Learning to Have a Balanced Relationship with the Internet

Earlier this year, I noticed that my relationship with the computer and the TV screen was out of balance. Both were getting more of my attention than the people and things in front of me. It took a family road trip during spring break for me to become aware of what was going on. On this trip, we brought along board games and a 1000 piece puzzle. When we weren’t out exploring the natural beauty around us or eating delicious food, we worked on this puzzle or played board games. Somewhere in the middle of the week, I noticed that we did not once turn on a TV and we barely checked into social media, nor did we have any desire to do so. I decided that I wanted to keep some of our vacation with us when we got home.

We cut back drastically on our TV time, and I cut out much of my unnecessary computer time. Our habits changed. I noticed that, as I got accustomed to having more quality time in my days, I started to relax more. Things calmed down. I started reading books more, doing puzzles, playing games, and feeling more patient with my children. Then this election season started heating up. This has been an unsettling election season for everyone. It has filled me with a sense of anxiety. Most people I talk to share that same feeling. People who are voting differently than I am are also expressing anxiety and frustration. Until just recently, I noticed that I was dealing (or not dealing) with these feelings by slipping back into the habit of getting on the computer and letting my time and energy get eaten up by it. I noticed that doing so increased my anxiety and frustration and even feelings of disgust, while simultaneously decreasing my motivation. It was a big energy suck.

A couple of weeks ago, I caught myself in the middle of getting online for no good reason. I realized that these computer sessions were robbing me of large amounts of my day in small increments, and leaving me feeling terrible. Fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there: I added those times up and realized that every day, I was losing at least two hours of time mindlessly surfing through election news and that no good was coming from it. I decided to change things up a bit. I’d been meaning for a while to practice all the songs on piano that my children are learning, but I hadn’t found the time to do this. Now, many times when I feel a temptation to go online for no good reason, I sit down and practice the piano. It takes about 30 minutes, and it really feels good to learn this instrument. I also have a great appreciation now for how hard my children have been working to learn it themselves. I don’t feel terrible afterwards, either. Instead, I feel inspired.

I imagine that balancing screen time with life will be an ongoing challenge for me, but I feel like I have more tools to deal with it than I did before. I still check in with the election numbers, but in a much more balanced way, and I am sure that after this election something else will be a draw for me. I am not about to get rid of my Internet access, so I have to change my relationship with it. The challenge is to know where the line is between empty activity that drains me and more meaningful activity that informs and motivates me.

Knowing the difference between positive and negative online behavior is key. It starts with awareness and intention, and goes further if you have other options to choose from. If I am going onto the Internet with no awareness of my inner state of being and no intention at all, I can easily get sucked in. If I don’t know what else to do with myself, I can easily get sucked in. Maybe I am uneasy about something already, but I haven’t checked in with myself. Perhaps I have 15 minutes to kill before I go somewhere. I open the computer in a state of uneasiness with no real goal in mind. Maybe I look at some polling numbers that increase my uneasy feelings. Then I click on an article that talks about those numbers. Now I’m feeling downright anxious. I get on Facebook, unconsciously seeking some sort of camaraderie to make me feel less anxious. Instead, most of my Facebook friends are posting about politics and not in a feel-good way, and then on the “trending” side of the page, there is some article about some horrible thing some person did to an innocent child. My anxiety has shot up and my belief in humankind has tanked and now I look at the clock and realize that those 15 minutes have passed and I have to rush out the door because now I am late. I bring all that anxiety with me to wherever I am going, and none of it was necessary.

If I enter the vast world of the Internet with awareness, intention, and a list of options other than the Internet to choose from, things go differently. If I build in a moment to ask myself how I am feeling, I might discover any number of things. Maybe I am hungry, maybe I am stressed, maybe I feel great, maybe I am bored. Knowing what I am feeling is important because it is possible that there are things I need to address in myself before I can go online. If I am hungry, eating is a better choice for me than going online. If I am stressed, I’d be better served by taking a moment to address the underlying causes of my stress. If I feel great, I might want to spend some time just feeling great. If I am bored, this could be a great time to play the piano.

If I still feel like going online after checking in with myself, the next question to ask is what I want to get out of going online. Knowing my intention helps me when I am tempted to drift into the sea of online options. I can refer back to my original intent if I notice that my mood is sinking. If it is a recipe I am looking for, then I try to stick with that. If I am looking at election news or something similar, I ask myself if I am going online to quell my election anxiety or just for information. I can get information online, but only I can deal with my anxiety, and I have options for that: sitting quietly, meditating, talking it out with my spouse, and so on. Am I going on Facebook to see what my faraway friends are up to today, or am going on because I feel lonely? If it is from loneliness, then I need to give myself attention rather than give my attention away on the computer. Once I’ve checked my mood, my intentions, and my other options I feel like I am in charge of my Internet sessions rather than it being the other way around. I spend less time swimming in circles in the vast online ocean, and more time in the real world. I have more time and energy to spend with my family and friends, to pursue more inspiring endeavors, to do something tangible and real in the last moments of this election, and even to write posts in this blog in hopes of inspiring others to join me in spending more time in this lovely reality that exists beyond the Internet.

Share if you are inspired.