Time Online, Revisited

I've received several variations of the following note, This one's from Lindsay:

Dear Elizabeth,

I read your column about time spent online with interest. I know that you must have spent a lot of time online before this column was written. Are you saying you've changed your computer habits? I need to do something about my computer use. I was wondering if you'd share your guidelines with me (if you have new ones).

Yep! I definitely do have new "guidelines." They were about a year in the drafting (some things come very slowly to me). My guidelines are, of course, mine. They suit me (at least right now) and are likely to be revised by me. But I'm happy to let you peek, particularly since so many people seem interested in the "rest of the story" after reading that piece and this one.

  • I don't pursue friendships online. Let me explain that one carefully. I definitely do email my friends. And I'm grateful for email and blogs where friends are concerned. It's opened up whole new worlds. A couple of friends, in particular, have been friends since childhood. Since we were military kids, most of that friendship time has been long distance. It's amazing how much more connected we are able to be since the internet exploded and long distance became a fairly inexpensive proposition. That said, I don't pursue friendships online. I might share photos or links or files (in the case of my friends who love color-coded homeschool and homemaking lists as much as I do). But if an email conversation goes more than a couple of posts deep, I pick up the phone or arrange for an in-real-life meeting at the park or playground.  Of all the habits I've changed, this one is bearing the most fruit.
  • The corollary to the first rule is that I don't use my cell phone much at all. There are exceptions to this rule but, for the most part, I never use it when driving and I rarely use it unless minutes are free. I had gotten into a bad habit of phone calls while driving last fall. My daughter pointed out rather poignantly how much she missed our conversation time while driving to activities. And really, I'm not the best driver. It's better all the way around if I don't drive and talk on the phone.
  • I don't post to message boards or email groups. The only exception is the business of local groups who use such vehicles to communicate between meetings. Online groups are very useful in that limited capacity. Otherwise, they don't work in my life for a variety of reasons. Honestly, of all the pruning, this was the most difficult. But it's also the one that stands to bear the most fruit.
  • I only write and read online if my kitchen is clean. This is a variation of the original promise I made to my husband when I started blogging--a promise quickly forgotten. Life is much more peaceful since I've returned to it. I only blogged once last week. Feel free to imagine why;-)
  • I whittled my Google Reader down to what I discerned was a manageable number of blogs. This was a major hack job, not a little whittle. I cut the list by about 90%. Admittedly, sometimes I feel like I'm missing the party, but on the whole, it's a very good thing. I do allow myself to follow links that I find on my ten. I also read "Friends Shared Items," if they interest me. Google has generated the friends in this case (and I can't figure out how to add or delete from that list, I'm embarrassed to admit).  I think a feed reader is a very, very useful tool for managing time and content online. When I take that tool and put my own restrictions on it, its invaluable. Remember, the kitchen must be clean. Furthermore, I only check once a day.  If I get interrupted, so be it. Life will go on. Last week, I went four days without checking in at Google Reader. Nothing earth-shattering happened. 
  • I don't talk on the phone or get online if my husband is home and awake. This is not a new rule. It's actually a very, very old rule. It drives him nuts to have me on the phone or online. All my friends are well aware that this is the standard rule around here. Several of them have the same rule in their homes. Now, it probably needs to be said that I'm a morning person and he's not, so I tend to have a chunk of time in the early morning if my toddler allows it. He also travels very often; he always has. When other moms have their grown-up time when the children are sleeping, I'm often alone. I use that time to write Serendipity. It used to be online friend time, but now it's more sharply focused. This is a good thing. Ultimately, I'm dong something that benefits my family, while enjoying some time to create something beautiful that actually stays done:-).
  • I take time outside every single day. This might seem utterly unrelated, but it's not. It's really good for me to get up and physically move far away from the computer. If you are attempting to cut back and to implement your own version of rules like these, I highly recommend a three (or more) day fast. Turn the computer off entirely and stay outside with your children for as much of those three days as you can. It's amazing how much your perspective can change. It's also amazing how much resolve you can bring to redefining how you use the computer for good in your life. And whenever I'm outside, I make time, literally, to smell the roses. They are blooming abundantly!