I have been wanting to write a post on my own experiences with internet addiction, but I haven’t been quite sure how to go about it. I am still not completely sure, but I am eager to write in the hopes that it might be helpful to another mom somewhere out there.
About three years ago, I started to become very concerned that I might be addicted to the internet. I was visiting a wonderful message board way, way too often. I would check in multiple times a day (and that is an understatement) and post frequently. I enjoyed the things I learned, but what I really loved was helping others. I was delighted to encourage a new mom or to be able to perk someone up when they were needing a ‘friend’. I built a real community on the board I visited. The problem was that when I tried to read a book or make a meal or clean my home, I felt almost magnetically pulled back toward the computer. I couldn’t seem to tear myself away. There were times I would log onto the message board and two hours would go by. After I logged off, I would actually have physical affects (panic-like symptoms) from being on the computer for so long. I prayed and prayed about whether or not I had a problem. Being fairly certain I did, I then prayed a lot about what to do. In the spring of 2007, God allowed our computer to crash so that we could no longer use the internet at home. We took our time having it fixed and I was gifted back a huge amount of time I had been missing from my life.
I suppose you could say that my addiction ended cold turkey. I had been unsuccessful at setting limits for myself in the past, so this was truly a huge relief for me. During the period our internet was not functional, I had a lot of time to think about why I would have become addicted to a message board. I believe that, for me, it was a matter of my need for community. Knowing why it was happening was a big part of being able to get past my addiction.
The internet is often used for forming community with others. This could be good in some circumstances, but I think for many more people — definitely for me — it is harmful. Using the internet to meet my needs for community meant a number of things were happening.
First of all, it took up time that I would otherwise be spending elsewhere, in all likelihood on something more worthwhile. I found that my internet time was coming from keeping my home tidy, parenting my children, spending time with my husband and reading good books.
Second, when meeting my need for community on the internet, I found that I had less need (and time) to spend with my real-life friends. I have some fantastic real-life friends and I am very grateful that God led me to a place where I recognized what was going on before I seriously damaged my friendships.
Third, I believe my sense of reality was being skewed. This one is more difficult to explain. When a group of people participate in a message board/e-list on a particular topic, the group often does not mimic any group of people that could possibly exist in real-life. For example, let’s say you participate on a message board for people who eat marshmallows for breakfast everyday. There could be 100 active participants on the list and tons of interesting off-shoot topics to read. If you spent enough time there it would start to feel a lot more ‘normal’ than it really is. Without anyone to say that eating marshmallows for breakfast was unhealthy or unwise, there are no checks and balances for the participants. Everyone there eats marshmallows for breakfast. It is very unlikely that your real-life friends would ‘understand’ your marshmallow philosophy (and your need to constantly shop on the community’s Marshmallow For Sale or Trade board) so you would end up feeling less connected to your real-life friends and more connected to your internet ‘friends’. I was just starting to feel this way when God graciously pulled the plug on my internet.
I am by nature an introvert. I am friendly and comfortable around people and love to spend time with friends. However, I am energized by quiet and solitude, whereas an extrovert is energized by being around lots of people. As much as I do enjoy being with people, I am a real homebody and often have to force myself out the door. It just feels like so much work to go out. As an introvert and a mom to many young children, it was extremely easy to meet my need to connect with others via the internet.
When I realized what was happening, I determined that I would avoid any kind of ‘friendships’ on the internet. I immediately stopped posting on the message board and decided I would no longer participate in any type of message board. Later on, I did find that I sometimes really needed some information or a question answered that was best done on a message board/e-list. Being broken of the constant habit of ‘checking the computer’, I can now use internet message boards on a minimal, non-relational level quite safely. However, I always keep my antenna way up for any signs that I might be getting too involved. I participate on a knitting board, but the second I find myself typing up posts encouraging someone in parenting, I feel a red flag go up and I stop typing and turn off the computer. There is no point offering parenting encouragement while allowing my own children to parent themselves.
Awhile ago, I came across a blog post entitled, “I was a better mother before the internet“. It was very helpful in inspiring me to reach for something better than being a mom who spends hours and hours on the computer everyday ‘learning’ about parenting and homemaking. I love my family, as all of you do, and I want to do my best to fulfill the wonderful calling God has given me in caring for them. The article helped me to ask myself the question, “Is this particular use of the internet a help or a hindrance to my calling?” I find I can also be pulled away from my family if I start to invest too much time reading blogs. Obviously, I think blogs are terrific and I love to encourage others through my blog. At the same time, I think they can be a snare to us because they connect us to the writer in a way so that we feel as if the writer is our ‘friend’. Too much of that and a mom can find herself hooked on the internet as I did two years ago.
I am praying today for everyone reading my blog. I really care about you and your families and I hope that if you are reading today my blog will be one that will be a help to you in your calling as a wife and mom. If it is a hindrance, I pray that you will be wise, turn off your computer and go and hug your sweet babies. 🙂