Seduced by short-term fun
London - It’s one of the great drawbacks of modern technology: the machines many of us use for work also have the capacity to entertain us.
While cash registers don’t yet come with a joystick, and miners’ helmets can’t project episodes of South Park on to the nearest wall, computers – in particular the internet – conspire to derail the working days of millions.
Zadie Smith has acknowledged two pieces of software that helped her to complete her latest novel.
The first, Freedom, blocks website access for specific periods and can only be reset by rebooting the machine. The second, SelfControl, is a brutally effective whip-cracker that does not even give you the option of rebooting.
Procrastination has always been a problem for writers. Victor Hugo, for example, is said to have written naked and had someone hide his clothes so he was unable to leave the building.
But the internet is deepening that masochistic streak that compels us to defer important tasks regardless of the consequences.
Would you rather creosote a fence or go to a party? Write a 100 000-word novel or indulge in inconsequential online chat about apple crumble?
Anyone who answers “inconsequential chat please” might do well to investigate anti-procrastination software, which comes in many guises. Apps such as Affirmations (iOS) and Stop Procrastination (Android) offer some form of hypnotherapy. One, writtenkitten.net, rewards you with the picture of a fluffy kitty. Write Or Die’s “Kamikaze Mode” punishes you by starting to delete words if you’re not writing fast enough.
Audio signals can be effective: you could set up your computer to emit a “clang” every 15 minutes to remind you time is passing, but apps like Alarms (blog.mediaatelier.com/alarms) and Pomodorable allow you the flexibility to set up a regime of “productive procrastination”.
Of course, most of these can be overridden if we get frustrated – and that’s where tools such as Temptation Blocker come into their own, forcing us to type an unmemorable 32-character password to reach the digital treats we desire.
Not much sympathy is likely to be elicited by the predicament of Smith and people like Jonathan Franzen who plugged his Ethernet cable with superglue and sawed off the “little head”. After all, writers might produce 2 000 words a day, but they probably type at 35 words a minute, leaving seven hours of staring into the distance.
However, as comedy writer Graham Linehan said, “Being bored is an essential part of writing, and the internet has made it hard to be bored.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to postpone. – The Independent