When I was a kid, my mom got annoyed when she saw me standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open, deciding what to eat.
I was wasting energy, letting cool fridge air out. But also, I was wasting time.
She’d tell me to think about what I wanted to eat first, then open the refrigerator, get the item I wanted to eat, and take it out. Remove the phase where I gaped at all the food inside, cool air flooding out around me.
There are several ways this memory resonates with me now. For one thing, my mom’s German efficiency. For another, my family’s good fortune, that any time I opened up the fridge, I’d always be able to find something to snack on.
But it also makes me think about how I use social media, and the internet more generally.
My mom’s rule was the same for TV as for the fridge. If there was a specific show she wanted to watch, she’d turn on the TV to watch it, and turn it off when the show ended.
This is so different from how we use the internet now. We go on Facebook or other sites to see what’s going on, and the sites are designed to deliver the most addictive kind of intermittent reinforcement (where you get rewarded some of the time, unpredictably). So we just stay on. And time slides past us, like cool air from the fridge door.
Lately, to staunch this time flow, I’m applying the refrigerator method. I’ll go on a news site to read a story, and then get off. I’ll dive into the Class III rapids of Twitter for 20 minutes for Twitter, and close my laptop when that time is up.
I’ve found this helpful because it builds my self-control and my patience. It also helps my brain feel less frantically stimulated by everything I could be reading, watching, and thinking about at any given moment.
In Cal Newport’s wonderful book Deep Work, he examines methods for concentrating and producing high-quality results while surrounded by distraction and stimuli.
The book is full of practical advice, but it’s also philosophical. “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on,” Newport writes.
Let’s get stingier with our focus. Let’s narrow our spotlights. Let’s turn them off regularly to let them recharge.
Listen to Ben Domenech’s interview with Cal Newport over at the Federalist Radio Hour.