Originally, I was planning to call this post, “Has the internet helped or hurt my parenting?” (or something along those lines, only catchier). Then I realized, Who am I kidding? This isn’t about parenting, this is about ME. So, in the way that only a blog can compel me to do: time to come clean. Yes, I do believe I have a mild to moderate internet addiction. Like addicts often do, I find myself trying to hide my addiction. I also find myself taking comfort from the fact that other people seem to be worse off than I am, which means it can’t be that bad — right?
My addiction does not take the form of hours lost to surfing the net or hopping from one YouTube video to the next. Who has time for that? It’s more about quick but frequent checking in on various online sources of information, both personal and general — email, text messages, Facebook, the word game I play, mlb.com (if there’s a Yankees game and I’m not watching it on TV), weather, NY Times headlines… even this blog site…
My compulsive checking has gotten much worse since my husband gave me an iPhone as a surprise gift earlier this year.
Recent news stories have revealed that there is a scientific basis for this type of addiction. Apparently, the receipt of new information — a text, an email, a notification on Facebook, etc. releases dopamine in the brain and makes us want to keep checking for more new stimuli. Weirdly, the anticipation of something new and unknown is actually more compelling than the actual information received. http://www.simplyzesty.com/technology/the-science-behind-your-internet-addiction/
This all seems accurate but, in addition, I think of my relationship to the internet (and to my gadget) as related to fear of commitment. To some degree, I can trace this fear to the birth of my children. With two infants and a non-profit law practice to manage, life became more chaotic and fragmented than ever before. I remember keeping a written log (in the neurotic way that new mothers do) during the six weeks I stayed home from work after Zoe and Alexander were born. Review of the log shows entire days where there was not even a full hour between feedings of one baby or the other. Obviously, this did not continue forever. But, somehow, the feeling of chaos and lack of control remained, even when the early crazy days of parenthood had passed.
And so the stage was set for years of my life when I seldom devoted a substantial amount of time to any one activity, constantly felt distracted and uneasy about chores and tasks that needed to be done, and generally lived life with very little commitment to a deeper awareness of what was satisfying and fulfilling to me. The internet fit in nicely; it provided an easy way to connect with friends, make plans, stay informed, and entertain myself, with minimal time or effort required. The rest is history.
Incessant, reflexive internet use is the antithesis of a concept called “flow”. I first became familiar with the idea of flow when I read a terrific article by attorney and educator Gary Pavela. Pavela defines flow as “a state of intense commitment and involvement at any given moment.” He quotes psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake” and as engagement which requires “disciplined concentration.”
I experience flow when I’m writing, working on an art project, or reading an amazing book that excites and inspires me. (And, in a work context, when I’m involved in legal research to answer an interesting question.) Yet, I don’t often allow myself these experiences. I hold back — dabble around the edges, dole out my time in ways that provide limited opportunity for flow.
It’s as though I’m afraid of losing control of all the little things that are swirling around in my life if I step into the river of genuine engagement and “go with the flow”. But what if all the fragmented pieces that feel unsettled and chaotic begin to fall into place when I increase my involvement in activities that create flow?
Crazy idea — but I like it! Now how to make it happen???
When do you experience flow? Are you happy with the amount of flow in your life? How do you create opportunities for intense commitment and disciplined concentration?