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.