Why Students Should Turn the Internet Off When They Study

By Stefanie Weisman

[Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on the Freedom website and has been re-posted with their permission.]

Okay, I admit it.  I’ve been having a little problem in the self-control department lately.  No matter what I tried to do – write an article, do research, read a book, etc. – I found myself typing the url of some distracting, time-wasting website, with Facebook being the worst offender.  It was a rather bizarre feeling, as if my fingers had acquired a mind of their own.  Before I knew it, I had been sucked into an internet black hole of silly videos and mindless trivia, which used up a good chunk of my time and energy.

My situation is hardly unique.  In my experience as a high school and college study skills expert, I’m constantly reminded of the problems caused by excessive internet usage.  On average, teens spend nine hours a day using media for entertainment – that’s more time than they spend sleeping and far more time than they spend studying.  Many students use social media and other “fun” sites while they’re studying or doing homework.  They may think such media multi-tasking doesn’t hurt their concentration, but study after study has shown this not to be the case.  According to a pioneer in this field, the late Stanford professor Clifford Nass, “people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”  In a 2012 study, researchers found that using Facebook and texting in particular were associated with lower GPA.

But as we all know, it can be hard to give up things that are bad for us.  The instant gratification we feel from sending a Tweet or getting a Like on our Facebook post creates a dopamine loop in our brains that makes us hungry for more.  We can all use a little help in the fight against bad habits.  Which is why, when I was given the chance to try Freedom, a program designed to eliminate distractions on the web, I jumped at the opportunity.

After downloading Freedom, the first thing I did was set up a recurring block of Facebook and other sites I have a weakness for, such as YouTube and Netflix, during the work day.  I was struck by how freeing it was to know these sites were off-limits.  My need to check on my friends seemed to evaporate, and my productivity increased.  At times when I needed complete concentration, I chose to block all websites – easily done on Freedom by checking a box.

freedom_full_view_cropped

A view of what the Freedom dashboard looks like on my computer.

I quickly discovered that Freedom has many features that make it superior to, say, disabling the wi-fi on your computer.  While shutting down wi-fi is an all-or-nothing solution, Freedom helps you fine-tune your internet consumption.  You can create multiple Blocklists, allowing you to block as many or as few websites as you want with the click of a button.  Freedom conveniently lets you choose from a list of the most commonly used (or should I say abused) social media sites, and you can manually enter any other sites you find distracting.  You can put these Blocklists into effect at any time or schedule them for recurring Sessions, which is great if you know you want to avoid certain sites at the same time every day, and sync your Sessions across multiple devices.  Perhaps most importantly, Freedom can keep you from giving in to temptation.  The problem with disabling your wi-fi is that you can easily turn it back on again.  With Freedom, you can select Locked Mode, which makes it virtually impossible to access the internet (or specific sites) for up to 8 hours.

This software would clearly be a great tool for students.  Those who use their PCs to take notes could set up a recurring block of all websites during class time, thus avoiding the distractions associated with in-class laptop use.  Similar blocks could be set up when studying for exams or writing papers.  And when students need the internet to do research, they can block social sites that would keep them from their work.

I used Freedom on a Windows PC and an iPhone.  Here are a few tricks I learned on how to use Freedom most effectively on these devices:

  • When I had a Session going in Locked Mode, I realized I was still able to end the Session by selecting “Quit” on the Freedom desktop icon. To fully enable Locked Mode, go to Options on the desktop icon and select “Disable Quit During Sessions.”  Developers will be syncing this to Locked Mode to eliminate confusion.
  • Having multiple Sessions going at the same time may cause unintended consequences. At one point, I had to restart my computer to regain access to the internet after a Session had ended.  To avoid this, select “Sync Freedom” on the desktop icon.
  • You may still be able to access the Facebook app on your mobile device during Sessions that are supposed to block the site. Developers are working on a way to block the app, but in the meantime, use this work-around.

I’m especially looking forward to the time when Freedom has a whitelisting feature, which developers are hard at work on.  This means that users will be able to block all websites except the ones they specify.  I would love to be able to access my email and a few other sites while blocking the rest of the internet.

I’ll leave you with one last thought, which in my view is pretty amazing: I haven’t checked Facebook once while writing this article.


Want more study tips?  Check out The Secrets of Top Students.

Advertisements

Will We Be Publishing Books Written in Digital English Someday? (Guest Post)

I’m excited to introduce my first guest blogger, Alexa Russell.  In this post, Alexa writes about nothing less than the future of the English language.  While we need to recognize the importance of Internet English, we should be wary of relying on it too much.  What’s your take on the issue?  Should we embrace the patois of the digital age, or fight to keep ‘proper’ English alive?  Should digital English become part of what you actually learn in English programs?  Without further ado, here’s Alexa.

The digital migration brings millions of new users to the Internet daily, with even more returning day after day to their favorite informational resource. Not only do these individuals access countless stores of knowledge held on websites and databases, they also contribute to the Internet by publishing in the form of Twitter and Facebook updates and blog posts. Many of these publication forms champion cursory writing, and in response many Internet users have found ways to express themselves through acronyms or shortened words.

This has spurred a huge debate about the current state of the English language. On the one hand, many believe that the rules of grammar serve as the best way to express yourself and be taken seriously. Others, however, believe that these rules hinder actual communication and force people to follow archaic rules that are inefficient for the digital age. The point of using abbreviations or removing vowels from words, after all, is to communicate more quickly.

A January 2012 feature article published by Wired Magazine illustrates why we should embrace this digital form of English. As the headline announces, “Its Tyme to Let Luce” with the rules of casual conversation. “English spelling is a terrible mess anyway,” writes Anne Trubek, “full of arbitrary contrivances and exceptions that outnumber rules. Why receipt but deceit? Water but daughter?”

Efforts to stem the digital corruption of English only get in the way, Trubek argues. Autocorrect software, which attempts to make sense out of misspelled words, both purposefully and not, often further complicates intended meanings by correcting to the wrong word.

Even colleges and universities, the bastions of proper English and, are beginning to embrace digital applications. A January 2012 piece published in the New York Times reports the attempts of Duke English professor Cathy Davidson to do away with the traditional term paper in favor of consistent posting to a class blog.

Although she finds that this outlet supports writers that rely on creativity in their prose, many feel that the rigid rules of proper grammar need to be respected, especially by college students. “Writing term papers is a dying art, but those who do write them have a dramatic leg up in terms of critical thinking, argumentation and the sort of expression required not only in college, but in the job market,” said Douglas Reeves, founder of the Leadership and Learning Center and a columnist for the American School Board Journal.

The youngest among us have incorporated digital forms of English so completely into our usage that it often finds its way into oral conversation. The Baltimore Sun published a May 2012 piece on different acronyms and abbreviations that parents should know in order to communicate with their children. Many of the more popular ones, like “YOLO” and “OOMF” are relatively new but are already being used by millions.

What the digital migration has allowed people to do is construct their own rules of conversation, apart from those held sacred by the old school of grammar. There’s no doubt that people will continue using these forms of speech, and postmodern writers have long been published advocates of English deconstruction. With the ease of publishing today, digital English will continue to take hold. However, those who don’t publish works that adhere to at least some standard rules of writing, may find that their audience dwindles when they can’t understand what they’re reading.


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!