Five ways to avoid the personal online ghetto

 online ghetto

Have you seen the movie Wall-E ?

Wall-EIt’s a sci-fi animation movie by Pixar where humanity lives in a space station because the earth is trashed. Here’s the interesting part. Humans in the space station are beyond wealthy:

Because the robots do all the work, the humans can spend all day sitting in front of giant monitors, consuming media. They are depicted as overweight and dumb. They can neither run nor read.

You can laugh about this and say “what a funny story.”

But the sad truth is this is becoming a reality.

Let me make a bold prediction: The divide between those who survive and those who thrive in the future won’t be based on education or access to technology, but on a consumption-to-creation ratio.

Let me explain with a personal story. 

Although my career is 100% online, I don’t own a smartphone (!).

That’s why I actually notice people when I pass through the streets of my hometown Berlin. And no matter where I look I see people glued to their mobile devices. Everyone. Everywhere. Kids half my size fumble with their phones, old people in parks e-read, hipsters check the newest apps.

Heck, when I was riding the U-Bahn (German metro) a few months ago, I even saw a bum begging for money with one hand, talking to someone over his iPhone with the other.

But when I ask some of them what they were doing, they all said the same things: Checking messages, updates, hearing music, watching video.

In short, they were stuck in the consumption mode, which I call the online ghetto. No physical poverty, but a mental one, because they only passively consume, like the degenerate humans in the “Wall-E” movie.

I thought, well, it’s just them. They’re average people, not like me and you, who do major work on the internet.


Years ago, at the beginning of my creative career, I worked hard to build my online presence. Or so I thought.

Because at the end of each month, I was wondering why I got so little done, despite sitting in front of my computer almost 24/7. I literally exercised nothing but my butt muscles. I wanted to bust that mystery, so I tracked my daily progress and got the answer. And it slapped my face left and right. Ouch.

This is what I really did most days:

1) Watching “inspirational videos” on TED to ignite the passion for my career.
2) Playing online browser games to “relax” from my online work.
3) Reading blog articles about online mavericks who “made” it.

Without realizing it, I had slipped into the online ghetto.

I was getting hooked on feel-good content. Waiting every day for the “dealer” to create more content that I could consume. I wasn’t creating much work … or making much money.

I came to the following conclusion :

The “poorer” the people, the more they consume online.
The “richer” the people, the more they create online.

All the people who lacked success were consuming the most, while those who succeeded were in creation mode.

I believe that if you want to be on the upper end of the online world, you must master your creation/consumption ratio.

Here are top five ways of escaping the online ghetto:

1. Do you have to be an early adopter? 

Unless you work in the tech scene, the answer is no. Corporations have conditioned us to buy the next, shiny thing, but it’s almost never out of a “need” but a “want.”  Besides, the first iterations almost always suck – do you still remember the first iPhone?

2. Focus on brain nutrition instead of junk.

Ze internet is a viral wonderland. But be picky about where you dabble.

Watching awkward cats fart or jump into milk cartoons vs. reading educational blogs that help you advance your (online) career *cough*read {grow}*cough*.

Brain junk satisfies you in the short-term, but lacks long-term value. It’s a quickie.

The majority of what I apply in my biz today comes from valuable content that others created.

3. Choose creation apps over consumption apps.

This one is quite tricky, because most apps are designed to turn you into pseudo-creators.

Foursquare, Goodreads, Path etc. all make you “do” stuff, but it’s to grow their database, not necessarily to enhance your online presence or career. To be a creator, you must focus the majority of time on using creation based apps.

The apps I now use most often are creation-based:

Evernote for research, Sketchbook Pro for drawing, Scrivener for writing.

4. Limit your online access. 

This one is challenging, and honestly, it doesn’t work for me. But a lot of my online friends do it.

You can download apps like “Selfcontrol” or “Freedom” that either block specific sites or your whole access to the internet for a set period. Cutting out any distractions. This helps you focus on one thing, and one thing only — creating stuff.

Going cold turkey is tough love, but maybe the patient needs it.

5. Ask yourself this question …

Whenever you’re stuck in an app, ask yourself this question :

Is this helping me create better work?

I modify this question in many ways:
Will this app / tweet / share / “Facebook like” help me create better work?

99% of the time, it won’t. It’s a time wasting gimmick that puts me one step closer to the online ghetto.


I don’t want you to end up in the online ghetto. Yeah, I know fat cats who fart are funny.

I know people crashing into things is pure schadenfreude. And watching celebrities screw up can be addicting. But the more you fall into the web junk food consumption mood, the less you’re going to thrive.

What are you going to do today to avoid the online ghetto?

mars dorianMars Dorian describes himself as a creative marketeer with a moon-melting passion for human potential and technology. You can follow his adventures at

Original illustration by the author.

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  • Same thing I do everyday, not visiting Facebook! 😉

    Nice, true article Mars, enjoyed reading

  • Enjoyed the article – good food for thought. It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of being online, chasing the next shiny object, and accomplishing nothing. Thanks for giving me some food for thought.


  • Mars, you never fail to inspire. Each blog post is an irreverent dose of relevance.
    I’m struggling to escape the ghetto and limit my consumption of cheap goodies.
    The pull to always be connected is strong. I suppose it’s like an addict who needs to hang out with new friends. 🙂
    Thanks for my morning inspiration.

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  • This really rang true for me. And we always need to beware of the self-improvement angle…are you consuming so much “inspirational” material that you never go out and apply what you’ve learned?

  • It is a balancing act for sure.

  • thanks Beth, it still happens to me.
    But because of the tips I implement myself, I can get wayyy more done 😉

  • Great post Mars! This is so true:
    “The “poorer” the people, the more they consume online.
    The “richer” the people, the more they create online.”
    Also with social media it is all about quality and less than quantity, the same with food. We have to consume online to become better online creators though, this is why we have to focus on quality food and not junk food, this is why the businesses grow blog is one of the few blogs I read regularly, because it is authentic and helpful!

    Wuensche Dir einen schoenen Tag offline!

  • Heh, that answer would be a big, fat yes for me. Especially TED talks and other inspirational videos that lift you up for the moment, but don’t mean anything in the long-term. Still, they can be so tempting…

  • Yeah, exactly, but today, it seems we’re checking / connecting for the sake of checking / connecting.

    An unhealthy habit that’s short-term fun but lacks long-term results;)

  • Thanx Barry, that’s been a tough lesson for me in the last years.

  • Sandra Isaac

    I read one blog online…{grow}…every morning to “unwind” from my commute. If I find something interesting during the day, I usually scan over it and print it is it looks like it applies to me. Everyday, I take my dog out for a walk and look the clouds, at the trees…just up. Do you know how many people are having neck issues from looking “down” so much! I really feel the affects of online overload! I will miss being creative because that’s who “I” really am. Being “me” is very energizing and liberating and necessary for survival. So I grab my camera and go. Then I can incorporate it to the creative online content that represents me.
    Great article!

  • ER

    Thoughtful article- thanks for your honesty about your ‘addictions.’ What about taking it a step further? Carrying a small sketchbook instead of using an app. Keep a journal using a pen and paper. Unplug for short (or long time). Read a book or newspaper instead of or in addition to a blog. Going back to a non-tech method changes perspective and exercises different parts- brain and body.

  • Yvonne Root

    The richer/poorer analysis is so true, Mars. Perhaps I’ll print this article and hang it on the wall. Nah, that’ll never work — the wall is behind me and the computer is in front of me.

    Kidding aside, this article is full of truth which many if not most of us need to learn or, better yet, practice.

  • Vielen Dank, Linda 😉

    I truly believe that statement, especially since most poor people
    own smartphones, so it’s not an access problem anymore.

    Create or get created 😉

    I wish my online habits where as consistent as my offline “food” habits 😉

  • That sounds good, and it may work for some, but I personally hate carrying stuff around. Having a sketchbook never worked for me, and reading physical newspaper with their inconvenient paper layout and dirty paper is uncomfortable. Still, I’m unplugging everyday by going out offline 😉

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  • Man I remember when the movie came out and everyone was making a big uproar about it. My wife and I looked at it and said, “That could totally happen.” and slowly it is becoming that way. Sometimes we need to unplug! I wrote a blog about it. You need to disconnect from time to time from the digital world and experience nature or a good book.

  • Jeffrey Slater

    Our attachment to our smart phones is both frightening and funny. I love the dinner party game where everyone puts their phone in the middle of the table. Whoever picks their phone up first pays for dinner.

    I think for business meetings, having a basket on the table for phones is also a wise idea. If you have to use your phone during the meeting, maybe the meeting isn’t important or you shouldn’t attend.

    Enjoyed your post particularly the emphasis on creating versus consuming media. Write on!

  • Holly McIlwain

    Mars Dorian, great post and now I’ve found the only other person without an iphone. Thank you for admitting it, so I don’t feel alone. I agree 100% with your post and now I have a tag to call it when I catch mystelf spending too much time in the “online ghetto.” Some (a lot) of the on-line social media is mind candy, mind numbing and huge time waster. All networking is not useful and that’s why, like everything else in business, it is key to have a plan of action. Think of other productivity energy vampires like chatty friends in the office, family members calling you during business hours, too much time at the water cooler, re-organizing, playing office, etc. I hear there’s foozeball in offices now. Old fashion time management, make a list and prioritize the to-do’s A, B, and C. Do the A’s first and probably toss the C’s. I’m rationalizing my time in the on-line ghetto right now as part of my laying the bricks of social networking and learning the new marketing methods, but honestly, I think I have some A’s calling me now…

  • zzdianas

    Ouch! Face slap left/right, left/right, left/right!
    Swift kick to butt and . . . I have lift-off!
    Mindful mantra for today: “Wake up Diana. What r u doing right now? Growing you or squandering resources on someone else’s dream”!? Tks Mars 🙂

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  • When I go out the only app I use on my iPhone is Run-keeper, so I know how far I walked 😉

    The only thing that works for me is dipping in and out of my online time … but only doing it during certain periods of the day. Lately I’ve been trying to leave my smartphone in one room when I roam about the house, read or watch TV … the feeling I get when I do this is almost one of relief!

    My wife and I are downsizing and shredding stuff as we go. Selling our house and moving to an apartment, donating old computers and trying to get rid of some monthly bills and daily distractions.

    Next is having more fun, traveling more (maybe to Germany ;)) and ironically … having a business I can carry around in my laptop 😀

  • RogierNoort

    Excellent post Mars.., very well put.

    Choose Creation over Consumption.., and there it is.., our mantra for the rest of the year.
    Now, if you’ll excuse me.., I have a blogpost to write…

  • Excellent advice, Mars. A pleasant surprise when we met you in Berlin was that you didn’t check your phone during our evening out – a rare thing these days! It’s easy to get caught up in this, and after a recent digital sabbatical for 8 days while hiking I was surprised to return to my laptop and realize how much time I’d been wasting in the online ghetto (and how strong the draw still was to do it). Thanks for a great reminder!

  • very well 😉

  • Hey Betsy, I can we can be lucky today if the people we meet up with don’t pull out their smartphone in the middle of the conversation 😉

    And yeah, if you’re away from the keyboard, you realize how much time wasting you did on the computer – sadly, most of us (including me) get back into the online ghetto, although not much as we used to 😉

  • I luv how you structure your day – the whole ABC thing never worked for me productivity wise, because the system itself made me procrastinate, heh.

    It’s amazing how we trick ourselves in doing work / networking, when we’re really just wasting time and checking updates.

  • Interesting, and does the tactic of leaving your smartphone in one room work ? If I had it, my mind would still be on it, 24/7.
    (PS – if you come to Germany, come to Berlin 😉

  • Stacey Trock

    This is such a great post. I’m with you, even though I run an online business, I don’t have a smartphone. I don’t need to be watching a YouTube video (or checking my email) while I’m walking down the street.
    I very rarely ‘dally’ around on the internet… if I don’t have a purposeful thing to do (reply to emails, post in my facebook group), I close my computer and walk away. And that’s when I come up with my ideas and content for my blog!
    I know many others in my profession who claim to be working 12 hour days and ‘can’t get anything finished’… I suspect they’re consuming a lot of media during that time, instead of focusing on output.

  • hahahah, I use that same writing when I slap myself metaphorically ! Although sometimes I do need the real, physical equivalent !

  • Am guilty! Glad I held the mirror to myself after reading this eye opener.
    Popular content which generate ‘Likes’ or Retweets need to be relegated to a secondary level of priority (although they do help create awareness)
    Primary Focus has to be on quality content creation (and whatever helps that process: learning, tools,,)

  • Kim | a little lunch

    Mars, what a fantastic post! (Just happened upon it now because I had my computer turned OFF while living life this weekend.) Your observations were spot on. More than that, they inspired me to keep ‘doing what I do’ — logging in when I feel like it (not compulsively), sharing things that matter to me (rather than posting because “I should” per the latest analytics or how-to-grow exponentially tip), and trying to make a difference in the on-line world by writing something positive that means something to others (as opposed to generating “numbers.”) Your post made a difference in my life! Thank you.

    P.S. I don’t own a smart phone either, and generally when someone calls, they get my voice mail. (But I do return calls as soon as I’m available.)

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  • Patricia Haag

    Brilliant post! And so true. It’s easy to get sucked into media consumption when you feel like you have to interact and engage. Thanks for bringing clarity to this arena.

  • Yes … just one less thing to stress out about 😉

    Oh, we wouldn’t miss Berlin. Will let you know.

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  • I missed your entire point because you are comparing the “ghetto” to lazy…

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  • samrex

    Man, thank you for this, so great.. Every time I sink into the consumption trap I feel like crap, but it is legit hard to keep out of :/ reading and someone else say these things helps me out a lot

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