Remember that time you went online in search of a simple answer, only to find yourself, two hours later, clicking on links that had nothing to do with the original answer you sought?
That’s a dopamine loop. It’s the scientific reason we end up online more than we plan to. It explains why we can’t put our smartphones down. It explains why some people neglect real life in favor of virtual life. And it leads to compulsive disorders, similar to those who are addicted to chemical stimulants and depressants such as cocaine, caffeine, methamphetamines, nicotine, and alcohol.
“Dopamine starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking, which makes us seek more,” explains Dr. Susan Weinschenk. “It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, texts, web links, or our smartphones to see if we have a new message or alert.”
Worst still, research shows the dopamine system is bottomless. Since it doesn’t have satiation built in, dopamine keeps demanding “more, more, more!” And it goes absolutely bonkers when unpredictability is introduced—say, an unexpected email, text, or app alert from who knows what and who knows whom. Surprise! It’s just like Pavlov’s famous and classically conditioned dogs, for those who remember your introductory college psychology course.
“It’s the same system at work for gambling and slot machines,” explains Weinschenk. “Since dopamine is involved in variable reinforcement schedules, it’s especially sensitive to dings, visual alerts, or any other cue that a reward is coming, which sends our dopamine system raging.”
And so we stay online and on our phones longer than anticipated. We forgo our offline lives. It’s science.
I spent nearly 10 years researching and experimenting with healthy connectivity habits for my book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. The book contains dozens or reports and studies from “real news” outlets and distinguished universities from around the world, all of which conclude that excessive internet, social media, and/or smartphone use make us miserable. More specifically, overuse makes us more isolated, less confident, prevents us from experiencing the more stimulating analog world, and even dumber.
But recent research suggests that digital abuse may be even worse for us than originally thought. In an eye-opening expose this week, The Atlantic reported on the rise of sexual recession, in which young people are engaging in fewer intimate relationships than ever before and marrying less. Excessive phone use shoulder much, if not all, of the blame, the magazine reports. Continue reading…
In his first book, recognized journalist Blake Snow offers humorous, well-researched, and insightful advice on how to break free and enjoy renewed life offline
Provo, UT (December 19, 2017) – Do you or someone you know need a little help unplugging this holiday or new year? If so, Log Off: How To Stay Connected After Disconnecting by Blake Snow (ISBN 978-1973543749, 2017) may have the answer and is available now at the world’s largest bookstore in paperback, ebook, and audiobook editions.
The self-help memoir and well-researched book is the first for Snow, a prolific writer for such publications as Wired, USA Today, CNN, and Wall Street Journal among others. The book produces convincing evidence and a path forward for people hoping to reclaim their offline lives without the constant distraction and “fear of missing out” caused by the internet, social media, and smartphones.
“With Facebook recently admitting as much, it’s official,” says Blake Snow, author of Log Off: How To Stay Connected After Disconnecting. “Excessive use of smartphones, the internet, and social media makes us miserable. Although I wrote this life-changing book for myself, I feel strongly that the ideas and encouragement contained therein can help others find greater fulfillment, peace of mind, and better relationships after responsibly logging off.”
In this quick but potent read, Snow recounts his own journey from being a workaholic internet addict, his awakening (aka “Montana Moment”), and the steps he has since taken to increase his facetime with actual people, do more offline with less online, double his productivity in half the time, and tunefully blend his analog and digital lives with no regrets. Continue reading…
An edited version of this story first appeared on April 5, 2016 in The Atlantic
Not long ago, I stumbled on a list of the best sci-fi novels according to the Internet (i.e. the highly entertaining computer geeks on Reddit). As someone who reads for pleasure as much as job security, I decided to finish as many of these and others that I could handle.
After completing over a dozen—not to mention many more in film adaptations—the following occurred to me: every single one of these acclaimed, futuristic stories—at least the many I was exposed to—completely missed the existence and impact of the Internet. Everything from published media and daily communication, to realizing sight unseen romance and access to global markets.
“A lot of science fiction was primarily focused on moving people and things around in exciting ways,” says technology commentator Clive Thompson. “These forward-thinkers were using flashy visuals to hook their readers, while understandably overlooking non-sexy things such as inaudible conversations.”
Which is largely what the Internet facilitates. Like electricity, it’s really just an everyday utility now. And utility talk is not plot. It’s boring. Continue reading…
Interestingly, every one of these inventions involve some element of speed. The speed of a bullet. The speed of light. The speed of travel. The speed of knowledge. That’s why the world moves at an increasing rate. Our greatest inventions all involve speed.
Even this century’s greatest inventions largely involve speed. How fast you can get new or old music to your ears (iTunes, Spotify). How fast you can get answers to questions (Google). How fast you can connect with friends and family (Facebook, SMS). And how fast you can see the latest cat videos (YouTube).
Of course, many of these inventions involve size, frequency, and power. But when it comes to bigger, stronger, better, and faster—always bet on faster. It’s the future. And it’s likely what the “next big thing” will do more than others.
Taken at one of my local skate shops (Photo: Blake Snow)
Outside of groceries, my household shops online 90% of the time. That’s not me overstating something. That’s my wife’s estimate. She does the budget.
Over the last 10 years, Amazon Prime, Zappos, Target.com, iTunes, Netflix, and many other e-tailers have dramatically improved my family’s standard of living, product selection, and buying power, while reducing buyer’s remorse, time spent, and money spent consuming wants and needs.
Every now and again, I get romantic and decide to “shop local,” as they say. Usually I regret it. The last time I needed a pair of slacks, I went to a big box store. The style selection wasn’t what I wanted. 30 minutes of my life, gone.
Before leaving the parking lot, I launched the Amazon app, found a better pair of 4.5/5 star fitted-pants for less, and clicked “buy now.” The transaction took two minutes. The slacks would be on my door step two days later, and if, for whatever reason, I didn’t like them, I could put them back on my door mat, and a brown truck would magically return them for free.
Ev Williams believes the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” In a speech reported by Wired, the co-inventor of Blogger and Twitter added, “We often think the internet enables us to do new things, but people just want to do the same things.”
For instance, we want to socialize, entertain ourselves, learn, and make work easier. The internet does all four better than any other convenience of the last century.
It does this in two ways, Williams explains. “Big hits on the internet (think Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) are masters at making things fast and not making people think… But the internet is not a utopian world. It’s like a lot of other technological revolutions.” Continue reading…
I’ve seen the future. It’s called gigabit Internet by Google Fiber, and it just launched in my hometown of Provo, the second of three scheduled cities to get speeds that are 100 times faster than the rest of America.
“What good is really fast Internet if the content stays the same?” you may ask yourself. I certainly did, before testing the service. Besides, my “high speed” Internet from Comcast seemed fast enough, enabling my household to stream HD videos, load web pages quickly, and connect multiple devices as needed, largely without hiccup.
I was wrong.
Using gigabit Internet, even in its infancy, opened my eyes to speed and reminded me of why I love the Internet.
Some small search-outfit announced today that they’re bringing Google Fiber to Provo later this year, pending the city’s no-brainer approval next week.
This is really great news for my home town. It means free 5 mbps internet for every household, free 1000 mbps Internet for 25 public institutions, and $70/mo. 1000 mbps Internet for anyone who wants it. For reference, I pay $50/mo. for 15-20 mbps from Comcast. From a math perspective, we see that 1000 is a lot better than 15-20.
From a consumer perspective, it’s the most coveted internet in the nation. Provo will be just the third U.S. city to offer Google Fiber, in addition to Kansas City and Austin, Texas.
Media often paints the shuttering of retail stores in a negative light, as if said stores are not being replaced and restaffed by online stores and digital goods (which many are) or creating entirely new workforces (which many are, too).
Economic impact aside, however, the shuttering of brick and mortar stores has actually improved my family’s life. Let me count the ways:
I make smarter purchases now. Before the internet, I was overcharged and burned more often than I am now. Not only does the internet liberate pricing information, it makes it easier to compare and you can check product reliability and functionality before buying. Consequently, when used properly, you can save a lot of money and purchase much better products, especially with the help of consumer ratings. In that sense, I don’t miss shuttering brick and mortar stores at all.
Better convenient stores. If there’s one thing online stores will never fully replace, it’s convient and grocery stores. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, you can get a whole lot more than groceries there now, thanks to the consolidating and shuttering of other retail stories. In addition to food, I bank at, buy stamps at, rent Red Box movies from, buy Christmas trees from, buy flowers from, and buy concert tickets from my nearby grocers. They’re my favorite stores behind Amazon and Walmart, and I suspect they’ll get a whole lot better as stores continue to consolidate and move online.
That said, there is a price we pay in closing so many retail stores. Our communities, social interactions, and face time will inevitably take a hit. That’s the most legitimate challenge I think we’ll face as stores continue to consolidate and evolve.
But overall, my consumer life is better thanks to online shopping. So is my posterity’s lives. And so are the remaining offline stores that have gotten stronger and better, too. So other than the above, I really don’t see any direct downsides. Do you?
Online comments and reader reaction to news are often enlightening. Unless of course they’re disrupted by attention trolls, which they often are. Which is why commenting for the most part is still broken. Even the world’s largest bloggerprenuers know this.
Blocking trolls, however, is useless. They just create new accounts to perpetuate the insanity. To really nip them in the bud, you have to ensure that they fail to get a reaction.
Here’s how I would do it: Keep comments open, allowing anyone to register and make a remark. Flag the ones (either individually or by email/account) that are off-topic, rude, or spam.
But instead of removing these comments, keep them visible to the IP address from which the comment was made, while hiding it from all other readers. Basically making it visible to only the troll.
In other words, the best way to discourage trolls is to ignore them. Of course, a small minority of technical trolls might wise up and try logging in on different accounts from different IP addresses. But I think this could do wonders to fixing the problem.
NBC/KSL—Like AOL before it, Facebook is the latest in a long line of mainstream technologies to introduce a lot of new users to the power, utility, and network effect of the Internet.
At the same time, the popular hangout has negatively impacted the number of public comments taking place online. Case in point: The number of people making online remarks has dwindled from a record 15% five years ago to an estimated 7% last year, according to market research by Nielson.
The reason: “Conversations around stories are moving off the news page and onto social networks,” says Steve Rubel, a longtime observer of social media since 2004. “With time spent on social networks like Facebook skyrocketing, it leaves little left to engage at the source of the news.”
Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it. The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of access to information — and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time.
“Twitter sees something like 200 million tweets a day, but I I can’t even read 1,000 a day,” complained YouTube’s Steve Chen. Seemingly in between bouts of “Mine! Mine! Mine!” he added, “There’s a waterfall of content that you’re missing out on [and] a lot of services trying to solve the information discovery problem, but no one has got it right yet.”
Information discovery problem?
Maybe a few thousand Silicon Valley nerds have that problem. But the vast majority of us have no problem finding information online.
As I’ve said before, “Whether online or off, the cream of life always rises to the top. The best status updates and news transcend the Internet.”
Today, auctions represent only 31% of all Ebay sales. A decade ago, Ebay was suppose to change the way everything was bought and sold. That didn’t happen. A new article in Wired tells why:
To begin with, the experience of auctions changed over time, generally in ways that made them less appealing to both buyers and sellers. Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, which consults for ecommerce companies, points to the advent of sniping—the practice of placing winning bids at the last second—as something that has alienated ordinary shoppers…
Bargains, too, have become less common, as the market matured and people on both sides of the transaction became savvier…
Really, though, the biggest factor in the decline of the auction may simply be that the novelty of bidding wore off. “The Internet stopped being a source of wonder and became a place to do certain kinds of business,” Koehn says. “Once that happens, you start to think about things like âDoes it make sense to spend this much time on an auction when I might not even get the item in the end?’” In econospeak, the hedonic benefits of bidding on eBay diminished.
In my opinion, I think the information age has simply normalized pricing. By that I mean you can save a buck or two on ebay, but you really have to work for it… and wait for it. Why not “buy it now” for a few bucks more elsewhere?
A year ago to the day, I quit Facebook. At the time I feared I might be committing social suicide. Today, I can happily report that didn’t happen.
Since quitting the popular online hangout, I’ve limited the number of work and out of office distractions I encounter. I no longer feel the desire to “check in” online at every waking hour. It takes me longer to discover new bands. And I don’t have to consciously decide or distinguish friends from colleagues, associates, and nobodies. I just let them happen naturally now; unannounced and evolving.
My thoughts: Agreed that information technology isn’t always replaced by newer technology (i.e. pens, pencils, paperbacks). But to suggest that printed magazines are actually thriving is a bit of stretch. My guess is the quoted “11 percent growth” stems from that fuzzy “pass along” metric magazines still use to measure audience size. (And to suggest that magazines are the superior way of reading essays is also wrong.)
Either way, stop hard-selling yourself, magazines. We know what you’re good for: Bathrooms, waiting lobbies, and other offline environments.
OMG, when did we start talking like txt msgs?
One possibility, Kiesling proposes, is that some of these acronyms actually become a whole new thought, expressing something different than the words that form them. For example: “You wouldn’t say, `OMG, that person just jumped off a cliff,'” he explains. “But you’d say, `OMG, do you see those red pants that person is wearing?'”
On Monday, BYU student Michelle Peralta accused fellow classmates of “idol worship” in a letter published in the school paper. Peralta, not to be confused with the awesome ’80s skateboards of the same name, said she was irritated by what she called “Jimmer worship,” Jimmer being the BYU point guard, 3-point killer, nation’s leading scorer, and all-around swell guy.
In all likelhood, Peralta, an admitted non-sports fan, was probably just venting her frustration over the increased volume of Jimmermania sweeping the nation, Provo very much included. That didn’t stop the Internet from having a little fun with her though.
In a virally large thread on her then-public, now-private Facebook page, hundreds of Jimmer fans came to his defense, while sticking with the comical spiritual theme Peralta had started. Here my top 10 favorites: Continue reading…
It’s not the biggest data center. But in terms of technology — including containment, a bajillion security checks, monitoring, and backups of backups — it has to be within the top one percent in the nation, if not the world. And it was built in itty bitty Carrollton, the rural Georgian city I spent my formative years in.
I can’t for the life of me understand why so many people despise checking email. For me, it’s like getting little packages in the mail several times a day. Of course, that’s not the case if you fail to follow a few sanity rules. Mine are as follows:
Only check your inbox from 9-5pm, M-F. Since quitting my data plan, I only check my inbox during work hours—never at night or on weekends. Since I’m batch processing email now, chances are I’ll come across exciting, fun, or otherwise encouraging emails a lot more than I would fielding menial messages one at a time, 24 hours a day. Admittedly, I’ve had to check email under work emergencies a few times this year. But I never clean my inbox during those times. I only target the time-sensitive message I’m looking for, so it’s not a problem.
Use Gmail. No other email client can rival the auto spam protection of Gmail, which is constantly updated. Additionally, I’ve setup more than 30 custom filters to keep my inbox clean from no-response required emails. If you’re using the right tools and are judicious when giving out your email, spam shouldn’t be a problem.
Use it as a sales tool. After “thank you” and “I love you,” “you’ve got a deal,” is the best expression in the English language. To hear it though, you always have to be trying to cut deals with prospect buyers, partners, and shareholders. Much of this should be done in person or over the phone. But when it makes sense, a lot of it can be done via email. Once you start doing that, you’ll quickly learn to love your inbox, as it’ll become an income generator, a money-maker.
Update: As of 2013, data is now included with my cell phone plan. But thanks to my four year break from it, mobile data no longer interrupts my life like it use to. When used sparingly, it actually enhances it.
My quality of life has improved while productivity has remained constant. By that I mean I get as much done as I did before, only now I enjoy a lot more personal time without work interfering. In many cases, that translates into greater productivity upon returning to work the next morning or after the weekend. Believe it or not.
My relationship with my wife and children has improved. I recognize them more. I play with them more. With fewer alerts to interrupt us, it’s a lot more fun now.
When I first discovered RSS, I went crazy. I subscribed to more than 400 feeds out one time. Ridiculous. And even though I’ve since reduced that number to a mere 40, I’m still inundated with repurposed, rehashed, and regurgitated information. Why can’t someone just point me to the good stuff?
Actually, someone can. At least as it pertains to business and technology headlines. They’re called Smart Brief. They claim to “read everything” so “you get what matters.” And after a week of subscribing to their various newsletters, I can honestly say they deliver on their promise.
As a result, I’ve unsubscribed to even more feeds. Now if only Smart Brief covered more consumer areas, I might be able to relegate my Google Reader to personal feeds only.
Facebook is a great way to stay connected with friends.
It’s also a great way to get fired, have your insurance benefits revoked, or suffer public humiliation. As a result, a number of users are deleting their accounts and leaving the popular networking site behind.
“It just became too much,” says grade-school buddy and long-time friend Josh Rhine. “More an obligation than fun. It also started to smell like some one cracked an egg of high school over an old gossip rag.”
Microsoft thinks so. And they’re newest commercial says so: “I can’t pick a restaurant in all these links,” an indecisive women using Google replies, when asked “What’s taking you so long?”
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve never felt overwhelmed by Google results. It’s not information overload if I find what I’m looking forward on the first results page, second at most. It’s almost as if Microsoft is confusing relevance with lack of choice.
I’m all for keeping Google on their toes through competition, but build a better mousetrap if you want to compete.
Here’s a nice summary written by Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons on how the Internet “ruined” newspapers, movies, television, music, and even Microsoft in the last decade. Why waste time reading 1,000 articles on the subject when this does all the heavy lifting for you? Get that.
Wanna search the web faster? Ditch your browser search bar and use URL commands instead. In minutes, you’ll be burning down the information superhighway (aka cyberspace) at neck-breaking speeds. To do this in Firefox, follow these three easy steps: Continue reading…
Dateline: July 2004. By the color you would think I was selling hamburgers. By the home page copy you would have wondered, “what the crap does this guy do?” And by the cryptic stock photography, you would have thought I was either a motivation speaker or Chinese rice farmer—not a web designer, like I was at the time. Plus it had about eight too many pages. Funny how the look represents everything I currently despise about design (broad ambiguity). Incredible it was only five years ago. At least I had the insight to bet big on open source!
The girls and I just got back from a sweet vacation to Teton, Yellowstone, and Montana. It was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had, given all the sights and activities we were able to participate in. One of the coolest “features” of the trip: no cell reception, internet, or TV at our cabin. We were utterly disconnected, which allowed us to be completely present in the moment. “It totally changes the dynamic of the group,” my wife told me yesterday. It sure did, for the better. Can’t wait to go even longer without a connection next time.
If you’re a Facebook user, you know how fun status updates can be. The good ones give you specific insight into what your friends are doing, how they are feeling, and what they really think. The bad ones are vague, cryptic, menial (you just checked into some hotel — no one cares), and wouldn’t know wit if it punched them in the baby maker.
These, on the other hand, are much worse — 25 status updates you should never make on Facebook. Continue reading…
“Blake is abandoning the internet until Monday,” I wrote Wednesday afternoon on my Facebook status. It wasn’t a pithy attempt to grab attention. I meant it. And I’m happy to report that I stayed the course.
In doing so, I was able to unconditionally enjoy my family’s company during Thanksgiving. It also reinvigorated my professional spirits, ideas, and motivation as I turned to off-line content (you know, books). Granted, I rarely, if ever, have a case of the “Mundayz,” because I enjoy what I do. But today, I’m rearing to go, more than normal. And the break provided some much needed inspiration.
I’ve gone longer than four days without using the internet, namely during designated week-long vacations. But from now on, I’m committed to doing so on the weekends as well. What a novel idea, eh? Taking a break on the weekend.
Slate has an enlightening story on how failure became “fail” in popular, always-abbreviated, internet speak. Not only is “fail” a hilariously fitting disciption for utter incompetence, it seems the nerb (or voun) is here to stay, just like other verb to noun combos such as “to bike” and “bike,” and “to lock” and “lock”. Definitly not fail.
In January, I made the switch from an unlimited data plan to email only. This means I no longer have access to T-Mobile internet.
I had the unlimited data plan for two years (service is a little slow, but still convenient), but I’m happy to report I’m doing fine, saving a little money, and likely to father fewer Blackberry orphans as a result of my downgrade.
What’s more, my trusty Curve supports Wi-Fi, so if I really need access to the internet on my phone while not at home, it’s not that difficult to find a public connection.
For as technologically inclined as I am, it’s ironic how technology averse I can be, in an effort to maintain some level of privacy and social sanity. Do you ever feel the same?
According to the Associated Press, “The French state and Internet service providers have struck a deal to block sites carrying child pornography or content linked to terrorism or racial hatred, Interior Minister Michel Alliot-Marie announced Tuesday.”
I’m all for outlawing illegal communications like child pornography and terrorism, but hate speech isn’t illegal. Wrong, yes, but not illegal. Unless I’m missing something, it looks like France may have infringed on free speech, though I have no idea if they have an equivalent first amendment.
I just finished watching IJsbrand van Veelen’s excellent 50-minute documentary on the glamorization of amateur content producers and the potential negative effects that it may or may not have on society, especially as experts (informed individuals who work for, reason with, and experience wisdom) are waning in popularity. Here are some thoughts: Continue reading…
I applaud what Utah’s CP80 and similar anti-porn groups are trying to do: keep smut away from the curious eyes of children. But some of their ideas are just ridiculous.
Take this one for example: a new bill introduced last month by Rep. Bradley Daw (R-Orem) that seeks to age-gate all wireless networks in Utah, including the one in your home. Failure to comply would result in penalty for the operator, not the offender or offended. In other words, you are your brother’s explicit keeper, by law even — not by agency.