Caught in the World Wide Web

“The golden rule is moderation in all things.”
Terence (Publius Terentius Afer) (c.190-159 B.C.)

Computers and the Internet are marvelous tools for communication and information gathering. A basic belief behind this website is that the Internet is a precious tool for growth. It can lead one to wisdom, compassion, community, and a higher form of spirituality. However, computers and the Internet may also draw us into behaviors we are likely to regret. The wired world offers the opportunity to change one’s mood, and consequently it lends itself to impulsive behaviors. Impulse buying is made easy. Computer gaming can draw one in for hours of distraction that can reduce time for more productive pursuits, such as having relationships with real people. Relationships can be built through email and chat, but often the relationships are more fantasy than reality. Surfing the net too can become addictive. There is always more to see, new links to follow. Time passes, and one’s emotional life need not be involved.

Any of these activities can put one into a state of focused awareness that is compelling, pleasant and potentially habit forming. Often, the habit is benign, but for some people it can become a serious problem. When a person’s prevailing mood is undesirable and the computer activity is mood altering, the activity is powerfully rewarding and the behavior is reinforced. To assess whether your computer and Internet behavior is cause for concern, consider these questions:

  • Are you aware of any negative consequences to your computer or Internet behavior?
  • How much time do you spend on the computer?
  • Has anyone ever told you it was too much time?
  • Has anyone expressed concern about how you spend your time on the computer?
  • Do you try to hide your computer activities?
  • Do you notice that you go into a zone when you are on the computer?
  • Do you have trouble releasing yourself from that state of mind?
  • Do you ever feel compelled to get on the computer to shop, email, chat, play games, surf, view pornography, or gamble?
  • Do you engage in self-recrimination, guilt, or regret during or after your computer activity?
  • If your answers to these questions suggest to you that you have a problem, here are some suggestions:
    Increase your awareness of your computer and Internet habits. Notice how long you spend at a given activity. What is your state of mind when you do it?

    Think about the triggers for your problem behavior. How can you avoid those triggers? Do you need to delete programs, short cuts, Internet favorites or bookmarks that trigger your behavior?

    Decide what you want your behavior to be and make a clear decision about it. “I really don’t want to spend too much money shopping on-line,” is a weak statement that gives you lots of wiggle room. Tell yourself what you will or won’t do in a forceful statement. “I will not shop on-line,” is a clear statement that sets a limit for a person with over-spending problems.

    Discuss your behavior problem with a supportive person, and be responsible to them about making changes.

    Become more aware of your emotional state. When you feel a hankering to modify your mood with behavior of any kind that will be a problem for you later, find a healthier way to cope with your emotions. Try getting more grounded. Breathe more deeply. Listen to a relaxation tape. Meditate. Go for a walk. Socialize. Do something creative or absorbing that won’t have any negative consequences. Surf the lighter side of the net.

    Observe the conditions that make you more susceptible to impulsive or escapist behavior. People in 12 step programs learn to watch out for HALT. Don’t let yourself become vulnerable to self-defeating behavior by becoming too—

    When you use the Internet, take advantage of the World Wide Wait by using download delays as opportunities to calm and clear your mind. Rather than becoming impatient with slow download times, take a few long slow breaths and tell yourself to let go and just be present. Become more aware of yourself—your body sensations, your thoughts and your environment.

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    © 2001 Tom Barrett