No more Facebook! At least not on my computer. A week or so ago I tweeted that I was blocking Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, so that I wouldn’t get as easily distracted while studying. You’re probably saying to yourself, “But if you know how to block it, don’t you know how to unblock it?” Well yes, I do. The issue isn’t ability, it’s temptation. How many times have you been working at your computer and gotten bored or frustrated, and all of a sudden, without even thinking about it, the next few keystrokes you type are ctrl+t http://www.youtube.com. I know I’ve done that a lot. Then I realize that I’ve just meandered to YouTube like an internet zombie, and I think, “ok, I need a break, I’ll just watch a video or two.” I’m alright about limiting myself to one or two videos. However, the issue is that I’ll go back to my work and be no more interested or any less frustrated. I assume that this is because 1) I’m burnt out from school, and 2) I haven’t actually taken a break, I’ve just been doing something else on the computer. My idea was to remove my ability to mindlessly navigate to YouTube or Twitter so that I’d have to confront my conscience before I start to meander the tubes.
So my plan worked for a while, except that I wasn’t too sure it was a good idea. It turns out that I hadn’t blocked Facebook and YouTube all the way, and I could still access them. Eventually I unblocked them one weekend when I thought I had nothing better to do because I hadn’t noticed any significant increase in my focus.
The other day, however, one of the TA’s for my Electric Circuits class said something that really struck me. He mentioned that before Facebook and Twitter, people our age used to build radios and computers in their spare time. Now I’m one of the few people in the class who has any practical experience with designing and building electronics (not to brag, but it’s true; we had a show of hands,) but I still spend plenty of time on empty activities, like browsing the internet. Crawling would be one thing, but I browse sometimes (alert: computer science joke.) So I reblocked all three sites, and all the way this time. All you have to do is edit your hosts file and add the lines:
(If you can’t find the hosts file on your operating system, Wikipedia it.) I like Twitter, I tolerate Facebook, but I like them as much as I like e-mail. They’re methods of communication, and they should be used as such. What am I going to do instead of Facebook when I’m bored? I want to build a CB radio. I want to try and get an Amateur Radio license. I want to learn Assembly language. I want to design circuits and build robots. And when I’m not in a mood to think, there is always the ukulele, and the N64 emulator. Woah, what? Video games are better than Facebook and Twitter? I say yes, they are.
I never really liked video games… until I got to university, that is. At the end of one particularly stressful week, I learned the value of playing Zelda as a way of calming down. Some Fridays, I get in an absolutely horrible mood, and the best defense against biting peoples heads off I’ve found is playing Zelda (Ocarina of Time.) I don’t play Zelda when I should be working, but the weekend is fair game. Also, as a matter of principle, I don’t do homework or study on Friday nights. Never. Unless I’m studying something I want to study.
Thus far I haven’t noticed too much of an increase in my ability to study; it’s still a fight to start doing math problems. However, I’ve analyzed a few circuits, and they aren’t even circuits for the course I’m taking. I’ve implemented a tic tac toe game in C that stores it’s current game state data in three bytes of data. And I’m writing a top secret work of literature.
Some of the blog posts I write have a moral. This is one such post, and its moral is this: If you can’t force yourself to study something you don’t want to study, then spend that time learning something you want to learn. Keep your mind working even if it’s not working on what you’re “supposed” to be working on; at least it won’t get lazy. After all, some of the world’s smartest people had trouble in school, but the thing they all seem to have in common is a strong interest in some particular subject which they pursued outside of school. (If this idea intrigues you, check out Oliver Heaviside. He predicted the existence of the ionosphere and a new type of radiation, simplified Maxwell’s 20 electrical equations into four relatively simple equations, and invented vector calculus, the step function, and the differential operator… all after dropping out of school at the age of 16.)