Sunday, April 7, 2013

A (Non) Social Experiment

A (Non) Social Experiment

I have been observing something for a long time now – too much facebooking, ndtv-ing, economist-ing, and many more how-the-hell-i-got-here ing during my day. Whenever I get stuck or get bored, I simply go on a browsing rampage. And the worst part was that I am susceptible to doing it especially when I am stuck at a particularly challenging task at my workplace. Checking news or other websites is a getaway excuse.

In fact my typical one hour itinerary on computer typically involves these key words (mostly parallely) : gmail, ndtv, cnn-ibn, work, the economist, back to work, xkcd, what-if xkcd, facebook, work, cracked, Wikipedia, cnn-ibn – and the loop iterates again

At the end of the day, I am neither wiser - personally or professionally nor healthier -mentally or physically.

I agree these give me a super healthy dose of information and entertainment and I am able to talk on any current event across the world with anyone. But at the end of the day I end up adding to the pile of garbage in my head because information on facebook mostly includes people venting out their anger against the government (including me) and random updates of their daily lives – which is okay but trying to keep abreast of daily lives of 500 people is definitely an information overload. And news portals mostly involve reading news of another rape in Delhi, some faux pas by another minister, another scandal somewhere, tid-bits of bollywood gossip, some misadventures of mamta di and so on- which simply makes me more frustrated and angry and it lingers in my mind for a loooong time.

Secondly, I have not been a fan of multi-tasking which was a norm in doing all this. I consider myself as a mono-task person. I like to focus on one, only one task for at least couple of hours. Or at least I used to. This habit of clicking on favorite links breaks the rhythm of whatever I am doing and stops me from doing the best job of the task at hand – work or otherwise. My attention span has gone down drastically.

So here is the deal – From today, 24th Mar 9 AM onwards I am going on an information black-out for 7 days. And I mean complete information black-out.

To improve the following three things
  • o   Work Productivity – Doing more work with better quality (and in less time)
  • o   Family Time – Finding more time for life. Get in touch with friends, relatives etc
  • o   Personal Time – Reading, Writing, Exercise, Astronomy

To give up on following things for a week
  • o   Facebook (That’s a big one)
  • o   News websites including but not limited to ndtv, ibnlive, the economist
  • o   Entertainment websites – xkcd, what-if xkcd, cracked, fakingnews
  • o   Television
  • o   Newspaper
  • o   Wikipedia – will not use it for anything other than strictly pertaining to essential work

So here we start – I’ll be keeping a log on daily basis. To quantify my feelings, I’ll be rating myself on two parameters every day
 Urge to open websites (UOW) – On the scale of 1-10. Lower the better. Also corresponds to urge to open newspapers, television etc
Feeling of Freedom (FOF) – On the scale of 1-10. Higher the better. As I said earlier anything and everything I read, it lingers in my mind for a long time. Especially the corruption and crime simply makes me a bit angry and depressed. FOF will capture my mental state of “freeness” .

So here we go!

Day 1
Sunday, 24th Mar 2013
Update 0 (10 AM) : Ok, so lets do this. I am pretty excited right now at the prospect of finding truckloads of lost time. But I know its going to be very very difficult.
 The first step I take in the morning is to delete all the bookmarks. Second I prepare a small list of alternate stuff which I could do when I find myself twitching to for my daily dose – Asimov’s Novel (I’ll have to order a new one), writing, going on a walk, call family and friends, read websites, do some work-related stuff. I have also added other constraint in the list – I’ll check my personal mail only once per day.

Update 1 (2PM): Its been only 4 hours and its already gotten strange. I found myself roaming around the house with nothing to do. I found it most difficult to avoid TV and newspaper esp this being a Sunday morning. My mom thought that I was avoiding her (she was watching laughter station in tv) and had to explain her everything. She must think I am weird (if she did not think so already!)
Also, I am wondering at what happened to some ongoing events which I was following –What is happening in Italians marines case, did Arvind Kejriwal break his fast, is SP continuing to support UPA or are we heading for mid-term elections, are Mumbai’s rowdy MLAs who beat up a cop in the assembly getting the treatment they deserve, did I get enough “likes” at my facebook post declaring my hibernation;  are only some of the questions which are leaving me at the cliffhanger. I find myself a bit lost as I’ll only get these answers one week later.
On the positive side – I played with my kid, gave some computer funda to my mom as she is trying to learn some basic stuff, took an early bath (by Sunday standards) and now planning to write something.

Update 2 (7 PM): Could not write much today – maybe just couple of paragraphs. Perhaps its not the lack of news or facebook that’s bothering me but the lack of option to open them. To sail myself through the evening, I watched  The First Grader – a very awesome movie. Though movie was not too long, some interruptions ensured that I could finish it only by 5 PM. Played with my kid again in the evening and now I plan to do some household stuff. Its not looking so bad right now without facebook or news. But still its lingering somewhere at the back of my head.

Update 3 (10 PM): Well, last three hours passed relatively easily. Went to nearby market with the family and after returning back, went out for a stroll. I do take it often but today seemed different. My mind seems blank as there are not too many things to think about. But yes I do miss India at 9 at IBN LIVE.
I am thinking a lot about not opening the sites that feeling of freedom is probably negative
Urge to Open Websites (UOW) = 6/10
Feeling of Freedom = -1/10
Day 2
Monday, 25th Mar 2013
Update 1 (3PM): Working from home today. Morning started being very difficult. Having no clue about the world where I used to keep an hourly track, makes you …disoriented. At least 5 times since morning I have opened the browser only to realize that I can’t open any website. Felt uneasy all through the morning. At 11 AM thankfully some urgent work came my way which kept me engaged till now.
But one thing is clear to me now – browsing all those news websites and surfing facebook etc is an addiction in a very real sense. You feel uneasy, you feel as if something is lacking from your life and you crave for it. We could have called this experiment as rehabilitation.

Update 2 (9PM) : We had a breach captain !! Ok I am still not sure how I ended up on this website of Eve online (honest) .Ok I was able to do a bit of work but I am still not feeling that I am saving any additional time for myself. Had an early dinner as had nothing to do and then went for a walk. Well, there is at least one positive for the day.
Urge to Open Websites (UOW) = 7/10
Feeling of Freedom = 0/10

Day 3
Tuesday, 26th Mar 2013
Update (10 PM): What a weird day it was friends. My family left for the native so I was alone today. Its way too quiet. I could notice things which I did not earlier. The calls from vegetable vendors, noise from neighbors.
If something justified breaking the experiment, it was today. On such days, I would usually turn on the tv and work in parallel. To break the melancholy, ordered a pizza but soon it got unbearable. Its too darn quiet. And my mind is too blank. I had to use the fall back option and watched The Avengers.
Evening was even more tricky so went for a looong walk for a good 1.5 hrs while talking to some friends and wished them holi. No facebook to wish them there. Day ended with few episodes from Whose Line Is It Anyway. I guess I am breaching the spirit of the experiment here but can’t help but watch some episodes to lift the mood.
I noticed another thing though – when I were idle earlier, I used to think about witty quotes for facebook.It was in fact happening by itself.
UOW – 10/10
Feeling of Freedom 2/10
Day 4
Wednesday, 27th Mar 2013
Update 1(11 AM): Wow what a morning it was. After a nice sleep , woke up early to catch the nice morning breeze. Things are running slowly for me today. I believe this is how village folk feel like.
I realized another thing - my life was not fast because of what I was running for. But because of what all I was thinking about.
Mind feels so clutter free. I am having this new feeling althgether which I can’t describe. I don’t feel angry or sad anymore which was my permanent state reading about all those crimes etc. But the thing is I don’t even feel happy even. I feel ….neutral and its very peaceful.
Traveled to office while listening to these soothing tracks. Link 1, Link 2.  I don’t wish anything right now. Its so much peaceful. After reaching office I felt like writing stuff and did the same. It came out beautifully. I wish everyday could be like this.
Office cafeteria though poses a bit of a challenge – it has two large TV sets at the opposite ends such that you are always facing at least one. Read the word “Kejriwal” while drifting the glance. This caused a bit of concern though – is he still on fast, or this one is another expose?
But anyway, today I am not going to spoil this feeling for anything.
Btw a thought came to my free mind– do we need pop-spirituality in this era? Some small nuggets of wisdom for getting at least few minutes of tranquility every day? Like the feeling I am carrying right now.

Update 2( 8PM) : Continuing that amazing tempo, I could finish lot of office work by 4 PM. Traveled back home and took some office calls till 7 again. But again I am getting this disturbing silence all around me. Just want to turn on the tv for the heck of a sound. Will be sleeping early.
Note: I did not. Had my mobile play some long videos just to fill the void and finally slept at about 1 AM.
UOW – if you just ask about the morning. I’d say 0. But averaging out for the sad evening it’d be 6/10
FOF – Again, for morning 10/10 but on average its 6/10. Still a pretty big improvement I’d say

Day  5
Thrusday, 28th Mar 2013
Update (11 PM): I did not get enough time for updates today. I got heavy office work which continued till 9 PM. Morning was definitely pleasant similar to yesterday. Reflected upon lots of high level stuff. And while driving realized some deeper aspects of being happy.
(e.g. There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed- Gandhi. And I realized that how we are running after stuff in order to make ourselves happy. We have tagged our biggest gift – happiness to material and superficial things like cars, money etc. Money can only be a means at best. And even then people doesn’t really know that goals. What if we were to reflect how we would be happy and simply acted on it.)
Wrote till 11 AM and it felt really good. During the lunch, by mistake caught a glimpse of Sanjay Dutt. But I realized that that memory is too distant now and it didn’t really bothered. Perhaps this was the feeling of freedom I was searching for.
Rest of the day went quite peacefully. Evenings get a bit sad though. So I take a walk. Watch friends or Whose Line is it anyway and go to sleep.
And now I can definitely feel that anger and sadness subsiding down. There are only two days to go and I am still not sure whether I have maxed on my FOF.
So here is the decision – I am extending this experiment for another week. This experiment will now continue till 7th April 2013 9 AM.
UOW – 2/10 (still want to know about Arvind Kejriwal)
FOF – 7/10
Day 6
Friday, 29th Mar 2013
Update 10 PM: Could not sleep properly last night so worked from home today catching few naps in between. I guess I am not used to this level of silence. Ears always feel kinda empty. Well worked through the busy day. However, this being Friday felt a sharp urge in the evening to just sit in front of tv with a cup of tea. Also realized that I am kind of missing on The Garbage Bin jokes on facebook. Also – did not get to talk to anyone so essentially feeling kind of isolated. Well, went for a nice walk and just had a shower and planning to read/write something before going to bed. What am I feeling?
Actually a bit relieved overall but I still don’t see that time being utilized back in productive things per say. I am just doing the same things with lower pace. Maybe I have gained some time but don’t realize it as yet. Lets see how tomorrow goes being the first holiday with absolutely no errands to do and no one around.
UOW – 3/10 (Though it was television y’day. Today’s urge was more for facebook’s garbage bin and The Economist – miss you guys)
FOF – 7/10

Day 7
Saturday, 30th Mar 2013
Update 5 PM: Ah I am increasing getting this empty feeling. However the day was good so far. Woke up late and had a leisurely breakfast. Wrote some quality stuff of 1k words and to celebrate it, slept off again. I wish my brain could work at those levels always. Btw there are not too many alternatives to do in this cyber age. Starting the writing again – hopefully my productive run will continue
Update 10 PM: It did – wrote another few hundred words but again I am feeling too – isolated. For tomorrow my friend has asked me to accompany him for his wedding shopping. Guess that is a much deserved break I need.
UOW – 2/10
FOF – 8/10
Day 8
Sunday, 31st Mar
Update 7PM: My friend was here since early morning today. We went for a shopping spree and ended up visiting four different malls. It was nice day overall finally getting to see that bustle. A side observation – what makes people carry such big egos around. This lady in the elevator was so pretentious. And all beans were spilled when she opened her mouth. She was talking to someone – “Tu mujhe jaanti nahi hai” and I was like “Good for her”.
Man, what is happening to this world. Did there exist any correlation between sophistication and knowledge? People carry too big egos and too little substance.
Anyway, since I was out shopping the whole day, I am putting today as an exception and not rating myself on UOW and FOF

Day 9
Monday, 1st April
Update (7 PM): Got up late today but got many things done. Decided to skip commuting and worked from home (again!). Had a brilliant idea in the afternoon and ended up writing a horror short story on it. And it came out nicely. Here it is – ThatOld Bug. Though this is not my genre and I did not like writing it, the end result was good in a kind of creepy way.
I believe that things have not stabilized quite a lot and I am following a fairly uniform routine –
  • -        commute to office,
  • -           write till 11 AM.
  • -          work till 4 PM
  • -          commute back home
  • -          take official calls till 7 PM
  • -          have dinner
  • -          take a walk
  • -          watch friends and doze off

I won’t be updating this log through the week as i think i have found my routine now. And I Love it!

Closing Remarks
Day 15
Sunday , 7th Apr 2013
Final UOW -  0/10
Final FOF – 9/10

In this age of technology and speed of information, one seldom thinks about the utility of such information we are bombarded with every second. We gauge importance of news by how much news channels are hyping it and not by what matters to us as an individual. People say that we should be aware of things which impact us. True. But using butterfly effect we can justify that for nearly anything which is happening in the world – Euro zone falling down, India’s GDP growth at 5% and my cousin’s cousin going on a family outing. Rather, I believe what we should be asking is whether we can make an impact on things around us. If I am so pissed off at corruption then either I should be taking some action against it or simply shut up if I can’t. No one gets rattled by my cribbing posts on facebook.

Similarly, Had my cousin’s cousin was so close in my life that I want to see his all picnic photos– I would be giving him a call every week. Obviously that is not the case. Think about it – how many facebook photos and comments do you remember from a week back? From a month back? From an year back?
I was addicted. I was in all the real sense of the word. And the thing which I did, I realize, was belated, but at least now I realize. Of course, what I tried was a bit extreme; 2 –weeks complete information isolation from the world.
 But today when I opened the newspaper and my facebook page – I realized that I did not miss much. Nothing earth shattering happened in last two weeks. And in return - I gained so much peace of mind. So verdict is simple - now onwards – I will be minimizing my exposure to the all the above things to max 30 mins per day.

I want you to think about the most wonderful memories of your life. I am pretty sure they did not depend upon the sensex or India’s cricket performance on that day (unless you are a stock broker or a cricketer that is).

Here is one small exercise for you - Try to list things in your life that are important to you and another list for things you were spending time on. If both the lists are too different then you are not in control of your life. Go ahead – take control. Start from a blank slate.


  1. Thakur Saab, For 1.5 month (when stayed alone) I did the same experiment at a torture level to myself. Disconnected the internet connection, no TV too, only newspaper and doing office and personal work, shopping, experimenting with food, writing or enjoying greenery and clear weather of Mysore.

    I believe more in focusing on personal/family life rather than socially convincing myself.