By Paras Sharma and Dhruv Sharma
Biography of Author/Contact Information:
Paras Sharma is an economist and
distinguished anthropologist who graduated from the
Dhruv Sharma is an
Independent Scholar based in
This paper discusses a system approach to using the internet and enhancing user productivity and quality of life.
The human mind is a powerful network. Our attention span however is limited, at least for most individuals. Often, when we go on the Internet for some purpose we quickly find ourselves lost in a thread of interesting links. A net result of heavy link-hopping and reacting to reactions to other links propels more clicking and wandering. After sometime passes, we shut off the net, only to step back and remember why we got on in the first place.
Google and other online businesses want people on the internet as much as possible. This is evidenced by a conversation by Marissa Mayer on the Charlie Rose show. In the discussion the marketing potential of the net was discussed and how social networking sites are the equivalent of ‘internet crack’ as they cause people to spend even longer time on the internet than Google searches. (Interesting aside: marketing moguls always want their product to be like crack. At Fannie Mae the marketing team wanted Fannie Mae products to be ‘mortgage crack’)
Quality of life has always been in the hands of individuals despite what consumer retail and other powerful commercial interests would have people believe. Too much time on the internet can lead to so called internet addiction and other quality of life reducing symptoms (lack of sunlight etc).
Since the Matrix and Terminator movies, humans have come a long way as machines have taken over and humans love it. To use the internet productively without letting it take over our lives we don’t have to resolve to use the Internet less, but rather to use it more efficiently. Here’s how.
Recommendations for Developing a Systems approach of Using the Internet
Before embarking on the Internet you should make a quick list of what you intend to find.
Then it is worth taking a brief moment to generalize the problem that you wish to research and solve. In this phase try to do a mental search of other related topics, which could be useful.
After a brief problem or topic generation phase you can make a quick list of the things you need at a minimum before you would allow yourself to get distracted by other links. One productive use of this phase would be to generate alternate wording descriptions of the search query you plane to undertake. A query is the text you type into search engines when you look for information on the Internet.
After these phases you can embark on your search on the net.
Of these phases, the minimal set of information you need or tasks to accomplish is critical and so is the goal/problem generalization.
There can be various reasons people go on the Internet:
1) Look up interesting things/pass time
2) Find some information to save time or cost
3) Get information to make a decision
4) Do research
Knowing what is your goal will help you stay on track. The Internet is a powerful tool, like the mind. It can lead your mind on interesting chains of neuron firings a.k.a quick thoughts resulting in clicking to new links leading to other thoughts. Somehow this ability to jump around is like a strange attractor for human minds, which thrive on new interesting information nuggets. Recent research by the psychologist Ramachandran shows that human brains have evolved to be rewarded by filling incomplete gaps and puzzles, as Ramachandran posits that art with partial clothing is more evocative to the human mind (Ramachandran, 2004). The same concept which is called the peek-a-boo principle can be at work we search for links online as more and more interesting links appear which appear to be relevant and must be clicked for further examination.
After you have list of goals/tasks you wish to accomplish, make a rough estimate for how long you are willing to spend on each search item. If you notice you have been chasing after an item for an hour and it is not that important to you, you can let it go by being mindful how long you want to invest in that item.
After your list is done with estimates of how long you’re willing to spend on each item, it may be beneficial if you can sort/order the list from easiest task to accomplish to hardest. In determining easiness, factor in how likely the task in question is in terms of catching your interest and possibly leading you on a lengthy interesting search. Try to save the fun tasks for later, as they won't take time away from the must have tasks. Also this will let you surf away, with peace of mind, if you so choose once your priorities are taken care of.
One trick you can use to deal with the mind's tendency to link hop, is to keep open a text document in notepad or MS word where you can paste interesting links with a topic heading and notes as you surf.
The key thing to note is that without having time to synthesize this link jumping results in not much knowledge being developed.
This leads to the other phase. After you get tired of surfing, don't turn off the computer right away. Force your self to make some notes on what you learned or check whether you accomplished your goal/checklist.
Of the interesting things that you don't really synthesize or process, make a list to yourself to consider whether those things can be of use to you. If other interesting items can be of value to you or others you know, keep them in a list and store them in a folder or email yourself for later use.
The key to life is being circumspect as was Penelope in the Odyssey.
Ramachandran, V.S. (2004) Brief Tour of Consciousness. Pi Press