For several years now, December 19 has been a special day for me. I call it my “Sobriety Birthday” and I consider it a great day for positive changes. On this date 25 years ago, I gave up alcohol. On the same date 16 years ago, I gave up cigarettes. Last year, I dropped “added sugar” from my diet, and 15 pounds along with it. So what about this year?
One of the changes my spiritual director and I have discussed: If I want to grab even a modicum of control over my time, I must confront my Internet addiction.
A huge challenge is that I can’t abstain completely from using my computer without losing its many benefits.
With family and friends scattered all over two continents, I would not be able to stay connected so well without Facebook. How are all my nieces and nephews and dozens of cousins doing? Who’s getting married? Which friend got a promotion at work or went on a fabulous vacation? Who just went to the E.R. and needs prayers?
Facebook has even allowed me to reconnect with friends I thought I’d lost track of forever. Many of these people were friends from my childhood and young adulthood. When repeated moves for marriages and jobs separated us, we promised to stay in touch, but this proved hard from a distance. Thanks to Facebook, the years and the miles have disappeared. In a couple of cases we’ve started visiting each other in person again.
I also use the Internet to research many of the articles I write. Most grant proposals I prepare for an organization whose board I sit on must be sent electronically. I pay bills, check my bank balances and renew licenses online. Ordering everything from clothes to books to groceries online saves hours of shopping time. Using email and Facebook to set up committee meetings or plan family gatherings saves days of telephone tag. Sometimes I even check the weather forecast to see how I need to dress for the day.
Suffice it to say that the Internet has had an enormously positive impact on my life, and I’m not ready to give it up and go “completely off the grid,” as some folks fantasize about doing. However, I realize the mindless surfing needs to go – complete with taking “click bait” and getting sucked into Facebook flame wars.
It’s one thing to keep up with family members and friends. But keeping up with the Kardashians? Do I really care why Taylor Swift broke up with her latest boyfriend? What do I gain by arguing about politics with friends of friends on Facebook except for some new resentments? And how many articles do I need to read about our elected officials calling each other names?
Okay, I did manage to avoid clicking on a couple of these: Giant Bird-Eating Tarantula … Snopes Fact Check: Did Michelle File for Divorce over President Obama’s Pregnant Mistress? … Revealed: The Lavish Life of an American Pastor … Did Tokyo Open the First Human Meat Restaurant? But not all of them, I must confess.
Political click bait has been a particularly potent trigger. To put it mildly, the results of the 2016 election threw me into a state of shock. For the first couple of months, I read one “news analysis” piece after another, trying to wrap my head around what happened. My husband and I also joined some of the new Facebook “resistance” groups springing up everywhere.
Meanwhile, I found myself getting into fights – even with people I ordinarily like – over politics and contentious “hot-button” ideological issues. One evening this past summer, I realized I had just spent the better part of a whole day debating total strangers on a church Facebook page over this question: “Is it racist to make jokes about lutefisk, lefse and jello at Lutheran potlucks?” (No, I’m not making that up). I further realized it wasn’t the first time this had happened.
In the past, I’ve conquered compulsions/addictions, like alcohol and cigarettes, by practicing total abstinence. The thing is, I can live (a lot longer, in fact) without cigarettes or alcohol. But it’s pretty hard in this technological age to live without my computer.
So it looks like I’m going to need to learn a new skill: Moderation! Now moderation has never been one of my strong suits, but maybe it really is time for me to acquire this valuable habit.
At any rate, I’ve decided to set some boundaries with my computer. If I have a legitimate reason to be online, by all means go online – long enough to check messages and do necessary tasks. Then get back off. Stop the mindless surfing. Resist click bait. Put a definitive time limit on how long I spend on Facebook. That way maybe I can keep my computer in its place as a valuable tool, rather than letting it control me.
Let’s see how I do with this one.