Last time I chucked the internet out of my home, around nine years’ ago, it set off a very interesting reaction amongst my peer group.
Most people completely ignored the email I sent telling them that I was getting rid of the internet from my house, and wouldn’t be on email very much anymore.
One person congratulated me for doing the right thing.
And quite a few people sent me attacking emails blaming me for being the sort of ‘weak’ personality who ‘couldn’t handle’ internet appropriately.
One of those people had three computers in their bedroom, and spent an awful lot of time online. But in their mind, I was the only one with the problem, when it came to internet addiction.
All this happened before everyone had an eye-Phone, before Facebook became the huge, soul-devouring monster it’s turned into, before snapchat, Pinterest and instagram were even a glimmer in their techno-geek creator’s eye.
And even then, most of the world was in complete denial about their internet and technology addiction.
One of the things that caused my husband and I the most hardship, spiritually, is when we realized two years’ ago that we’d have to start interacting regularly with the internet again, if we wanted to be able to make any parnassa, or do what God appeared to want us to do in the world.
After I offered my books around a few different agents and got told that ‘platform is everything’, I realized that my dream of being able to write and publish real books offline was really a pipedream, even in the Frum Jewish world.
My husband also had a choice between working for himself, for clients in the UK, via the internet and still being able to learn for a full morning in yeshiva, or trying to get a full-time job in Tel Aviv somewhere (that would still require him to be online) and that would preclude him from doing any real learning.
So we got stuck having to have the internet back in the house, and it was very, very upsetting.
We still did everything we could to minimize it. We have an internet stick, not wifi, and the most basic phone with text you can have. My husband also does most of his work online at the hub next to the house, and that’s also where I was going until my internet addiction started to creep back again.
The last two months, I’ve done almost NO real writing, not counting my blogs. True, I’ve been ill at times, out of the country, busy doing other things and on Summer holiday. But it’s not only my book writing that’s gone AWOL.
I realized a few days’ back, my real life has gone AWOL again.
I stopped my sewing lessons, I stopped playing netball, I’ve stopped going out so much, or cooking so much, or cleaning so much (also because it’s been so darned hot, the last couple of months.)
And instead, whenever that boredom / frustration / secret pang of despair hits me again, I’ve been firing up the internet and writing things for Quora and Linked In, instead of doing real things for my real life.
A few things have stopped this mad decline back into internet addiction.
Firstly, after I saw just what a soul-destroying cesspit Facebook is in even the smallest doses, I deleted my account. Then two weeks’ ago, I cancelled my Twitter account, and I also felt SO much lighter and happier immediately afterwards.
But I’ve still been checking the news a bit too much, and the geula blogs a bit too much, and my emails a bit too much, and I wasn’t happy about the way things were going, but yet again my internet addiction felt like it was too much for me to get on top of.
Until a few days’ ago, when God started sending me so many more pieces of the puzzle about just how bad consuming stuff online really is, both for body and soul.
I’ve written about this before, but when I’m just sitting here typing away on my internet-free PC, it feels completely different. I don’t feel ‘caught’ in the PC, I don’t feel heavy. There are no kids, or husband hovering over my shoulder to try to get a glimpse of the screen. It’s just a bit of hardware that’s letting me do my thing, same as using an iron or pair of curling tongs.
As soon as my PC is plugged in to the internet, I feel somehow mesmerized, chained to it, sad to switch it off – and my whole family is also strangely drawn to the screen, and will stand there watching me over my shoulder for minutes.
But only when it’s connected to the internet.
Because the technology itself is addictive. The electromagnetic fields pulsed out by internet-connected PC are physiologically addictive. They are directly affecting our nervous system, and either roping us in by pressing the ‘excite’ button, or roping us in by pressing the ‘go to sleep’ button, regardless of what we’re actually doing or viewing online.
Until last week, I knew this stuff subconsciously from my own experiences of being online, but once I read about certain patents, and started doing a whole bunch more research into this area, I hadn’t put two and two together to realize what was really going on.
So now, we all have a problem, don’t we?
Because yes, dear reader, I’m including you in the secret internet addiction we all share.
As parents, we can see that our children are seriously addicted to their phones and devices. We can see that our spouse spends far too much time online. But when it comes to us, and our internet addiction, we all have a million excuses about why somehow it’s different.
It’s truly amazing how most of the people I speak to about this are ONLY doing mitzvahs online. They are joining tehillim groups via Whatsapp, they are watching Torah classes, they are picking up wholewheat challah recipes…
If we were more honest about what’s really going on, we’d just come out and admit that yes, we are totally and utterly addicted to the internet, instead of listing how many parts of the Shulchan aruch we’re fulfilling via our eye-phones.
Even just admitting the problem changes the whole picture, because for as long as a person is still extolling the health benefits of smoking 3 packs a day, they are never going to quit.
It’s only when they internalize that each additional puff is taking minutes off their lifespan that they’ll start to do the soul searching, and the praying, they really need to make some fundamental changes in their lives.
This is an imperfect analogy, of course, because while you can get by without cigarettes, getting by in today’s world without the internet is something that fewer and fewer people can really do.
So a closer analogy would be food. We need food to live. But how much food, what type of food, how many times a day we’re eating – these things are still very much in our hands.
And the same is true with the internet.
I wish, so so so wish, that I could live life completely internet free. I wish I could write for real papers, like I used to 20 years’ ago, and that no-one had mobile phones, and that I didn’t have to spend so much time battling the technology demons and trying to shoo them out of my home all the time.
But in 2017, this is the test we’ve got, and it’s a very hard one to deal with.
The key to passing this test, though, is to minimize internet use every chance we get. To pick ‘real life’ over ‘virtual life’. To acknowledge that the internet is spiritual poison and physically and mentally very addictive, and to be open and honest about what a huge problem we all actually have with it.
That way, maybe, some solution will appear on the horizon. Maybe, more and more of us will get so icked-out and sick from Facebook they’ll also quit. Maybe, more and more of us will realize that our kids’ interpersonal issues and ADHD and our own profound loneliness and soul-sickness are coming from spending so much time ‘plugged in’ instead of trying to fix our real relationships with real people.
I know this stuff is hard to read, so forgive me.
Like you, I’m also caught up in all this technology stuff far too much, and like you, I also can’t really see a way out of it the way the world currently works. My soul is yearning, Y-E-A-R-N-I-N-G for things to be different.
How things can actually be different is completely beyond me. But to at least want it, that’s a start. Rav Shalom Arush teaches that our wanting, our ratzon is everything. And when it comes to problems as big as our global internet addiction, yearning for change is probably all we can really do at this point.