The Internet: Hobby or Addiction?

laptop and phone

I really enjoy the Internet. I love the ease of communicating with people through Facebook and email. I find great enjoyment in going to forums and discussing different topics. I have no clue what I did before having Google at my disposal since I use that at least once a day to figure out all sorts of things, like how to make Kefir (and why I would, in the first place) or why ambulances have chains underneath them that drag on the ground, or how to keep my dying mystery plant alive.

There is a problem, however. I noticed one day that I seemed to be losing a lot of time and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then it clicked. My enjoyment of the Internet was quickly turning into an addiction.

I say that, half with tongue in cheek, half with all seriousness. It got me to thinking: how many women have made the crossover from the Internet being an enjoyable activity to an addiction? Probably more than any of us care to admit.

Addiction: the quality or state of being addicted.
Addicted: to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively.*

Recently, I consciously stepped back and took a look at my Internet habits. What I saw pretty much fit the definition of being addicted.

Sign #1: The computer was turned on first thing in the morning and I was checking my email, blog, and forums that I am a member of, before I did anything else.

Before I got my shower in, I had read my emails. Before I gave my daughter her Cheerios, I had read the comments on my blog. Before my daily quiet time, I checked to see if there were any new forum threads I might want to follow.

Sign #2: All day long, even during meals, as soon as I heard the “ding” for new email, I was checking to see what it was.

This is easy for me to do. During the winter, half of our apartment is blocked off because of no insulation, so my kitchen is my office. In my kitchen we eat, play, and work. (That’s a completely different article in itself! Trust me on that one!) With my laptop on the kitchen counter, it’s just way too easy to reach over and bring up that email window when I hear I got a new message, no matter what I’m doing.

Many times my emails bring in a new comment on my latest blog post. Often, it’s a comment I want to respond to, so then, next thing I know, I’m at the blog, responding  to the comment. While I’m there I figure I might as well see what the latest is on everyone else’s blogs. Next thing I know, my daughter is banging her high chair tray because her lunch is done and mine is now dried out and stale.

Now, to cut myself some slack here, I have figured out why I am so compulsive about checking my email and blogs. I’m isolated here at home. My social life is barely existent. Emails and blogs, and even IMs, help me feel connected to life. Checking them often and seeing personal messages helps me not feel so alone. However…

Sign #3: My face-to-face contacts are minimal these days. This is partly because of circumstances, like no car and having to work from home, but also because my introverted personality is finding it easier to communicate via the Internet. While there is nothing wrong with email and writing on the walls of friends on Facebook, it is a problem if I get into a public setting and find I can no longer converse intelligently with verbal words.

Sign #4: How many times have I needed to go to bed, but instead have stayed up way too late, IM’ing friends, lurking forums, or reading and commenting on blogs? When my sleep suffers, then I can safely say I have an Internet problem.

Sign #5: If days pass where I know exactly what is going on in everyone’s life within my blog circle and I can tell you all the threads on the forums I go to, but I can’t remember the last time I read a book with my daughter, or read a book for myself for that matter, I need to re-evaluate my Internet time.

When I spend more time online than I do cooking healthy meals and cleaning my house, I have crossed over into addiction territory. When I beat out my own high score at an online game but haven’t spent that same amount of time playing with my daughter, I am in an unhealthy relationship with the ‘net.

Sign #6: My eyes are dry and my wrists hurt. Ok, that might be somewhat due to the fact I am a freelance writer, but there is also the reason that I’m spending more than writing time on the computer. If I’m having physical symptoms like that, there’s a problem with the amount of time I’m on the web.

So what do I do?

Well, here are some “rules” I have recently made up for myself:

Rule 1: I will only check my email at certain times of the day. I will check once in the morning, after the majority of my writing is done for the day, and then I will check sometime in the afternoon, before supper.

During those times, I will respond to what needs responding to and then I will completely shut down my email program so I can’t easily access it.

Rule 2: I will get my essentials done before any Internet time. When the daily cleaning has been done, my daughter has been played with and loved on, meals are made or prepped, and writing is done, then, and only then, will I blog, IM, or play Internet games.

Rule 3: I am only allowed one hour a day for “fun” Internet time. Maybe two on the weekends. There is no need to spend more time than that on the Internet when there are good books begging to be read, outdoor weather calling to me and my daughter, crafts to work on, and new recipes to try out.

Rule 4: I will seek to balance my face-to-face friendships with my online friendships. I will attempt to call and meet for coffee with people in real life and not just limit my relationships to email, Facebook, and blog comments.

Rule 5: The computer will be shut down by suppertime each night. From suppertime on, is family time. If my husband is working late, I will spend the time with my daughter and then I will invest the rest of my time into reading or crafts.

I think the Internet is a great thing, and it has broadened my horizons. Because I am an isolationist normally, my circle of friends has expanded considerably because of the web. As a person who thrives on learning, I am thrilled with the knowledge that is at my fingertips because of search engines. Saving money has been doable because of sites like Diaper Swappers and eBay, where I can buy used items for half the original cost. I want to learn to use the Internet in a way that continues to contribute to my life, however, not take away from it. Hopefully, with my new ground rules I can do just that.

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