Hours can fly by in the blink of an eye when I am surfing the web. In an effort to regain some footing in this battle against distraction I have recently been using a program called SelfControl. This free Mac-only open-source program (there are PC and Linux based alternatives) clamps down on internet usage by selectively turning it off.

SelfControl uses brute force to stop bad online habits. When the timer-based program is activated browsers will act like they aren’t connected to the internet. You can restart your computer, you can quit the program, you can switch browsers, and you can even uninstall the program (be careful, because if you are too invasive you can permanently damage some systems). It doesn’t matter. You are locked out for the allotted amount of time. As such you have to be careful with how you use it. You don’t want to accidentally lock yourself out of the web for 12 hours if you know you have to research an important subject that evening.

Unlike other programs like Freedom which only serve to ban all internet access for a designated amount of time, SelfControl gives you more control over what you want to keep on and off. You can use a “white list” of approved sites or a “black list” of banned ones. Or, you can selectively set it up to block things like twitter and email. This selectivity is crucial in that it allows you to tame but not break the internet.

I personally prefer to use a “black list”. By eradicating access to well known time sinks during working hours I reduce the temptation to stray while keeping open the rest of the web for research (especially important as I work from home and primarily online).

I wish I didn’t need a program like SelfControl. But given my inability to resist sites like Wikipedia, I am happy to know I can, at times, selectively curb my internet usage.

-- Oliver Hulland  

[Note: It has recently been ported to Linux, but is reportedly buggy. You can download it here.--OH]


Produced by Steve Lambert