From The Digital Diet by Daniel Sieberg, available now in paperback and ebook.

Your Virtual Weight Index, or VWI

The-Digital-Diet-CoverCurrently, the most common and controversial measurement to determine obesity is called the "body mass index," or BMI. But what about all those gadgets and Web sites and services? Collectively a bunch of electronics might only weigh several pounds in your hand. But forget about gravity for a minute. Think of how they weigh on your mind. This is the basis for your VWI: your Virtual Weight Index. The following formula will help you tailor this Digital Diet to your situation. It's the key to personalizing everything going forward. Depending on your VWI, you might place more or less emphasis on certain exercises. And you might decide to skip certain ones altogether. The choice is yours. For now, let's examine the formula.

For every . . .

++ smart phone you own, add 3 points

++ social network you use, add 4 points

++ laptop you own, add 1 point

++ tablet or iPad- like device you own, add 2 points

++ e- mail account you use, add 2 points

++ cell- phone texting service you use, add 5 points

++ online role- playing game log- in you use, add 7 points

++ desktop computer you own, add 1 point

++ e- book reader you have, add 1 point

++ digital camera you have, add 1 point

++ additional gadget you own that requires a charger but doesn't fall into any of these categories, add 1 point

++ blog you write or comment on, add 2 points

A personal VWI might look something like this:

iPhone 4 +3 points

LinkedIn, Facebook +8

Dell laptop +1

Gmail, Yahoo!, and work e- mail accounts +6

texting on iPhone 4 and work BlackBerry +10

Kindle +1

Canon camera +1

VWI = 30

That's a pretty typical profile of someone who needs technology as part of their job (a growing number of us) and enjoys keeping in touch on a regular basis. A low VWI at this stage would be <25 (your Digital Diet will streamline your usage and eliminate some stress), midrange 25–35 (your Digital Diet will help you stay sane and organized), and high 36 and up (your Digital Diet could be totally life- altering). Don't panic if you have a high VWI. Through the Digital Diet you may lower it dramatically. Or you may only drop a couple of points. The purpose is to add awareness to your routine and see the benefits. In truth, the VWI is probably more akin to your credit score than to your body mass index. You can make changes in your spending habits and minimize your reliance on borrowing money and see that number go up. But you might also want to close some credit cards or accounts if you don't use them. The one major variable in the VWI is your ability to monitor how often you use these gadgets and services. It's one thing to own them or sign up, but you don't have to rely on them. Remember, you are in control.

Take Action: Look at your VWI and circle the accounts and services you haven't used in six months. When you next go online, try to shut down those accounts, profiles, or services in your allotted time. Now that's productive computing working for you. (If you have extra time, then "unsubscribe" from all those spam e- mails you get as well. Don't wait for spring to clean that in- box!)

Now go back to that notebook and complete the next step (using a typical day from last week as a base):

++ For every twenty e- mails you send each day, add 2 points

++ For every ten texts you send each day, add 2 points

++ For every social- network update you make each day, add 3 points

++ For every instant- message conversation you have each day, add 3 points

++ For every fifteen minutes of cell- phone talk time you use each day, add 2 points

Naturally, your VWI will go up. That's not the overarching concern. The problem arises with the content and the motivation. The why and the what for. Now take your VWI and commit it to memory. You don't have to share it with anyone. The purpose is to see your indulgence in technology in a way that makes it visual. Step back for a minute and really think about how many high- tech things are vying for your attention every day. It's a lot. And the number has crept up at a rapid pace. At the end of this Digital Diet you may choose to keep all those gadgets and services. That's fine. But you may alter how and when you use them. Just as with a food diet, you don't necessarily have to give up eating chocolate— you just don't down a whole cake every day. It's a cliché because it's true— moderation, moderation, moderation. And nowhere is moderation more needed than in today's modern society.

From the Digital Diet, Copyright 2012 by Daniel Sieberg. Published by Three Rivers Press.