Filter Fail: How to Cure Internet Addiction

You say to yourself, “I’m just going to check my email and get back to doing the dishes.” Two hours later you’ve “liked” a dozen posts on Facebook, watched a hillbilly dance with a raccoon, checked BoingBoing, Twitter, LinkedIn and Root Simple (of course).  Not to mention ,

This used to be called “information overload,” but I prefer the phrase “filter fail” that Douglas Rushkoff introduces in his book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (Rushokoff borrows this idea from the writer Clay Shirky). The problem is not that there’s too much information out there. The problem is that we’ve failed to screen out what is irrelevant.

It happens to me everyday and I’m not alone. This year, according to the research firm eMarketer, internet use will surpass TV viewing. The average American will spend five hours and nine minutes online (much of that time using mobile devices) and four hours and 31 minutes watching television.

I want to be careful not to come off as being anti-technology. The internet is an incredibly useful research tool and a great way to reach out to the urban homesteading community. That being said, I just can’t seem to stop watching those dancing raccoons. We may be well past the point where the distraction potential of the internet is beginning to adversely effect its usefulness.

Preventing filter fail
So what can be done on a personal level to prevent “filter fail?”

Only two things have worked for me in the past:

  • Checking email only twice a day, though this is getting difficult. I find myself falling behind.
  • Putting distance between myself and the computer by getting out of the house in the evening and going to the YMCA or fencing.

I need to do more to prevent filter fail such as getting back to my evening exercise schedule. It’s just too easy to fall into raccoon video holes. I’m even having trouble reading books and not being distracted by looking stuff up on Google.

I’d like to hear from you–do you think you have a problem? What strategies have you used to reduce filter fail?

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  1. Setup parental controls to block your biggest time wasters, but leave it open like an hour a day so that you can have free time.

    A lot of the crap isn’t as interesting once you break the routine of habitually checking it.

  2. Pomodoro! I work in a place with little direct supervision and flexible deadlines, which makes it hard to always stay motivated. But I use the pomodoro technique because I know that I can stay motivated for only 15 minutes at a time. Often times, once I start going I don’t have to reset the pomodoro clock and can work undistracted until I find myself distracted again.

  3. This is a timely post for me, Erik. We haven’t owned a t.v for years, but I find the Internet seduces me into a passive consumption of media junk food regularly now.

    I like the idea of having structured times to check email, and substituting action for armchair living. Half the battle is naming your demons.

    Think I will conduct an experiment on living less virtually this week. If I have any findings of significance, I’ll report back.

  4. I feel your pain. I struggle with the same thing. Since I was young, I’ve always wanted to know ‘everything’. The internet taunts me with that possibility, but I definitely prefer and enjoy my time away more than my time hooked up…

  5. Matt and I have been talking about getting the internet at our home. We currently go to the library to access the web (I work there so its pretty much daily). One of our biggest reservations about getting it at home is that we don’t want to suffer from filter failure. But, the net is, as you mentioned, a wonderful research tool which would certainly help in our urban homesteading endeavors from the garden to the sewing table and everywhere between. Its a tricky thing, I think. Its so easy to “get sucked in.”

  6. I realized I had this problem recently, so I made a list of activities for myself that are not computer/internet related that I enjoy. Whenever I find myself falling into the evening trap of getting lost on the internet, I look at my list (it involves things like practicing guitar, going for a walk, reading poetry, etc.) I try to keep the list where it’s obvious so that it reminds me of my goal.

  7. I use a reader to manage my blogs (used to be Google Reader until they stopped it, then I switched to bloglovin). That way, I’m less tempted to take the time to check blogs individually, but can view the latest offerings newspaper-headline style and can better pick and choose which ones to read or not that day. That saves time, too, because it’s less time to load the one reader page than to check all the blogs one by one, or open them in individual e-newsletter posts by email etc. I also subscribe to LOTS fewer blogs in general (yours is still on the short list ;-), and have taken myself off of lots of email lists – especially ones that are notifying me of sales/promotions etc. I ditched facebook alltogether about 2 years ago (WONDERFUL article about breaking up with facebook in an issue of Taproot magazine) and never got past my first tweet on twitter LOL. I keep a list of things I need to do online on my “to do” list, which makes it easier not to be online, forget to do it, then go back to take care of it and get sucked down a rabbithole. Lastly, I resist the urge to comment on blog posts or articles (most of the time 😉 But yeah, it’s tough tough TOUGH not to let those filters fail when you are stressed out/bored and welcoming the distraction!

  8. Thank you! You remembered me to check in google something I just read in a tiny book I was reading since ages…

  9. Coonfun pusher here…..I’ll tolerate no underminin’ of my sneaky way to get Mr. H all wallered in inter-stupid-webs….ya’ll shoulda seen the useless sites I been pushin on his spongy media starved brain….. why it’s amazin he’s done and given ya’ll any good info what so evs.

  10. My cat likes to attack my feet when I sit at the computer desk and he’s hungry (all the time), so that really limits my desktop time. I do spend too much time on my phone, but commenting on blogs and really doing much beyond skimming the latest articles in Feedly is too tedious and I soon give up and drag myself outside to tend the garden.

  11. I got an app called “freedom” and it basically locks your internet for blocks of time so you don’t get pings in the machine is still on, and its just a great way to reinforce that you are doing something other than hitting refresh all day.

  12. We made the decision a couple of months ago to get rid of broadband at home. Both of us need the internet for our work (Rima for her online shop and her blog at and me for my acupuncture practice) but we realised that we were losing ‘home’ as a quiet place, as a sanctuary. It’s meant negotiating to use some office space in the nearby town, and is sometimes a pain in the neck, but we’ve regained our home as a place where we do the things we love, and there’s a quality of peace returning which we’ve missed for a long while. A *good move* for sure…

  13. Stayfocused is a program that I use. It works well for limiting the sites I specifically want to limit (Facebook, reddit, youtube) but doesn’t do much for idle researching (currently looking to buy a cheap but well maintained used car, the searching for which has kept me up well past my bedtime for the past few nights). It’d be nice to find a solution for that.

    I’ve also tried having no computer days on Sundays, which sometimes helps reset my priorities.

  14. This is timely for me as well. I just tried a “media fast” for a week. Stopped checking everything but email. It certainly helped me to remember that when I’m tired, I need to REST, not zone out on the internet. From now on I will put time limits on my internet usage…perhaps 1 hour/day off of blog reading & face booking for now. I like the idea of programs like “self control” helping to weed out the junk. It is SO easy to watch silly videos and waste tons of time!

  15. I gave up Facebook a long time ago and that has helped more ways than I can think of. I feel like I reset my brain when I walked away from FB. Talk about a black hole of nothingness…

    Also, I have internet free days, periodically turn off and put away my phone and assign certain times and durations to be online during the day (ie – only working on my blog when I’m at work on a break).

    Also, I list write. An itemized list of everything I want to accomplish online while I’m online and then I draw a big, fat line through the completed ones. Keeps me on track.

  16. Erik, This post resonates with me as well (but for me it is cat videos instead of your raccoon issue!). 🙂
    I havent come up with a fail-safe solution yet but I like to leave my phone at the other end of the house occasionally so that it is out of site, out of mind. Also sometimes if I’m feeling particularly internet addicted, I will take a walk or follow my breathing or stretch / do a few min of yoga to calm that mind that is always searching and not still

  17. I just solved this problem this week! I downloaded an extension called stay focused, for google chrome, cause that is what I fond myself using the most. The extension allows you to put create a list of websites and then only allow yourself x amount of time on them in a 24 hour period, the it pops up a page that says, “Shouldn’t you be working?” I also added a feature to my browser that keeps track of how long I am on a page, so that I can guilt myself when I have been zombified for too long. I highly recommend!

  18. I find if i only check emails once a day then I have more timeto watch hillbillies dancing with racoons and roomba surfing cats in shark costumes! 😉

  19. Ever since I read your post about checking email at 11 and 4 and creating a schedule with limits, I’ve wanted to follow that, but couldn’t quite make it work. I would start out in the morning to get all of my work on the computer out of the way, but by 11:00 if I wasn’t finished, I couldn’t drag myself away. And I was missing my morning yoga b/c I knew if I did that first then I definitely wouldn’t be finished by 11:00.

    In the past month I have found a similar solution that works for me. I can make breakfast for the household, practice my meditation and yoga, and then dive into my computer work by 9am, aiming to be finished by noon or 1:00. That gives me about 3-4 hours of garden, errand, or free time in the afternoon before the evening rush starts. I can check back on the computer briefly before starting the evening.

    I try to keep myself off the phone/computer during the afternoon.

    Thanks for keeping this issue at the forefront, it’s a really important one.

  20. I bought myself a really small tablet about a year ago. Surprisingly it keeps me off the computer more as I can check my email quick and not get distracted by browsing a bunch of sites that just aren’t easy to navigate on a mobile device. I try to limit my social time to that and save the computer for things that actually need to be done.

    Having small children really helps too. Put that computer in your family room and have four kids. They don’t like Mom distracted by the computer.

    I don’t have a cell phone. That means when I’m away from the house I’m totally unplugged. Which also means I have to *gasp* interact with my children when we go places, have to wait in line, go to the park, etc.

    All that being said, I still get sucked in way too much.

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