I’m back

This blog and my twitter account have been very quiet for the past year. This time it wasn’t entirely due to laziness or a lack of motivation. Instead, as an experiment, I gave up all forms of social networking and online news: I stopped reading all blogs, I uninstalled the twitter and facebook apps, I deleted all bookmarks to anything resembling an online news service, and I removed all chat programs. Apart from one or two minor lapses, in order to obtain some contact details, the closest I was to anything resembling a social network is arxiv.org and the closest news source has been (occasionally) the radio. (Not internet radio though.) I did, however, read email (alas, this seems to be necessary for daily functioning in a large institution in the modern world…)

Why did I do this? I think it is an understatement to say that the internet is distracting and I increasingly had the suspicion that news and social networks did not make me happier. I also suspected that the internet was a serious drain on productivity. So, what is the result? Disappointingly, my productivity didn’t soar. It turns out that you can be distracted by things that aren’t the internet, e.g., unfortunately, books. This problem must be solved by some other productivity measure (however, visiting a lifehacker site is still strictly forbidden!).

What about happiness? This is more interesting: I think I am, in general, actually a teensy weensy bit happier. It is abundantly clear that “giving up the internet” is not a miracle cure for the malaise of modern life. But one does feel noticeably calmer on a day to day basis when not exposed to people being wrong on the Internet.

But didn’t I miss out on loads of important things? Well, it seems not. It gives you a sense of perspective to stop living in the sometimes hollow echo chamber that is the blogo-twitter-gplus-facebook-sphere. I’m sure I missed out on loads of really important scandals and outrages. I do know that I missed out on a couple of really very good blog articles: but the nice thing is that the good ones I did miss got recommended to me by word of mouth.

I am now returning to a more active internet presence: I strongly believe in open access science, and open science in general. I also believe that social networks are a fantastic medium with which to interact with others in science. I just wish there was a really simple way to filter out all the negative stuff.

To kick things back off on this blog I will be right back with a guest post 😉


5 Responses to I’m back

    • tobiasosborne says:

      Thanks Steve,

      Hopefully this blog will be a little less weedy in the future 😉

      Best wishes!

  1. Ashley says:

    Hi Tobias,

    Good to see you back off the wagon 🙂 One question: I’ve seen various speculations that Internet use is affecting our thinking processes (or even rewiring our brains). In particular, I’ve read claims that use of blogs, social media etc. reduces our ability to concentrate and stay focused. Did you find that going cold turkey for so long improved your ability to focus, eg. on long and complicated arguments in papers?

    • tobiasosborne says:

      Dear Ashley,

      Many thanks for your comment. Indeed I’ve also read claims that the internet, in particular social media, is modifying the way we think, and this was one of the primary reasons why I stopped using it. At the time I was very distracted indeed by blogs etc. Personally speaking, after several months, I did find it a bit easier to concentrate on thinking through long arguments. But this, I think, wasn’t the most important change I noticed.

      The most important thing I noticed is not so much that there were less distractions, (in truth, there are *always* distractions), but rather that I was less distracted by a certain class of things. What I mean here is that there seems to be at least two different classes of distractions: (i) plain old lack of focus leading to thoughts wandering, looking out the window, etc; and (ii) a rather more insidious distraction coming from usually social media sources that redirect the narrative of one’s thoughts and motivations. For example, there are very many excellent scientific blogs which continually feature articles about a variety of topics. The authors of such blogs often write extremely beautiful and persuasive articles and it is very easy to get interested in, and carried away by, their ideas and motivations. This is certainly not a bad thing! But after a while, personally speaking, I began to detect this as a kind of “background noise” or “systematic bias” in my thoughts: it was hard to concentrate on the research directions and problems that I thought were important as I was continually being exposed to other very interesting and attractive problems.

      Reducing this second class of distractions has helped me enormously in concentrating on what I feel are the most important research directions for myself.


      • Ashley says:

        Thanks! That’s an interesting point. I guess another solution would be for you to write your own beautiful and persuasive blog posts, to convince yourself that your research directions are indeed interesting 🙂

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