter­net, to name just a few that I frequent.

There’s also the Giant Gabfest Party Inter­net, and that, too, has its place.

It hit me that the prob­lem wasn’t inher­ent to any one of these. The prob­lem was in my not being clear on which one I planned to visit. Ditto for what I wanted to accom­plish there and how long I planned to stay.

Over the past two days, I’ve been work­ing on this. Here’s what I’ve been doing (most of the time, any­way): Before I sign on, I ask three ques­tions: Which Inter­net? For what? How long? I jot down the answers. For exam­ple: “Infor­ma­tion kiosk. Find out how to delete track changes com­ments on a Word doc. 5 min­utes.” Or: Water cooler.  Check FB & email. 15 minutes.”

And you know what? Once I have this sort of plan in place, I’m pretty good at stick­ing to it. I don’t drift mind­lessly from email to Face­book to web surf­ing. Instead, I do what I came for, and then I leave.

Build­ing on this, it occurred to me that, if I were plan­ning a trip to the mall, I could use a shop­ping list. In life offline, I don’t drive to the mall to buy printer paper, get home, and then five min­utes later, drive right back to buy cat food. No. I keep a list of what I need to do at the mall, and when I get there, I do all it at once.

So that’s what I’ve started doing for my trips to the Inter­net mall. When I think of an email I need to send or some­thing non-urgent I want to look up (as in: What movie is play­ing this Fri­day at Pop­corn Noir?), it goes on the Inter­net shop­ping list. It can wait for the next sched­uled trip.

Not sur­pris­ingly, plan­ning my Inter­net trips and using my shop­ping list has made me increas­ingly aware of my ten­dency to reflex­ively jump online for no real rea­son except that my mind is wan­der­ing and the Inter­net is there.

When that Go-There-Now impulse kicks up—and I’ve never seen a bet­ter depic­tion of its siren call than this essay in Orion—I’ve found it’s use­ful to have a list of Things To Do Instead.  For exam­ple: Make tea, pick up 10 things, read the news­pa­per and put it out for recy­cling.  Or, to take another tip from Havi: What lit­tle thing can I take care of right now that would make life bet­ter for Slightly-Future-Me?

It’s always struck me as silly to say that the Inter­net is LIKE THIS or Face­book is LIKE THAT—akin to say­ing that the tele­phone is LIKE THIS or hand­writ­ten let­ters (if you remem­ber those) are LIKE THAT.  All of them are just means, ways to con­nect. As it hap­pens, Eski­mos don’t have hun­dreds of words for snow. I, how­ever, could use at least that many for my Internet.

Note:  Have you found help­ful strate­gies for man­ag­ing your time online? If so, please share them below.

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “Why the Internet is like snow

  1. Love the anal­ogy. Actu­ally, I do the same way. Right before I hit the inter­net, i make sure to write some­how the things that I need to accom­plish using the inter­net because some­times, I get dis­tracted by using Twit­ter or Face­book, then I end up not fin­ish­ing any­thing I planned to fin­ish. Thanks for this good read. :)
    Paula Phillips recently posted…Feel Good Fri­day: Eco Art, Sus­tain­able arts and crafts for your homeMy Profile

  2. fri­day 4pm– african queen
    7pm– zoolan­der
    (just in case it wasn’t a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion, oh and you mis­spelled ‘movie’)

    • Hah! Thanks for the proof­ing, all fixed. And I am DETERMINED to pay you guys a visit soon. I tried–was it last weekend?–but couldn’t find any­one to go w/me so ended up watch­ing two of your movies on DVD (Odd Cou­ple, Dial M) Great choices, both!
      amy gut­man recently posted…Why the Inter­net is like snowMy Profile

  3. I really like the anal­ogy of the mall. The mak­ing a list also con­nected with me. Thanks for another thought­ful essay, Amy. It’s set my mind to think­ing for a change, instead of merely wandering.

  4. Thanks for read­ing, everyone!

    And Anne, really glad you enjoyed the won­drous Orion piece, which is one of my all-time favorites. (To my mind, any Inter­net that could spark its writ­ing can’t be all bad ;-) )
    amy gut­man recently posted…In praise of erringMy Profile

  5. Yes! This is so help­ful — such a sen­si­ble, work­able way to han­dle some­thing that I deal with every day! I love it — thank you.

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