Campus News

Practical tips for limiting your internet consumption

Spending too much time online? An Odum Institute analyst recommends creating internet-free spaces, putting time limits on your apps and scaling back your data plan.

A woman using three devices at one time
Having separate devices for work and leisure time can help you keep track of how much time you’re spending on social media. (Adobe stock image)

Many people today struggle with their internet consumption. While only 6% of users worldwide are considered “addicts,” almost 40% of Americans report that the statement “I am addicted to social media” describes them. They have good reasons to feel this way. Internet technologies (like social media) are a multi-trillion dollar industry that uses a variety of techniques to keep users coming back (and clicking ads). As researchers from Bournemouth University describe it:

“These [techniques] include ‘scarcity’ (a snap or status is only temporarily available, encouraging you to get online quickly); ‘social proof’ (20,000 users retweeted an article so you should go online and read it); ‘personalization’ (your news feed is designed to filter and display news based on your interest); and ‘reciprocity’ (invite more friends to get extra points, and once your friends are part of the network it becomes much more difficult for you or them to leave).”

There are few reasons for these technology companies to encourage healthy technological consumption. This places the full responsibility on the technological consumer to navigate this toxic space.

Matthew Dunlap, a systems programmer and analyst in Odum Institute’s Research Data Information Systems unit, shared several techniques you can use to address technological oversaturation.

Use separate devices and spaces.

Doing all your internet consumption on one device can make daily life easier, but it comes with a cost. The habits you form watching pet videos at night will come to bite you while working during the day. One way to deal with this is to separate your leisure internet browsing from everything else you do. Having a device solely for leisure and social media allows you to mentally split up the activities in your day. Furthermore, if you can form a habit of only browsing social media while on the couch (for example), this can also help you find distance. Obviously buying another device is cost prohibitive for many, and in these times many people do not have enough space to dedicate a zone for social media.

Block website/app access on your devices.

Wed browsing becomes much less distracting if you cannot access the sites that cause distractions. There are techniques to limit your access to these pages on personal computers and mobile devices.

Personal computer operating systems have a “hosts” file that can be used to tell your computer not to connect to the internet when you enter a certain URL. You may also use software applications to block websites with a time limit.

For iPhones there are parental control settings to block websites and put limits on apps, while Android has apps to block websites and apps.

The main problem with all these solutions is that you can easily turn them off. But they at least make you think twice before you doom scroll.

Block internet access with your router.

If blocking websites on your devices is too easy to bypass, you can go a step further and block websites on your router. Many routers already have a “parental control” option that allows you to set certain times that certain webpages cannot be accessed. You can go even further and install a custom router firmware that allows you to restrict websites to certain devices at certain times.

When set up, this technique can work really well for limiting your website access, but it still has limitations. If you have a data plan on your smartphone it can be easy to bypass, but you can adopt the technique below to deal with that.

Ditch your data plan.

If you struggle mostly with internet usage on your smartphone, one solution can be to ditch your data plan entirely. Instead of browsing social media and the news while outside your home, you can force yourself be more engrossed in the world around you (or to do offline activities on your phone).

This option does have challenges. You won’t be able to use messaging applications while away from WiFi, and popular GPS apps need internet (though there are many offline options). But the feeling of peace is real, and you’ll save $30+ a month.

If this seems too daunting, try leaving your smartphone at home occasionally. The world operated fine when we couldn’t be contacted at a moment’s notice no matter where we were.

Create physical restrictions.

Another option for dealing with your smartphone is to lock it in a box. With a timer-based safe, you can set how long you will be away from your device. This also works well for junk food, etc. Worst case scenario: In an emergency, you can break the box open.

While some of these techniques may seem drastic, within our current technological landscape there aren’t many other options if you struggle with consuming the internet. If you have the willpower to go offline, that is still the best technique, but it is wise to have others available.

Read more stories from the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science.