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Gathered Writings on Computer Addiction

4 May, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with my computer.

The computer, it is so handy. I can communicate with people across the road or across the world. I can IM my mum (saving on phone calls), email my friend prayer requests, and check out some new recipes without it costing anything. I can take photos of the kids for the cost of batteries and show them to friends and family for free. I can simply budget and adjust the budget, without having to rewrite the whole thing. I can write one note, and send it to thirty different people. I can learn new things and meet new people, I would never have met otherwise.

But I feel tied to it. It calls me when I am doing other things. I clean the bathroom, wondering if my friend has sent me her prayer requests or to see if my friends are around to chat to. When I turn it on, it disturbs my momentum. It distracts me from the things I need to do. While I don’t completely lose track of time, the minutes and (sometimes) hours seem to go by much more quickly when I am on the computer.

The computer makes me more efficient. I can pay all my bills on the computer in five minutes, and have a constant grasp of the dwindling balance of our bank account, ensuring I don’t overdraw. Over the internet, I can buy some goods less expensively than I could at the shop down the street or in the city. However, the research sometimes takes more time than it is worth.

The computer makes me more environmentally friendly. I can get brochures through my computer, rather than more junk mail being sent to my letterbox. I can even get some bills through email. I can take 100’s of photos of the kids and not have to print out one. But the computer takes a lot of electricity to run. Our monitor is not as efficient as newer models.

The computer makes communicating with people so much easier. You can have a conversation, lodge a complaint, write a letter and RSVP to an invitation without even having to speak to someone. Then again, maybe that’s not a good thing.

The computer makes it much easier to communicate quickly. I can send a message to Mark at work, and get a reply immediately, without disturbing him as much as a phone call might. I can send messages to my mum, communicating about the days events, or asking questions. I can email the creche volunteers the latest creche roster. However, people then expect immediate communication with me. If I am sent an instant message, people expect that I will reply, or at least see the message, within a few minutes. It doesn’t even enter some people’s minds that I may not turn the computer on at all during the weekend. That God, family and friends may actually play an important part in my life.

I gave up the computer, for the most part, during lent. I didn’t use it during the day, and allowed myself one hour in the evening to catch up on emails. delete the ever-present spam, pay bills and all those other things that are now deemed necessary for our daily lives. It was a refreshing break. My house was as tidy as ever. I was still connected with most of my Internet friends, although probably not in as close communication. But, Lent is over, and the computer calls me.

The computer is my friend. The computer is my enemy.

Technology, while created to make our lives easier, often complicates them further or creates new problems.

if fire was one of man’s first tools, the out-of-control forest fire set accidentally was probably one of mankind’s first examples of technology out of control. For technological determinists, the greatest irony of all is the very idea that mankind can control technology… Too often, determinists argue, technologists believe that the answer to problems created by technology is simply more technology. Instead, solutions to one technological problem create others.

From Controlling Technology

There are numerous examples of technology designed to enhance lives, actually taking away from lives.

the case of the invention of the mechanical clock by Benedictine monks who desired to mark the seven canonical hours for devotions. For Postman, the instrument conceived for the service of God became a tool of capitalists in the service of Mammon. For Mumford, “Time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing. As this took place, Eternity ceased gradually to serve as the measure and focus of human actions”.

There are many ways we can control the intrusions that technology makes in our lives. In Tony Campolo’s book he has a chapter entitled “how to protect yourself from technology without becoming Amish”. In it he suggests things like using your answering machine to screen calls. For example, we do not answer the phone during dinner and leave the call to go through to the answering machine. Nine times out of ten the caller either hangs up or a telemarketer leaves a message on the machine. The intrusion would have been unwanted and unnecessary at any time of day and moreso at dinner time.

The computer has enriched our lives in many ways. It provides inexpensive contact with family and friends in distant locations. It even provides free communication (via instant messaging) with my mother who only lives ten minutes away, when before the internet, we would have had to make a local call. Email means I can leave someone a message at a time convenient to me and they can respond at a time convenient to them. We have access to an enormous amount of information (which can be a blessing and a curse) and free access to newspaper and magazine articles. I can do my banking and bill paying without having to leave the house.

However, the ease of access can sometimes tie us to the machine. It creates an expectation (along with mobile phones) of being contactable all day, every day and a pressure to stay up to date with the latest news and developments. Joining online forums creates an instant community for people who are isolated, but brings the added pressure of keeping in contact with an enormous number of people you would otherwise not encounter in your daily life.

Some of you may have seen my article in the latest issue of Natural Life Magazine about my own struggles with the addictive tendencies I have with my computer usage. Since writing the article I have been using the computer a lot less and have come across a useful tool in reducing my online time.

The tool is called “Mee Timer” and it is available as an extension to the Firefox Web Browser, both of which are available for free.

The Mee Timer logs how long you spend on each website you visit. You can group the websites into categories, such as “Work”, “Forums”, “Email” or whatever suits you. For example, I can look in my status bar and clearly see that today I have already spent 58 mins in the backend of my website.

I find that the knowledge that my time online is being logged is motivating for me to not spend so much time online. I don’t even bother checking it most of the time, and no one else does, but it could easily be used as a tool for accountability to a spouse or friend who had access to your computer.

On a side note, I have a republished an article I wrote a year ago, entitled My Computer And I which may be of interest to readers of Natural Life magazine and my blog.

Since publication of my article in Natural Child on computer addiction, I have come across another tool that can assist with reducing computer time, thanks to one of my favourite blogs Zen Habits. Rescue Time is a program, not unlike Mee Timer, that logs your computer usage. Not only does it log your time spent on the internet and the websites you are actively viewing, it logs the time you spend using the other applications on your PC. It’s free to download and there is a Windows and Mac version as well as a link to a Linux version (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Another strategy I have come across recently on In The Heart Of My Home is allocate certain times of the day for computer usage. Outside of that, any computer usage should be done standing to remind yourself that you are only on the computer for a short period of time.

If you have a tool to recommend or a habit that helped you to break a computer addiction, or addiction to any other sort of technology, please Contact Me!

I’ve recently discovered another tool for fighting internet addiction. It is called Keep Me Out.

To use the free service you enter the URL of a website that you find problematic. The Keep Me Out service creates a different URL which you then bookmark. If you use the Keep Me Out bookmark instead of the usual URL it will not allow you on the site again if you have been there within the last hour.

For example you might have difficulty with visiting Facebook far too often. Keep Me Out creates a link such as this which you then click on which takes you to a page that says “Warning!
You visited facebook.com less than 60 minutes ago!

Why not come back in 55 minutes, 6 seconds?”

Of course, it relies on you using the Keep Me Out bookmark instead of the usual URL, but it can be a useful tool for addicts of particular websites.

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