All week, every time I go to the hub to try to get online, Hashem is giving me 10 minutes, max, before He pulls the plug.
Let’s be clear that everyone else’s connection to that same internet is fine. But as soon as I’ve done the bare minimum of what I came to do online – zap! – the connection disappears and nothing I do brings it back.
Yesterday, I got a call from M., who asked me some very thoughtful things about using smartphones. The basic gist of our conversation was this: clearly, the technology is very bad, and is very addictive, and is causing millions of people (millions of Jews…) enormous difficulties on just about every level.
But M. made a hugely important point, that people only get addicted to this stuff in the first place because they are feeling some huge ‘lacks’ in their real lives, and that’s especially the case when a couple is going through a very difficult patch in their marriage and family life.
Clearly, internet addiction and smartphone use is a kind of emotional ‘crutch’, a form of escapism that people use to give them some respite from their own, truly very difficult, lives and personal relationships.
So given that, what’s really the answer, to taking down our time online and minimizing our connection to smartphones?
Over on spiritualselfhelp.org, I’ve just put up a kind of ‘three stage plan’ that sets out how to start the long process of overcoming our internet / screen addictions. As I mentioned in a previous post, internet is akin to food for most of us today, so at least at this stage of human development, the question is how can we interact with it in the most healthy, and least spiritually-damaging way? And not: how can we get rid of it entirely (although man, I really DO wish that was a practical option, and who knows, maybe one day soon it will be again.)
I go into the practical aspects a lot more on spiritualselfhelp, but here’s the crucial first step behind what I’m proposing over there:
STEP 1) ADMIT THE PROBLEM
Many people balk even at this first stage, because they already really know in their heart of hearts, that they’re using the internet / eye-phones / social media / obsessive checking of news sites as an emotional crutch or to self-soothe, or to ‘escape’ from their loneliness and frustration.
That was certainly what was going on with me, a couple of weeks’ back, when I realized I was smothering down a whole bunch of dissatisfaction and bad middot by checking my emails five times a day.
The more we ignore our real feelings and real issues, the bigger that pile under our mental carpet grows, and the scarier it becomes to lift the lid on what’s really happening in our lives. I take a fairly honest look at my real life on a fairly frequent basis, and I still had quite a tough week as all my ‘repressed stuff’ gushed out into the world again.
If people have been repressing things and ignoring their true feelings etc since childhood, or for any length of time, then to rip the scab off that massive wound simply isn’t going to work for most people.
So, admitting to the real problem has to be done cautiously, and with a lot of self-compassion, prayer and patience.
And what is the real problem, ultimately?
ANSWER: That we feel disconnected from God, our souls, and the people we most love.
Tachlis, that we feel profoundly lonely in our marriages, ignored by our parents, and unknown on a deeper level by even our closest friends.
THAT’s the real problem underpinning internet addiction (and every other addiction and bad midda and negative habit in the whole world.)
Coming to terms with that problem is a lifetime’s work, so this first step has to be attempted with maximum self-compassion, and with a lot of talking to God about what’s going on, every single day.
Without that strong connection to Hashem, most people will simply be unable to find the strength to acknowledge the REAL problem underpinning their internet addiction, and to face up to their true feelings and circumstances.