Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Internet Detox: Results

Posted by Trixter on October 31, 2012


October’s lifehacking experiment is over! I’m back online and trying not to salivate.

There’s a lot to update here, so I’ll start with the summary conclusions first, then work my way down to the statistics, and finally end this post with entries from my daily log that I recorded as the experiment progressed.  If you only have one minute to read this, you’ll get the meaty bits first.

Conclusions

I gained two major personal insights as a result of this experiment.  The first was that I am my own worst enemy.  Much of the email that would take up my time was actually opted-in by me: Sale notifications, new things on ebay I might like, forum replies, etc. Over the next few days I am going to take a hard look at what I’m receiving and pare it down. I’m not completely to blame; over 1000 emails were spam that got through my filters, so I’ll have to look into more filtering beyond what I already have (I currently use spamassassin, greylisting, and bayesian filtering in my MUA).

The second insight was the discovery that I have more nervous energy than I realized, and am more anxious than I should be. As I get older, I lack the ability to keep it in check.  I find aging interesting from the standpoint of an engineer:  While the amplitude of my mood swings has decreased over the years, the frequency has increased.  I used to deal with anxiety using programming, action games, IRC, web browsing, email, online communities, etc. to distract me.  With most of those removed this past month, I turned to other avenues such as nervous eating (I gained two pounds) and snapping at my family during particularly low periods. :-(

The solution, I think, is not to go back on the sauce completely, but regulate it. Work smarter, not harder.  Keep doing email, but only useful email — all these automated notifications and alerts simply must go away.  Keep reading news, but pare down my newsfeed to just the bare essentials (sorry woot-offs, don’t let the door hit you on the way out).  And I’m giving serious thought to having some days (like the weekend) be “no-internet” days.

Did I get more meaningful things done in my free time, or did I just find other ways to waste it? Both meaningful (programming) and meaningless (tv, movies) activities increased at roughly the same amount.  Did I spend more time with family? A bit more, but there was no significant change.  Did I get around to reading Neuromancer? Nope. In fact, I didn’t read any books at all, other than technical information on FAT12/FAT16, and “The Pro Audio Spectrum” book sent to me by my good friend Mike Melanson.  Did I miss facebook? Not one bit. Did facebook miss me? Not really :-) but that doesn’t bother me either.  Was I inundated with spam? Despite my predictions, spam did not increase exponentially as the spambots received confirmation that  I was a real person through my vacation message auto-replies. MAILER DAEMON bounces were less than 6% of the email I received.

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. I also brainstormed at least 12 more month-long experiments to try, half of which deal with my physical health and the other half with my mental health. (I’ll stay online for those, I promise!)

Experiment Statistics

Health: Weight gained/lost: +2 pounds :-(

Email:

  • For the month of October, I received 5690 emails, 3913 (69%) of which were obvious spam. Over 1000 more were non-obvious spam — spamassassin didn’t catch them, and neither did the bayesian filtering I have in my MUA.
  • Of the remaining 1777 emails, 8 of the top 10 senders were services that I signed up for — voluntary spam!  Those 8 were: ebay.com, kickstarter.com, paypal.com, (my bank).com, netflix.com, (another bank).com, vintage-computer.com, and linkedin.com.
  • I received 174 emails from other things like hobbyist mailing lists and groups — stuff I want to keep on top of, but things that I now realize a daily or weekly summary would suffice.
  • I received around 35 personal or truly important emails during the entire month out of all 5690, roughly 1 per day.

RSS feed: Received over 1200 news articles, 1000 of them daily tech news. I will be paring 25% of those down.  I’m also not sure if I’m going to read them all to catch up.

Movies watched:

TV Shows/Miniseries watched:

Games played:

Notable activities performed:

  • Performed firmware and BIOS update to my XTCfv2 prototype.
  • Significantly rewrote 8088flex player – 60fps sustained is now possible! (if the bandwidth is there).  I’ll blog about that later.
  • Digitized and edited more found footage from my VHS tapes.
  • Took my kids to a comic book store and bought them some yu-gi-oh cards; they played games with each other afterwards.
  • Took Sam out to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, just him and Dad.
  • Wrote a deleted data recovery program for FAT12 and FAT16 filesystems.  I’ll blog about that later.

Daily Log

Day 0:

I prepared by configuring and testing vacation messages for both my home-grown traditional mbox mailbox that has been servicing @oldskool.org for eons, as well as the gmail address I alternately use. I then moved my entire inbox (about 100 items still unread, that may be a lifehack for another month) to a separate folder so that I had a clear delineation of what I had to empty before going back to my old inbox. I wanted to watch some new seasons of shows with my kids in October, so at the 11th hour I ordered some DVDs from Amazon. I turned off Data Network Mode on my phone so that it wouldn’t be constantly trying to check email and update news unless I was at home on wifi where I could ignore it a little easier. I also removed the news widgets (rss aggregator, youtube channels, facebook, twitter) from my phone’s home screens so I wouldn’t be distracted by them. Finally, I made sure all of my podcast subscriptions were current and downloaded to my phone for listening (I don’t consider this a cheat as I used to listen to the radio and mixtapes on a portable cassette player two decades ago).

Day 1:

Exceptions started on the first day, when I needed to access some online benefit information for work, and the only way to do that was over the public internet. But the experiment wasn’t to cut out all internet usage, it was to cut out all unnecessary distractions and wasted time, so I felt these that acceptable. Another exception was because I wanted to keep a log for this experiment in a file, not a paper notebook, so I allowed myself to ssh to my home server from wherever I was so I could record new info into the log. Again, I don’t feel this was against the spirit of the experiment; I could keep a paper notebook log, but I can’t stand writing longhand.

Already on the first day I had to catch myself; I had just finished watching a documentary on The Weavers and wanted to learn a little more about them, so reflexively I started to pull up wikipedia. I was halfway through typing “Weavers” before I mentally slapped my hand and closed the browser. Later that day I wanted to confirm an artist’s tour dates, and I struggled with the decision to designate that as an exception because I honestly couldn’t tell if there was any other way to look that information up other than the artist’s website. I caved and spent about 90 seconds confirming the artists’s tour dates. (Speaking of which, how did people look up tour dates before the internet? I’m serious, I really want to know. Other than posters plastered up at local venues, and maybe a fanzine or fan club newsletter, I can’t figure out how people knew when and where to catch a show.)

I also quickly made an exception for work-related conversation. When someone asks you about the new Nook tablet or Galaxy Note II or some other tech news as part of interoffice chit chat, answering “I have no idea, I’m on an internet sabbatical” does not improve comradery among coworkers. That kind of response is less “social scientist” and more “antisocial hipster douchebag”. So whenever that came up, I allowed myself a few minutes to get familiar with what they were talking about. This policy was in addition to the previous exception that anything specifically work-related was ok (dictionary, reference material, vendor tech support forum, etc.) Lifehacking experiments cease to be fun when they screw with my ability to provide for my family, so I didn’t feel it was cheating making these exceptions.

Other first-day oddities included a high sense of anxiety — I was picking at my fingers all day, something I do when I’m nervous — as well as getting a song stuck in my head for several hours (and I hadn’t even listened to the song, just thought about it for a few seconds). I’m not convinced these behaviors were related to the experiment, however; correlation != causation.

Day 2:

I peeked at my email to make sure delivery and vacation messages were still working. 420+ emails, 99% of them appear to be spam. Scanned subjects and didn’t look like I was missing anything important. Total time: 90 seconds.

Told co-workers about my experiment at lunch; they were not impressed. In fact, we only talked about it for a minute and then moved on.

Added another exception for my weather app widget on my phone’s home screen. I would normally turn on the radio, read a newspaper, or just stick my head out the window to determine the weather, and I only glance at the app once a day, so I don’t consider leaving the weather app enabled a “cheat”.

Same song from day 1 still stuck in my head.

Day 3:

Peeked at email again for another 90 seconds just to make sure it was working ok. So far so good. Almost 800 emails, but most are spam. (I have an effective spam filtering strategy with multiple components, but a portion of it is bayesian filtering on the part of my MUA and since I’m not running my MUA, the spam is still in my inbox.)

Finally cracked and had my first real “infraction”: I overheard someone mention spending $300 on Halotherapy which sounded suspiciously like woo-woo junk science. Curiosity burned me up  so much that I just had to confirm if I was right or not. (I was.)  Total time spent online: 2 minutes.

I think my nervous-energy mind is having trouble adjusting to this new schedule, as I have come back to this log four times today to update it and the day is only half over. I continue to pick at my fingers. I may need to find some other way of releasing anxiety.

Same song from day 1 still stuck in my head!!

Day 4:

Watched 45 minutes of the 2012 Presidential Debate on my phone using a justification that I now can’t recall. I think I tried to justify it using some sort of scheduled VHS tape analogy. I think I messed up royally here. The only mitigating factor is that I watched all 45 minutes contiguously, calmly, and gave it my full attention.  Unfortunately, now I don’t want to vote for either of them.

Drowning out the stuck song in my head using a dance/electro/hiNRG/techno playlist on shuffle.

Day 6:

Got online to go directly to ebay to handle some auction sales. (This was an exception that I agreed on before I started the experiment, because it’s not worth borking my ebay feedback rating and deny people merch just because I’m doing an experiment.)  Once done, did not feel the need to go browsing or check email.

Day 7:

While seeing a matinee, saw a poster for Taken 2. Hadn’t even realized it was being made, let alone in theaters! Went to Roger Ebert’s online reviews to check out a review, which I justified as being no different than picking up the paper to do the same.

Matinee was Looper. It was good — not great, just good. The best thing about the movie was watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt do his best to look and act like Bruce Willis. Prosthetics were involved.

Day 8:

Coworker mentioned to me that Jellybean might actually work on my craptastic Epic 4g and pointed me to http://get.cm/?device=epicmtd . Now my phone is burning a hole in my pocket until the end of the month!

Day 9:

Completely and utterly fell off the wagon when I ran into a programming problem and couldn’t find the answer. Searched the ‘net for 2 hours before concluding that I could probably figure out the problem myself if I just think about it for a while. Gotta get back up on the horse!

Day 11:

I was stumped by a programming problem and couldn’t resist the urge to ask someone online for help. If I was asking any random person I would probably have been able to resist, but the Internet is the great equalizer, so it was very easy for me to perform the equivalent of asking Chekov advice on how to write a play. That’s pretty hard to resist. (The advice I got back was extremely helpful; it was worth it.)

Day 12:

Watched a documentary on the Zodiac killer with Melissa; took both boys to a comic book store to get some more Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and Max discovered Magic: The Gathering and is now 50+ cards down that rabbit hole.

Day 13:

Measured my weight and was shocked to learn that I had actually gained half a pound instead of losing weight like I thought I would during this experiment.

Did three loads of laundry, which is about 2.5 more loads than I do in a week.

Day 14:

Did 4 loads of laundry in the breaks between programming sessions.

Day 16:

Halfway point achieved! Max told me he was impressed I made it this far.  :)

Not having to check email constantly is a huge win IMO, although I feel somewhat guilty,  like I am avoiding responsibility or something.

It has been effortless to resist the pull of facebook and twitter; it  just seems like so much noise, noise, noise, noise . I miss cracked.com the most, as I usually read it in bed as part of my falling asleep ritual. I am compensating with tv shows instead. I should probably be reading  a book or something (or nothing!)

Day 17:

I bricked my phone trying to flash it. Because the USB port is broken on it, there is no way to flash a recovery image to it — so I am going to be without my phone for about 3 days. This should get interesting.

Day 19:

Got phone back, and found that I didn’t really miss it.

Noticed that I don’t seem to miss my email at all. In fact, it’s kind of a relief. The first two weeks I felt like I was shirking some sort of responsibility, but now it just seems like a burden has been lifted. It’s a shame it can’t last.

First real fallout of not checking email found today: My NAS dropped a drive on the 13th, and I never saw the error because I wasn’t checking email which is where I have the errors sent. This morning, it dropped another drive and I lost the entire NAS. It’s backed up, but I could have prevented the upcoming week of rebuilding and restoring if I had just replaced that drive on the 13th.

Day 20:

Was able to recover the NAS without resorting to backups. ZFS ROX DA HOUSE Y’ALL

Day 24:

Over the last week, my willpower has eroded to the point where I’m using the Internet about 10 minutes a day. I needed some questions answered for my programming project, so I have been on Usenet to get help. I’ve also visted IMDB to look up trivia for movies or shows I’d just watched. This is still a far cry from where I used to be (at least an hour every night) but I still feel sheepish.

Day 28:

Spent most of the weekend finishing up programming a data recovery utility for FAT12/FAT16 filesystems.  Was extremely calming, relaxing. I wish I’d programmed it 25 years ago though, since I built two novel functions into it that no other recovery utility of the 1980s had. I could have made a lot of money back then.

Day 29:

I don’t miss my email at all, but I’ll need to deal with it soon, so I broke my rules for about 10 minutes to research how best to gather statistics from mbox files and grab some source tarballs. I ran October’s email through the excellent MailListStat program.  The results are somewhat what I feared: I appear to be my own worst enemy. Most of the email I’ve received I signed myself up for. Information overload. I will be correcting that in a big way in November!

Next?

Stay tuned for November’s lifehacking experiment: My health!

6 Responses to “Internet Detox: Results”

  1. David said

    I’m glad you shared the results. I have done similar experiments with a different approach. My results are very similar. The only significant difference is that the less time I spend on the Internet, the more time I spend riding my bike, and therefore my health improves. I think it is cool that your next experiments will go that direction.

  2. Chris said

    Meanwhile I have no power… yet I have internet from time to time thanks to a generator powering the fiber optic terminal at the house (maintaining land line phone is a priority thanks to spotty cell service). I can honestly deal with it, other issues take priority like keeping food cold and getting gas for the generator (its not a pretty sight here in the northeast right now).

  3. metoikos said

    Given that I struggle with some of the same mood issues and also use the internet to distract myself or sub-in for actual social interaction, this is making me look once again long and hard at my internet use. Kudos.

  4. Pepe said

    I cannot believe you made so many ‘exceptions’ and broke so many times the basic rules of the ‘challenge’, and you still think you did comply with the basic tenet of such a ‘challenge’. Total fail, me thinks.

    • Trixter said

      A “total fail” would have been using the internet for 2+ hours every evening, like I was before the challenge. During the entire month of October I used the internet for an average of 2 minutes a day (averaged across the entire month). I’m curious how you think that’s a total fail, since I stated at the outset that some exceptions were required to maintain work and family. 120 minutes to 2 minutes actually exceeded my expectations.

      I’m definitely failing at November’s challenge, if that “helps”.

      • Nate said

        Please don’t feed the trolls, Jim. The proper response is to delete the above comment, sans reply.

        Those of us who have actually met you are hoping you have fun, feel good, and enjoy the experiments. Let us know how it turns out.

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