Everyday Systems: Weekend Luddite

The original luddites were textile workers who rose up and smashed the machines that were putting them out of work or forcing them to take lower skill/lower pay jobs. A weekend luddite is a little different. Let me explain the problem first.

I'm a computer programmer. I sit all day if front of a computer. You'd think that when I come home and in the evenings and on weekends the last thing on earth I would want to do is spend more time on the computer. And yet this is precisely what I do. It starts with me checking my stocks (which couldn't have changed, it's after business hours) then I follow a yahoo news story, then I check my web site statistics, then I check some blogs, and pretty soon I'm on some random site about malaysian skyscrapers, which is interesting, sort of, but maybe ten thousandth on my list of what I'd like to be doing. I look up and it's midnight.

I don't watch much tv. I don't play video games. But I fritter away endless hours in front of the computer.

I tried a bunch of restrictions on home computer use. It was much harder to stick with them than I'd thought. Here's what did stick: thou shalt not touch the computer on weekends between breakfast and dinner.

I started out trying to just do Sunday no computer, a single 24 hour period. It seemed appropriate, "sabbatical." But it was just too hard. Unread emails sang out to me like so many Loreleis. Doubts as to whether my web servers were still up and receiving their proper due of traffic plagued me like pangs of conscience. It sounds pathetic, but I couldn't go a whole day, much less a weekend.

After some experimenting, I found that 12 hour blocks were doable. I started with dawn to dusk instead of breakfast and dinner, but that's too seasonally and geographically variable, poorly defined, and since I rarely get up before dawn on weekends, makes it too tempting to cheat. Breakfast to dinner was clear, and (in my case) relatively unvarying. Knowing that I'd just have to wait *half* a day, I didn't get so antsy that I'd break the rules, and I reclaimed most of my waking hours for worthier pursuits. In the evenings my wife and I tend to go out anyway, so it wasn't like I was glued to the computer all night Saturday and Sunday. I found that I had time to do serious, careful reading again.

One of my biggest excuses for procrastinating on the web was tending my web sites. So now, if I have an idea that seems web-worthy, I write it down on a piece of paper. In fact, I find it's easier to write this way. No malaysian skyscrapers to distract me. The weekends seem substantial again. It's a real victory.

No, it doesn't sound impressive. But I have my weekends back. If you're in the condition I was, you know what a great gain that is.

Because weekend luddite has worked so well, I've been trying to extend weekend luddite into the week, simply by reversing the weekend rule on week days (so no computer before breakfast or after dinner). I call this "weekend and evening luddite." Sounds like some twisted cell phone plan, doesn't it? Despite the cute name, I can't say this extension has been a great success so far -- I'm violating it right now.

Still, I think I'm onto something big here and that the "weekend" bit only scratches the surface. For every "labor saving" device it seems there are at least two "time consuming" ones to soak up all that freed time again. T.S. Eliot wrote something about us moderns being "distracted by distraction from distraction," and that was pre-Internet and pre-TV. We're in infinitely worse shape now. I call this larger issue "distraction management." Other distraction management techniques that have been proposed to the everyday systems board include the attractively named (and apparently followed by more than one person, which is more than I can say for weekend luddite, which as far as I know is just me) Cinderella's Electric Curfew

Note: weekend luddite was first described here.

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