Tag Archives: internet

You’re Probably Not Addicted to the Internet. Although…

A few weeks ago I heard an NPR story about reSTART, an inpatient treatment program for people who are addicted to the Internet. It was eye-opening. Most of the program’s clients are young men addicted to video games, in some cases playing for 12 hours a day for weeks and months on end.

I grew up around the language of addiction. My father was a recovering alcoholic from the time I was three years old. My dad got sober not through an in-patient program but through Alcoholics Anonymous. From an early age I understood that, whether because of genetics or because of the complexities of our family system, I should be vigilant about alcohol’s effects on me.

Today I am a social drinker who can’t stand the feeling of being drunk. But I do think a lot about my Internet use, especially social media programs like Twitter and Facebook. It doesn’t impact my parenting or my job like the reSTART clients. I take a tech sabbath every weekend and am pretty good about sticking to it.

But it’s harder to immerse myself in a long book than it was even six or seven years ago. Granted, I recently finished Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and could not put it down! But books that  make me work hard often have me reaching for the smartphone every chapter or so. It’s the oft-lamented death of the attention span.

As a writer, I crave long uninterrupted time with my thoughts—tough to come by with part-time ministry, three kids and a spouse. But when I am able to set a day aside for writing, it’s hard to quiet the twitchy mind that wants to reach for the gadget and check Pinterest… again. (Hey, someone may have posted more pumpkin recipes! Or Nutella! In a slow-cooker!)

There is something chemical going on.

Around the time I might have curtailed or even quit Facebook and Twitter, two things happened. One: I got a call as a solo pastor, which means I don’t have staff colleagues to hang with around the water cooler. Social media helps fill that need to be, well, social.

And two: I started gearing up to publish (and promote) Sabbath in the Suburbs. I treasure the opportunity to connect with readers, and social media makes that a convenient (and yes, meaningful) activity. But there is also a cost to being so connected.

The NPR story was helpful because it allowed me to give myself a break. The poor folks who enter reSTART have flunked out of school and gotten fired. That’s a far cry from worrying about the ability to read a challenging novel without interruption.

The downside of such news stories is that they can let us off the hook. I expect there’s a good number of us who worry that we’re in a troubling place between social drinkers and problem drinkers. It doesn’t serve us well to say, “Well I’m not as bad as those people so I’m fine.”

What do you think? reSTART has an Internet Addiction survey if you’re interested in considering your own use and habits.

Because I Will Reflect on Anything… Even a Facebook Kerfuffle.

Why yes, don't mind if I do.

Quite the kerfuffle on Facebook yesterday over this devotional about the “spiritual but not religious.” People felt very strongly about it, and I even got defriended over the discussion. And because I will ponder anything, even a FB kerfuffle:

If you want commentary on the piece itself, I recommend this and this, and my friend Martha offered her own meditation on “SBNRs” (written several years ago) here. This blog isn’t really about the post itself, except I wanna say this: I’m kinda over the word “spiritual.” I think the shift is toward something different that doesn’t have a name yet: embodied? incarnational? grounded? integrated?

Anyway, today I’m thinking more about writing, how we communicate and how we reflect on that communication.

Many clergy friends gave virtual high fives that the writer finally said what needed to be said about the shallowness that often emanates from some who call themselves spiritual but not religious. Others admitted the tone was snarky and smug, too focused on the speck in the SBNR’s eye and completely ignoring the log in the church’s, and not a great thing to have out there if we claim to be an evangelistic people. But, they argue, the germ of an idea was sound. (My husband, a product manager, offered, “Sounds like a classic venting-about-the-customers thing. Everybody does it, but not to the customers.”)

My personal view is that voice cannot be separated from message. Tone is not a dropcloth that can be removed with a flourish and stowed away, revealing the true work of art underneath. It’s baked right in. “Set aside X and Y and her point is valid,” some folks said in defense of the piece. But I don’t think you can set those things aside.

My writing group deals with this problem often after several years together. I’ve been told more times than I can count, “I know what you’re trying to say because I know you and the experience you’re describing, but it’s not at all clear from the words on this page.” or “I get your point, but you come off really sarcastic here—was that what you were going for?”

That’s what the kerfuffle was about. Words on a page. (OK, screen.) People who know the writer personally consider her a lovely person. I have no reason to doubt that. But that’s beside the point when it comes to this piece of writing, which should be evaluated on its own merits. Does it work? Does it work in this genre? Does it communicate what she wants to communicate?

This completely freaks me out, by the way. Come fall 2012, it will be my words that are evaluated. Maybe even critiqued. Maybe even critiqued harshly and pointedly. There may be readers who cross the line and make it personal. But not all sharp critique is personal. Remind me of this next year, Gentle Readers, when some doofus on the Internet makes me cry. Help me sift through what’s helpful but hard to hear. Help me find a safe place to put that. And help me take everything else, tie it to the tail of a kite, fly it into a strong wind, and cut the string.

But the stuff I write doesn’t get a pass just because I’m a nice person.

That’s the work of community. That’s what the piece tried to emphasize—and failed, in my opinion, because of what was used to leaven it.

One final thing. On the Internet, there is no place for the church to talk to itself internally without the general public listening in. That includes, sadly, a lecture given by the speaker to a room full of pastors, which is readily available too. That’s neither good nor bad, it just is. We live in Terry Benedict’s casino in Ocean’s 11: “In my hotels, there’s always someone watching.”

All right then… what’s next?

Taming the Tech

Recently I heard a public service announcement in which people were urged to turn off their faucets while brushing their teeth. I thought, Really? People still do this, and need to be told not to? But maybe when it comes to conservation, there is still some low-hanging fruit we need to be going for.

This week I listened to Krista Tippett’s outstanding interview with Sherry Turkle, who wrote Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (haven’t read it but it’s on my list).  Turkle writes about technology and its impact on our mental and interpersonal (and I would say spiritual) health. I got a lot out of this program—learned a few things, came to understand other things in a new way.

That said, I am pretty plugged in to tech and social networks, and I examine my habits constantly. Constantly. And I have a number of practices that work well for me in terms of taming the tech. I offer them, though they feel a little like the “no water while toothbrushing” thing in that they aren’t particularly new or novel. But maybe they will help someone who feels like their life is being taken over by The Machines.

1. Silence the ding. That is, turn off the notification that sounds whenever you receive an e-mail. I’m as trigger-happy as the next person when it comes to checking e-mail, but I made this change several years ago and have never looked back. Do you really need to read an e-mail the moment it arrives?

By the way, there are people who will say “Yes, actually I do need to read e-mail the moment it arrives.” Congratulations. You’re one of the unlucky indispensable ones.

2. Answer yesterday’s e-mail today. E-mail can take all your time if you let it. I batch all my e-mail from the previous day and answer it in one fell swoop. It gets me into a groove and allows me to dispatch with stuff very easily. Urgent stuff gets answered immediately, of course… but most things aren’t urgent and can wait. Not only that, but sometimes e-mails sent to a group will get resolved without your intervention at all. Win!

One note about this: for this to work without getting unwieldy, you really do need to make a deal with yourself that you will handle all of the yesterday mail, even if that means adding something to your to-do list.

3. Set up a Facebook list for your closest friends. We probably all have friends on Facebook that we’re happy to be connected with, but we don’t want to monitor every last one of them each day. I set up a list that’s a subset of people whose statuses I want to see in my feed. I almost never scroll through the full list of FB friends anymore. It cuts down on my FB time, and I think it’s a nice antidote to the dynamic of having many many weak ties rather than a smaller number of true-blue friends.

As a failsafe, however, I do check Top News from time to time, which often flags the big stuff that I might have missed. A status update that generated 30 comments, for example, is something I want to know about, whether it’s a new baby, the loss of a pet, or just something to tickle the funny bone.

4. One sentence journal. I’ve been blogging in different venues for going on 8 years now, so I’m a big fan of that longer-form communication. But it is fun to find ways to share one’s thoughts in 140 characters (or 420 in the case of FB). It’s like haiku for the 21st century.

But not every passing thought needs to be shared with the world. If you find yourself with stuff to say that isn’t Facebook-worthy, keep a one-sentence journal. I started this at the beginning of the year and it’s really fun. And easy. And unlike Facebook, which effectively disappears after a time, the journals can last forever.

5. Filter the e-mail. Both my work e-mail and home e-mail come into the same program, just in different boxes. So I’ve set up a “day off” filter for my work e-mail that sorts them into an obscure folder that I have to scroll waaaaay down to get to. Not that I don’t do that sometimes, even on my day off. But it reduces the tendency to check it unconsciously (or consciously), because you can’t even see it without going to look for it.

6. Digital Sabbath. I think one of the best things you can do is walk away for a while. I take the weekend off from Facebook and Twitter and tend to my relationships with the people right in front of me. This means I still monitor e-mail (but usually don’t respond), and I will see what’s interesting in my Google Reader, but I don’t do much else.

How do I do this practically? I actually remove the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone so they aren’t even there to tempt me, and reinstall them on Monday morning. And, big duh, I turn off the computer, or if the computer needs to be on, I’ll set up Self Control to block troublesome sites so it’s not even an issue.

– – – – – –

What do you do to tame the tech?

Friday Link Love

A smattering of stuff I ran across this week:

D-I-Y Chocolate Gifts for Valentine’s Day

Homemade malted milk balls, peanut butter cups, and more. I am pretty “meh” about Valentine’s Day but this post could make me a believer.

Tackling a Science Project with GTD

It’s enough to overwhelm the children and the parents. Instead of letting the stress get to me, I decided to apply the principles I learned from Getting Things Done and show my daughter that projects don’t have to give us headaches.  Here’s what we did.

This was a timely post for me, since Caroline finished her “Pueblo Project” this week. We used some GTD principles in the planning of it. Thinking about it in those terms helped us get it done without much last-minute stress and helped redeem the project in my mind (I was grumbling loudly to myself about it).

Being able to plan one’s time is an important life skill, even though being able to mold Model Magic onto a cardboard box isn’t.

How the Internet Gets Inside Us

From the New Yorker, an interesting (long) overview of recent books about the Internet and its effect on our brains, social lives, and psyches. He divides the books into three basic approaches: the Never-Betters (technology is GREAT!), Better-Nevers (the Internet is destroying our lives), and Ever-Wasers (the Internet is no different than any new technology). I disagree with Gopnik’s placement of Hamlet’s Blackberry in the Better-Never. I think he is an Ever-Waser. Otherwise, great article. Money quote:

The digital world is new, and the real gains and losses of the Internet era are to be found not in altered neurons or empathy tests but in the small changes in mood, life, manners, feelings it creates—in the texture of the age. There is, for instance, a simple, spooky sense in which the Internet is just a loud and unlimited library in which we now live—as if one went to sleep every night in the college stacks, surrounded by pamphlets and polemics and possibilities. There is the sociology section, the science section, old sheet music and menus, and you can go to the periodicals room anytime and read old issues of the New Statesman. (And you can whisper loudly to a friend in the next carrel to get the hockey scores.) To see that that is so is at least to drain some of the melodrama from the subject. It is odd and new to be living in the library; but there isn’t anything odd and new about the library.

On the other hand…

Fighting a Social Media Addiction

This link is from last year but I was reminded of it recently. College students were asked to abstain from social media for 24 hours.

“In withdrawal. Frantically craving. Very anxious. Extremely antsy. Miserable. Jittery. Crazy.”

“I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,” one student said. Another student had to fight the urge to check e-mail: “I noticed physically, that I began to fidget, as if I was addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am.”

I take social media Sabbaths pretty regularly, and I get so much out of the practice, but I’ve experienced the twitchiness that can set in. I suspect that these students were simply asked to abstain without being given any tools or strategies for dealing with the “withdrawal.” That is the key. For example, instead of fiddling with my iPhone at a particularly long stoplight, I look out the window and intentionally notice five new things about my surroundings. It’s a small exercise in vision and discernment. It’s not enough simply to unplug. Or perhaps I should say, it’s difficult to say No to technology without a bigger Yes driving you.

Reverb #7: Community

Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

I’ve experienced community online at the Abbey of the Arts, and on Facebook: I love seeing friends of mine (who don’t know one another) interact with one another.

Last month I had my first meetup with someone I’ve known for six years online. What fun!

“Real-life” community: I’m in a couple of different clergy groups that save my life and bring me joy all the time. My Writing Revs push me and listen to me and read my stuff, and last month, they threw me a party to celebrate the book contract.

I am also in a clergy group that gets together to talk about family systems stuff in our congregations. Last spring I was on the fence about whether to continue, until I saw how the group came together to walk with a fellow pastor who was going through a hellatious experience, and I thought, “OK. I’m definitely in on this again.”

And one of my favorite weeks of the whole year is being with a group of clergy friends, as we get together to study the lectionary, share papers about the texts, gripe and laugh about ministry, and love each other through all manner of stuff. They are a godsend.

My family is my favorite community. We all have our moments, but they are great company.

As I write this list I realize that my community has become very professionally-based. It’s never good to get insular, but it’s especially hazardous for clergy. So next year I want to break out of that next year and cultivate my friendships and relationships with non-clergy.