Free at last

Over at Murderati, JT Ellison continues her series, A Virtual Montparnasse, with a long, thoughtful post on the pleasures and perils of the Internet for writers—a common topic on writers’ blogs these days, and for good reason. Not only do we let ourselves be distracted by obsessively following the trail of some bit of research into the digital hinterlands, like Ahab tracking the whale, but we use it to just plain procrastinate. Can’t write?  Update your MySpace page. Still can’t write? Hit Get Mail, answer each message, then hit it again a dozen times before you pop on over to Facebook to check those updates.

I read JTs missive with sympathy, but also with a bit of private glee, for though I am one of the worst offenders of this type, I have found the solution. I have found Freedom. Then I read far enough and learned she’d found it, too—or at least the concept. Damn. But that doesn’t mean I can’t write about it, too:

Freedom is a shareware program developed by Fred Stutzman, a PhD student at University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science. This Apple-only program (yet another reason to give up your PC) disables your wireless and ethernet networking for a given time period.  In other words, you launch Freedom, tell it how much time you want in minutes (up to 360, i.e., 6 hours), and it locks out all your internet access, mail, etc., for that time period. No will power needed.

Here’s what Fred says:

Freedom is an exploration of least-effort computing (in which computational affordances are disabled for task focusing) and spatial reclamation (in which our computers resist encroachments of connectivity). 

That’s his PhD-speak version.   Here’s the English translation:

Freedom is an application that disables wireless and ethernet networking on an Apple computer for up to three hours at a time. Freedom will free you from the distractions of the internet, allowing you time to code, write, or create. At the end of your selected offline period, Freedom re-enables your network, restoring everything as normal.

Freedom enforces freedom; a reboot is the only circumvention of the Freedom time limit you specify. The hassle of rebooting means you’re less likely to cheat, and you’ll be more productive. Not rebooting is why we bought Apple computers in the first place. When first getting used to Freedom, I suggest using the software for short periods of time.

That’s right.  The only way around Freedom is to completely reboot.

I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and I can tell you, it WORKS.  There’s no denying, it’s a little disconcerting to turn over your computer to this thing for the first time—kind of an Aack! It’s eating my baby’s brain feeling. Do what Fred says and start small, with just, say 30 minutes, and learn you can trust it to give your computer back when its done (it does, really). I recommend you check to make sure nothing that needs the Airport or ethernet is running before you launch Freedom (e.g., make sure Time Machine isn’t in the middle of a backup—in fact, turn TM off for the time being, just remember to turn it back on afterward).  And do be aware that you’ll see the spinning wheel of death as it shuts down your access, but that all you have to do is click on an app or open window and it will go away.  Just trust it and make the leap.  Once you do…Wow!

Think about it: six hours of no temptation. Six hours. It’s pretty damned wonderful.

What are your ways of avoiding/eliminating/killing procrastination in its digital form?

1 Comment

  1. Zowie. I want this. I need this. Sadly, I’m trapped in the IBM universe for now….

    I use DarkRoom to avoid temptation. It works … sort of. All I have to do is F11 and the screen shrinks to a window, and temptation is back, but the vast visual difference between the DarkRoom window and my desktop does a moderately good job of keeping me honest.


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