The Grad Student Unplugs: The Internet vs. My Homework

Blogging, Culture, Education, Featured, Media, Technology — By on July 3, 2012 at 7:00 am

After one semester as a graduate student, I realized while the internet could be my servant, but it was rapidly becoming my master. Having instant access to unlimited YouTube videos, LA Times stories, my school’s library archive, and a news feed of everything my friends were thinking – it all beckoned me with a promise that I never had to be bored. Lacking will-power, I would find myself watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer until 4 A.M. or wondering why I was Liking my friend’s Facebooked baby pictures instead of writing the economics report for which I thought I had opened my MacBook.

A tougher girl might have learned to focus despite the challenges. A tougher girl might have been able to command her own internet to remain her servant. The grad student in me, too busy with school to take extra lessons in discipline, decided I had to cut the cord.

When I called to discontinue my internet service, the Comcast representative asked why. “I’m addicted to Facebook, The Cosby Show, and Amazon.com. I basically don’t sleep, anymore.” For the first time in the history of calls to end their service, Comcast didn’t offer ways they could improve my experience. They just let me go. I was clearly a lost cause.

Then came the term papers. I developed a system. At school, I’d search for articles, save them on my computer, and take them home. Or, I’d borrow library books. While I was there, I could catch a little How I Met Your Mother until I got hungry enough to go home for dinner. There, I could start reading and writing without distraction. At first, the “Unable to Connect to the Internet” message popped up often when I absently clicked my Google icon. But, I had gone cold turkey. There would be no addictive sitcoms to whisk me away from difficult but worthwhile assignments.

Of course, I wasn’t safe from distractions. There was always house-cleaning, DVD’s, and napping. But, all of my distractions were small enough that they couldn’t threaten to take over my life. At least the little magic box that held my articles and essays was not – for several hours every night – the same machine that could connect me to a billion more attractive people, places, and things.

For those who can focus on schoolwork despite constant access to a magic window to the universe, I have mountains of respect. For me, I needed a haven. I needed to learn to live without it so that I could use it appropriately. Once I did that, the schoolwork – still dry – got done before midnight.

I have nothing against the internet. Obviously. I’m writing on a blog. I wouldn’t have been able to research well if I renounced the internet entirely, and the papers I’m glad to have finished by midnight would have simply gone unfinished. However, the absolute need I had to always be online worried me. While it was terrifying to have a home where I had to be cut off, at least it freed me to do things I really wanted to do. The internet could be my servant or my master. My way of ensuring that it remained my servant was to make certain I could live without it at home.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sarah-Rohrer/68604379 Sarah Rohrer

    My Sim has a loft in the city, a promising career as a musician, and visits her many friends on a daily basis. I’m jealous. I like my Sim’s life, and the stars and points that go with it. Virtual life has quick wins and half-read articles that make you sound intelligent. But it’s not real.

    I’m gonna keep playing Sims. Cuz everytime I do, I get jealous and end up practicing music more. Or talking with the actual person I visited virtually. But hopefully eventually I won’t need to Simulate life. Just live it.