This first week of mindful internet use has been moderately enlightening.
Some of my insights so far:
– When I was away from my computer, I didn’t feel a pull to check my e-mail and social media. I assumed that I would still feel the desire even though I have no internet-enabled mobile devices, but that wasn’t the case (at least not for this week).
– According to the log I kept, I felt compelled to hit refresh mainly in two situations: when I felt bored and when I felt frustrated (or otherwise emotionally charged).
– I felt a huge pull to hit refresh in the hours after I published a blog post or put something on Facebook; I just really wanted to see if people “liked” what I had to say. This one was not a surprise.
The biggest surprise this week was how strong the pull was. The strength of the compulsion was reminiscent of my long-ago days of quitting smoking; I had no idea the pull to hit refresh was anywhere near as strong as the jones for a cigarette.
Most times the compulsion faded by the time I got done logging it in my notebook. Sometimes when it still lingered I would find something else to occupy myself—I’d pick up a book or start some laundry or write out some Latin vocabulary flash cards. I also found myself digging into the peanut butter jar with a spoon rather more frequently than usual.
When distracting myself didn’t work, I tried to just be still and quiet, and that’s when I noticed the fear underlying the compulsion.
Each time I felt compelled to open my laptop, I was looking to escape. I was looking to escape my kids or my emotional discomfort. I was looking to escape my own thoughts and feelings.
It was when I was quiet that I felt this most distinctly. I didn’t want to journal. I didn’t want to be quiet. I just wanted to get away from whatever it was that was trying to bubble up in my mind.
In her book Writing to Wake the Soul, Karen Hering writes:
“Each time we turn to our email inbox or our smartphones for the next newsfeed or text message, we are tuning out and turning away from our inner voice and the conversations we might have with it.”
Feeling bored when I’m with my kids is one of my most persistent mothering fears. It’s been present since before my daughter was born. For some reason, I’ve always associated feeling bored with my kids as a sign that I’m not suited to the life of intensive parenting that I’ve chosen.
This thought is not logical, but knowing that doesn’t make it go away. I can’t think my way out of it, so when I feel it, I try to escape it. Same with the frustration and other strong emotions. There’s this sense that there is something else under the surface, and I feel nervous that if I let that thing up, it’s going to reveal something that is going to necessitate some change that I don’t really want to make.
What’s strange is that I don’t really think there’s a huge, earth-shattering revelation there. I have a feeling that the biggest revelation would be that I could feel bored, frustrated, or otherwise upset and I could be okay just feeling that way. I’m not sure why that’s so scary, but it is. And so I turn to the internet as a very convenient way to avoid feeling that fear.
It’s been funny this week to watch myself do things to avoid feeling the compulsion to hit refresh. Usually I’m fighting tooth and nail for “alone time” on the weekends, which means enjoying a quiet house while my spouse and kids galavant. This weekend, however, I was tagging along with the rest of my family on all of their outings. I watched three movies, including my first theater movie since before we left Utah more than three years ago. I started going to bed earlier (not super-early, but by 10:30 most nights).
And for this week, I have the kids’ and my schedule packed with adventures away from the house. I am so excited to be with them without my laptop looming in the corner! I know it’s only postponing the inevitable—I have to come home sometime, and I expect my compulsion will be waiting for me when I get here.
But maybe after a break I’ll feel a little more ready to hear what that small voice has to say.