How do you control the Wolfman within you?

Lon Chaney Jr., as Lawrence Talbot, learns from a fortune teller that he is cursed to be the Wolfman

I always felt sorry for Lawrence Talbot. Whenever the full moon was due, he had to ask someone to lock him in a cell; he knew he would become the Wolfman, and he didn’t want to roam the countryside satisfying his need for violence and blood. His self control would be gone, he knew, so he had to find external controls to keep himself in line.

I thought of the Wolfman a couple of weeks ago when The Wall Street Journal published two book reviews that caught my eye. The first looked at We Have Met the Enemy by Daniel Akst. The second discussed Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?, edited by John Brockman. I haven’t read either book yet, but judging from the reviews, they touch on some common themes.

Akst examines the question of just how badly self control has deteriorated in modern society. Brockman pulls together a group of 150 writers, artists, scholars, scientists and pundits to write essays on how the Internet has affected their lives and their work.

Reviewer Meghan Clyne has no trouble assembling proof points to demonstrate that many people have abandoned self control or never had it. She cites an ad for the Lifeseat 600, a motorized toilet that will lift a 600-pound person to a standing position. And then there’s Brett Favre’s recent adventures with a cellphone camera, which cost him a $50,000 fine from the NFL and any semblance of dignity he may have had.

Clyne tells us that Akst believes the cost of lost self control is a troubled society. He thinks that new technologies – cellphones, the Internet, social media and others – have removed built-in delays that gave us time to think before we did something crass or stupid. He also argues that the erosion of church and family have taken away some of the pillars upon which self control rests. He provides some pointers for regaining self control, such as what he calls “pre-commitment” – taking measures to avoid temptations that you know you probably can’t resist – just like Lawrence Talbot!

In Brockman’s book, many writers agree that the Internet greatly enriches endeavors such as scientific research, global communication and personal expression. Interestingly, though, many of the writers agree that, because there are such vast stores of information on the Internet, the ability to carve out time for uninterrupted, concentrated thought may prove to be the most important skill that one can hone. “Attention is the fundamental literacy,” writes Howard Rheingold, the author of Smart Mobs.

It’s in that thought that the two books intersect. Rheingold is pointing out that while the Internet brings a rich of collection of tools right to your computer screen, it also can be a fun house of delights that woos you into wasting hour after hour exploring its every nook and cranny. With just a click of a mouse and a push of a button, you’re walking down the road to ruin.

So, if you want to try the Wolfman approach for keeping yourself at bay from the Internet, how can you do it? One entrepreneur has the answer.

For $10, the inventor of Freedom will sell you a software application that blocks your access to the Internet for up to eight hours at a time. To thwart the software, you have to reboot your system. The theory is that the hassle of rebooting is enough to keep you on the straight and narrow so you can get some work done. It’s like locking yourself away from the Internet so you can keep your worst impulses in check.

That’s all well and good unless, like me, you use the Internet throughout the day to research the facts and figures you need to do your work. For me, more traditional forces come to bear, such as the shame of missing a deadline or the fear of a wrathful client whose expectations have gone unmet. It’s like my Lutheran teachers always said. A little fear and guilt aren’t necessarily bad. You don’t want so much of either that you’re immobilized by self doubt, but a little of both, mixed in with the self assurance that comes from preparation and concentration, can serve you well.

Let me know what keeps you disciplined and focused in this increasingly hectic, information-rich world. How do you handle the Lawrence Talbot inside yourself?

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