7 Strategies for Keeping the Internet from Taking Over Your Life

This is a guest post by Karyn Brownlee. She speaks for various women’s events and teaches a women’s Bible study at Prestonwod Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. She has written a six-week Bible study, resources for women in ministry, and numerous devotionals. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

I don’t know about you, but I am suffering from information overload. Regardless of where I begin, I seem to fall into a black hole of never-ending links on an unquenchable search for mind stimulation. Let’s face it, without boundaries the internet can become an addiction.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mipan, Image #2090601

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mipan

Web-surfing is now as much of a threat to the family as alcohol or drug abuse. And I’m not just talking about online pornography. The time invested—or rather wasted—online can often preclude other more important activities such as in-person fellowship, marital intimacy, housework, and overall job performance.

How do you know if you are in danger? Netaddiction.com provides a free internet addiction test. This is a short, eye-opening assessment of your attitudes and behavior, resulting in a free numerical score. Just as I suspected, the twenty questions confirmed I am not addicted, but not well-balanced either. I need some tweaking. (Tweaking reminds me of Twitter, tempting me to quit writing and go tweet my result. Argh!)

Recently, my husband was kind enough to share that the U.S. has just opened its doors to its first residential treatment center for internet addiction, a place he may send me if I’m not careful.

To ensure my own health and the health of my marriage, I’m committed to continuous improvement in the area of internet-use management. Even this post is a form of self-therapy and accountability. Here are seven simple guidelines I’m embracing.

  1. Stay true to your personal mission while online. If you don’t know what that is, don’t Google it. Try prayer instead.
  2. Make a daily schedule for online activity and stick to it. Set a timer or an alarm clock if necessary.
  3. Use resources such as Bloglines.com or Google Reader to organize feeds in a central location. (I got this idea from author Mary DeMuth. Thanks, Mary!)
  4. Choose carefully your networks. Avoid the temptation to be a part of every online community you discover.
  5. Sync applications to each other. For example, use Selective Twitter to copy tweets to your Facebook page. This saves time and reduces your exposure to “the black hole.”
  6. Reduce inbox-fillers by turning off email notifications and unsubscribing to unnecessary feeds. These are attention-grabbers and time-suckers.
  7. Fast from technology on Sundays. Give your mind a rest and allow it to refocus and rejuvenate.

Much attention has been given to the potential negative consequences of online activity, but new studies have highlighted some positive outcomes. Recent research by the University of California revealed that internet use stimulates brain activity in older adults, and the Phoenix Center reported it even reduces seniors’ depression.

Surely the age-old balancing act is the chief contributing factor to the positive or negative effects we will experience from our insatiable appetite for cyber consumption. Our internet use must be intentional use. Anytime we let something drive us, we are in for a wreck.

Question: What would you add to my list? How are you managing your time online?
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  • http://mosaicmercy.com David Knapp

    I don't manage my online time very well. I recently set up a paid hosting blog and have found myself getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. I need at least 7 hours! =/

    Your post has inspired me to do the dishes. I think I have neglected some house chores. Thank you.
    My recent post ElfYourself

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  • Christine

    I have always been so smug that I don't watch more than 1 – 2 hours of tv a week but recently discovered I was spending 1 – 2 hours a day bumming around on-line. All good sites mind you, a lot of Christian bloggers or family related themes, but still………that much time gone every day let's me know that I better reign it in!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yea, me, too. I think the Internet is the new TV and can be a huge time suck.

  • http://rosacola.blogspot.com Rocco

    These are great!

    Unfortunately, My current career has me with technology and online all day. I am also in school full time (online*) as well, so I can get away from technology.

    *Yeah, kinda funny!

  • Tami

    Great counsel Karyn,

    You are one wise woman.
    Thanks for the perspective and thanks to Mike for making you his guest.
    All good stuff, my friend.

    You go girl!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jojoagot jojoagot

    I tried the test and got a score of 34. Results say I'm an average internet user but I think the test is not comprehensive enough. It gave me insights about addiction though. Thanks for the link Karyn and Michael.
    My recent post Oh No, He’s Talking About Money Again!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jojoagot jojoagot

    I tried the test and got a score of 34. Results say I'm an average internet user but I think the test is not comprehensive enough. It gave me insights about addiction though. Thanks for the link Karyn and Michael.
    My recent post Oh No, He’s Talking About Money Again!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I haven't taken the test yet. I think I’m afraid to know the results!

      • http://mosaicmercy.com David Knapp

        Me too! I think I know the answer and I would rather not find out.
        My recent post Top 5 Christmas Movies

      • http://passionsforthesoul.typepad.com/vicki Vicki Small

        Me, too! And I think I'll get off of this thing, right after I Share this post on FB! :S

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/janetober janetober

    Thanks – I needed this! Its easy to justify the time I spend online because I'm not looking at sites that aren't good for me. It's all good stuff – but I need some boundaries.

  • Christianne

    This is such a timely and important post. Thank you, Karyn, for being honest about your own struggles, honest about the reality of this addiction's pull on us, and honest about some ways to curb it.

    Interestingly enough, I recently joined Twitter as a way to focus my life's purpose and hold myself accountable to living each day in light of it. This was a result of reading Michael's post on 12 reasons to start twittering. I shied away from joining a long time, but this intentional purpose for its use in my life is proving helpful to focus my days.
    My recent post Learning the Limits of Our Love

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    Great post.

    I actually scored 18 on the test although that's totally wrong because I know I have an addiction problem!

    In England, many people are alchoholics and don't realize it because going to a pub or having a drink at home is such a normal part of life that they don't realize they are dependent. I think that increasingly with the iphone and other internet enabled devices, people will become dependent on and addicted to the internet without realizing it!
    My recent post The Church is AWESOME

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/digitalchiro Patrick MacNamara

    Thank you, Karyn, for this timely post.

    As more and more of life is moving online, I believe the key is balance. As a father and husband, it's my desire to provide not only quality time with my children and wife but also enough time.

    Because of your post I'm re-evaluating my schedule to make sure I keep first things first. I particularly like number seven on your list. What a great idea that I'd like to implement!

    God Bless!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ClayofCO ClayofCO

    Good post. I'm not addicted, but I am infected. It's an mental virus.

    A big time-eater for me is what I call "digistraction." For me, it's going to a site for a specific purpose, getting distracted by an interesting link so I click on it, which takes me down a digital rabbit hole of additional links until I forget original thing I went online for. Long digital detours going nowhere.

    Case in point. As I was writing this comment, I started wondering if anyone else used the term "digistraction," which set me off on a wild Google-chase to see when it originated, and…well, you get the idea. (FTR, it was entered in the Urban Dictionary on April 18, 2007, and seems to have originated in Germanry.)

    I don't think there's a known cure for the digistraction virus, but Karyn's suggestions are like the doctor saying to "eat well, rest, and drink plenty of water." Good, commonsense advice.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I love the term, “digistraction.” That's a new one for me. It definitely describes what all of us experience. Thanks.

  • http://passionsforthesoul.typepad.com/vicki Vicki Small

    I'm getting off. Really! I mean it!

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  • http://true-small-caps.blogspot.com/ Derek

    Great topic, Karyn. I'm off Facebook and Twitter now, since those two produced the least reward for the time spent. But I still read many blogs each day.
    My recent post Decoding the Lost Symbol

  • Pat Brownlee

    I definitely am not addicted, but I do love to read ANYTHING you write, Karyn, mabye it’s because we share the same last name. Your writing as well as your speaking are always so transparent and many times convicting to me personally…and that’s a good thng.

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  • http://building-his-body.blogspot.com/2009/12/how-old.html Anne Lang Bundy

    My score was 41. When I read the assessment, I know 41 is a little low. Like Peter, I have to suspect I'm not as honest with myself as I should be.

    Perhaps the assessment should average in a spouse's responses. But then, like Mike, I'd be afraid to take the test.

  • Karyn

    Mike, thanks for sharing my struggle for solutions with your readers. The comments validate my suspicion – I’m not the only one who battles with the black hole of “digistraction.” (I love that term, Clay!) My prayers are with each of you today who have recognized a need for reevaluation. David, I hope those dishes are clean and put away. ;) Mike, you surely know we are all dying to know your score. I hope you’ll share!

    I’d love to connect with you all on Twitter (@KarynBrownlee), so we can help encourage each other to keep first things first.

  • http://forrest-long.blogspot.com Forrest Long

    Good post! One indicator of internet addiction is how you handle a day when your net provider crashes. It's not the end of the world. Life will go on. The internet may replace television time but even surfing great sites can be a waste of precious time. And we find ourselves sacrificing things that are of first importance for something that we can really do without- information overload.

  • http://mvmaithai.blogspot.com/ E. Thai

    First time visitor. Great blog!
    As for this post – what great timing! Just a few days ago, I spoke with my husband about this exact topic. I decided I needed a schedule so that I won't spend my entire day on the internet. Sure, I'm writing, reading about how to write better, blogging, reading emails, online news and all the good stuff, but enough is enough. I don't dare twitter. When you are neglecting your exercise, your household chores and your spouse, that spells trouble with a big T.
    My recent post Christmas lights at Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee

  • http://www.facebook.com/remcojanssen Remco Janssen

    Shareaholic (Firefox plugin) and the integrated TBUZZ saves me a lot of time tweeting, Facebooking and sharing stuff. Works with posterous as well!xD

    Also ReadItLater is a usefull plugin.


  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bcapranica Bret Capranica

    I should be doing something else right now, but . . . . This a great post, to the point and well put.

    One simple change I have made is to stop using Firefox (or at least many of the 3rd party add-ons). I had so many bells and whistles going off, that to simply open my browser was to direct me to distraction.

    I use Safari almost exclusively (Mac and PC) – it loads and browses very quickly and I find the simplistic, minimal organization helpful in keeping me from chasing an on-line rabbit. If I'm going to Tweet on Twitter or browse FB, best for me to open a separate application or window, rather than have it ringing me up on my browser. I spend less time online that way. And then there is my iPhone. That's another issue.

    Thanks again for the post. OK, now back to . . .

  • http://brighterwalk.com Karyn

    Simplify – often declared the panacea for life. We live in a complex world with endless opportunities and demands for our time. I'm always looking for ways to simplify my "net life". But I try to remember that to simplify means to lessen. Sometimes we can make things more complicated by adding all the apps that are meant to help us organize and manage our online activities. Choose wisely. Less is more.

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  • Heidi McLaughlin

    Great comments Karen. I do believe if we are not careful with our 24 hours a day that God has given us, that this new stimulation will distract us from focusing on what God has designed us to do. I believe this our 21st century enemy of mass DISTRACTION. Like everything else it is good, until the enemy turns is into potential harm.
    Thanks for the insightful post.

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  • NexusARC

    I don’t know about you guys I just use the internet for porn, just fap away, or and memebase, I usually fap on sundays.