Freedom’s Just Another Word–Time is All You Have to Lose

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By J. Doe

Being on the bleeding edge of Web connectivity can have its downsides.  With a multitude of mobile devices, and an ever growing number of apps designed to keep you connected, you might start to feel that these devices are making your life far more complex than simplified. If so, there’s a new app, Freedom, that can help you straddle that fine balance between the extremes of being connected to the Internet on a multitude of devices 24/7, or at the other end of the spectrum, wearing wooden shoes and declaring yourself a Luddite.

Freedom in this particular sense is the opposite of what we’re told having all of our lives transact in myriad mobile devices will provide. Instead, it’s a simple productivity application that locks you away from the internet on Mac or Windows computers for up to eight hours at a time. According to the developers, Freedom frees you from distractions, allowing you time to write, analyze, code, or create. At the end of your offline period, Freedom allows you back on the internet. Freedom is available for both Windows and the Mac with a free trial, registration costs $10.

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But despite glowing testimonials of famous Type A, overachieving personalities of how freedom has given them back–well, their freedom–William H. Dutton, Professor of Internet Studies at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford says that sense of freedom is very context specific. “There are serious issues around notions of ‘Internet addiction’ and we have studied this at the OII,” Dutton says. However, he points out that the idea of addiction to technologies like the Internet, and disconnecting yourself from these devices, is not new–and not necessarily effective for everyone

“My students and I studied the impact of a pager blackout in the late 1990s, when journalists across the US argued that the pager blackout was like a ‘snow day’, freeing people from the demands of everyday life,” Dutton explains. “Our research found that was true for middle-class managers and professionals, such as doctors and journalists.”

But Dutton and his team found that it was far less true  for those on the margins of society: such as the unemployed, women vs. men, minorities, and those who depended on the pager for their next job, such as construction workers. “To them, the pager was more central to their connections with family, friends, and employment,” Dutton says. In their case, the pager actually freed them from remaining by a phone, just as the Internet can free an individual from being where they need to be to get information or connect with a friend or associate, according to Dutton.

“We are hoping to study Internet addiction and other risks tied to Internet use, but it is important to note that these impacts are likely to be socially distributed in quite meaningful ways,” Dutton asserts. He explains that technologies seldom fit into everyone’s life in the same way. For those who do fall into the Type-A professional category, Dutton recommends this product. “In many respects, that is the nice aspect of this new app – anyone complaining about the Internet undermining their productivity no longer has a real excuse,” Dutton says.–J. Doe

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