What exactly is the definition of an Internet addiction? Just how out of control does one have to be to qualify as having a true addiction?
I don’t know the answer to that question but if I don’t have an Internet addiction, I have something close to it. That’s why I can never go online for any reason even for a short time. I can’t go online for the same reason a recovering alcoholic can’t have even one drink. I have no control and once I start…
My Internet habit began years ago when we got Internet access in our home for valid reasons. One of the first things I got involved with was a small frum e-mail discussion group. We were a small group of women living in various locations across the globe, who were forming a bond with each other in cyberspace. The more I met with them online, the more I felt a kinship with these new friends whose faces I didn’t know. It quickly reached a point where they were my first waking thought, and I could barely wait to get together with them.
Sadly that discussion group closed, but I soon discovered other e-mail lists. Eventually I was on more than one. Unlike the first which had few members, now I was involved with e-mail lists that had many members, and many e-mails to read or delete. This took a lot of time, leaving me with less time to attend to things in my real life.
After a while I discovered message boards and chat-rooms. I couldn’t tear myself away. On a typical day, I’d start by going online and checking my e-mail. Oh those pesky junk mails! Delete, delete, delete. I would respond to e-mails and send out new ones.
Then I’d go to one of my message boards. After spending way too much time there, I’d think to myself, “Maybe by now somebody responded to my e-mail.” I’d go to check my e-mail again. After spending time on my e-mail, I’d think, “Maybe by now someone responded to what I wrote on the message board.” Thus I went back and forth between my e-mail and the message boards.
My relentless checking for responses didn’t necessarily end when I got off the computer. I would find myself repeatedly going back for another quick check to see if anybody e-mailed or responded. It was as if I were tied to the computer by an invisible leash.
Chat-rooms were even harder to tear myself from. How can anyone tear themselves away from an interesting conversation going on in real-time? How could I leave in the middle of the party?
I had no sense of time in cyberspace. Hours would go by without my accomplishing anything. By the time I finally got off the computer, my shoulder and neck were aching. I also found if I’d stay on the computer too long, I’d feel nauseous and dizzy and I had to lie down. I believe this was due to prolonged close-range exposure to computer glare, but I can’t say for sure.
These negative consequences, the time wasted, the muscle aches, and feeling ill were certainly reason enough to try and kick this habit. But the problems didn’t end there.
I was getting too emotionally involved with strangers I met online. For example, sometimes someone on one of my e-mail lists or message boards would share a personal problem, asking for advice.
When I got off the computer, I couldn’t just put the suffering soul out of my mind and go on with my life. I would spend time and emotional energy on the person’s problem, while my own problems were left on the back burner.
Then there were the kinds of people I met on the Internet. Truth to tell, I did meet some wonderful people, some of whom I’ve formed relationships with and have invited to my simchas. But there were many other people I deeply regret having come across.
I didn’t form relationships with these people but I did read their comments online. “Intellectual” atheists who look down at us silly wishful-thinking believers from their science-educated pedestals. In my naïve pre-Internet days, I thought atheists just weren’t thinking at all. I actually thought if someone would point out to these atheists that nobody in their right mind could believe something as complicated, orderly, and purposeful as nature could create itself, they would wake up from their dream.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only have the atheists heard the Intelligent Design argument, they say they’re tired of hearing it. They adamantly refuse to admit that design is proof of a Designer. Nothing in my FFB upbringing could prepare me for the likes of these people.
Oh the countless failed attempts to get out of this mess! The denial. I’m strong. I can control myself. I can limit my time on the computer if I make up my mind. Yeah sure.
Another great idea – I’ll have someone in the family hide the USB cable somewhere out of the house, and if I have some “valid” reason to go online, I’ll get online at the library maybe once a week. (We don’t have wireless Internet access.) I didn’t know where that wire was hidden. Maybe in the car? I didn’t want to know.
It didn’t work. Maybe it didn’t work because it was too hard to wait a week to continue my all important e-mail correspondences. Maybe it was too hard to shlep down to the library every time I felt I had some very important reason to get online.
Whatever the reason, inevitably the cable was back in our home computer, and I was back at my habit. It went on this way for years. Finally something happened that saved my life. The yeshuah came in the form of good news. A close family member, someone I care about, someone I was worried about, finally stopped smoking. I had to do something to thank Hashem. I had to take something upon myself – some new improvement to show my gratitude.
What could I do? What should I take on? The thought was loud and persistent. “If Yosef (not his real name) can quit smoking, you can quit the Internet.”
The inner conflict began. “No you can’t stop going online! You know how many times you tried to stay offline. Forget it!”
“Yes, I can stop going online. That’s it. I’m not going online anymore.”
This time my commitment was different. This time my commitment was to Hashem, not just to myself. I owed something to Hashem now. (Not that I didn’t owe Hashem anything before.)
The USB cable was removed from the computer for the last time. Somehow I never asked for it back. And somehow I managed to control myself even when I went to the library. I’d see the many people with their faces glued to the computer screen. I felt sorry for them. I was free now. They were still in prison. I could just go off now to that nice comfortable chair in the library and read a book.
It’s been about a year now. Did I ever cheat? To be honest, yes, sort of, about 3 or 4 times that I can remember. For example, about a year ago on Tisha B’av I allowed myself to watch a Project Inspire video online, while someone sat in the room as my shomer. The other times that I remember were also relatively innocent – not that these lapses are justified.
What has my new offline life been like? Life goes on as usual. I’m so busy during the day, I have no time to think – I’m just too busy living life. How I twiddled away so many hours online with all I have to do, I’ll never know! But when I stop to think about my new life, I guess I would describe it in one word – freedom. Freedom from the daily grind of deleting junk mail. Freedom from getting my head caught in stranger’s problems. Freedom from apikorsus. Now instead of sitting for hours looking into a computer screen, I can sit on my lawn and feel the fresh air and look around at the beautiful trees. Real-life fresh air and real-life trees. In short, baruch Hashem, I’ve been released from prison.
Henia is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org (Henia’s e-mail address is not for social correspondence, but for freelance writing purposes only. Someone else checks her e-mail and responds on her behalf)
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