When the Internet Becomes a Problem

When the Internet Becomes a Problem

The Internet is a wonderful tool. You can network with colleagues, reconnect with old friends, and accomplish in minutes such tasks like research, which used to take days.

So what’s the problem?

The Internet becomes a problem when we lose productivity, we become addicted to it, and when it becomes a substitute for real experiences with people, places and things.

Real Life vs. Web Life

George spends five to eight hours a day on the Web, traveling among his pages on several social networking sites. He presents himself alternately as an assertive and confident Casanova, an opinionated law student and a successful entrepreneur.

In real life, George is none of these. Painfully shy and self-critical, George keeps to himself.

“I feel more like myself when I’m online,” he says. But what he really means is, “I feel more like who I wish I was.”

Virtual Infidelity

Every time Cynthia’s husband heads upstairs to the office, her stomach tightens and her jaw clenches.

Cynthia confronted Victor after reading an email from a woman she had never heard of, who apparently lived in another country. Victor denied having an affair. After all, he had never actually seen the other woman, much less touched her, and he had no plans to do so. “A bunch of typed words don’t amount to an affair,” he maintained. To him, it was just talking and exploring fantasies.

But to Cynthia, the intimacy expressed in the email was more threatening than a purely sexual relationship. She wondered why her partner couldn’t be that intimate with her.

Simulated Experience

Four-year-old Eddie spends hours behind a computer screen studying whales and porpoises; he can identify almost anything that swims. But Eddie has never seen a real fish, although he lives near the ocean and a world-class aquarium.

Like a pint-sized hermit peering out of his window, Eddie, like huge numbers of children today, is learning about nature on a computer screen, not from direct contact with the natural world. His experience is only a simulated experience, which increasing numbers of people are willing to accept as sufficient.

Time Leakage

Handling email and surfing the Web can eat hours from every day. Every hour behind the keyboard is 60 minutes not spent doing something else. There’s also an impact on your productivity. If you’re surfing the Web or answering personal emails at work, you’re stealing from your employer. If you’re self-employed you may be squandering valuable focus and energy on things that don’t matter.

Repetitive Strain Injuries

Repetitive Strain Injuries are cumulative and can strike overnight. Practice good ergonomics no matter what, and if you feel any burning or numbing in your arms or hands, get off the computer and take a break. Find out about special stretches you can do and never work through pain.

Counteracting the Tide

There is no question that the Internet is here to stay. As our culture continues its dive into this brave new world, what can we do to avoid being swept away? Here are some things to try:

  • Save your personal email for the end of the workday and set a time limit beforehand for how long you’ll spend online.
  • Plan activities at night and on weekends so that boredom doesn’t send you to the computer.
  • Take a class in something you’ve always wanted to learn, such as astronomy, fencing, or photography.
  • Volunteer at a food bank, teach reading to adults who never learned, or join groups that pick up litter.
  • Take up yoga or dancing to help your body cope with all that sitting at the computer.
  • Explore a creative pursuit such as writing, painting, or cooking; try something you’ve always wanted to do.
  • Go hiking, camping, or to sporting events; spend more time outside.
  • Plan family outings to parks and local festivals. Check your local paper to learn what’s going on.
  • Make weekly no-screen dates with your spouse or partner. Look into each other’s eyes over dinner and share about your week.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of balance and awareness. Explore the amazing worlds to which the Internet offers access, just don’t forget to spend more time in the real one.

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