“Can you put down your phone for 2 seconds?”
Said Leena, playfully, innocently.
It was 7am and there were 5 kids piling into my bed looking for a tickle. I was obliging, half-heartedly, while still picking up my phone every 15 seconds.
At 7 years of age, Leena has not said a critical word to anyone, ever, so it wasn’t that.
She wasn’t being mean or sarcastic.
My phone usage is a bit excessive these days (I think through the roof would be more honest - Perhaps some of you can relate?).
Leena, in her beautiful-self way, was letting me know that it might be a good idea to tame it down a bit.
A small child inside me weeps at the thought.
No. No. Not
Where does the addiction come from?
And why is it so strong?
I'm not really sure, but there's some very smart people who work very hard at it.
Keeping us clicking.
Whatever it is, I know it helps provide enough distraction to keep me from looking life in the face and doing the good I can. It allows me to tuck away the boredom, the lack of self-acceptance and self-love, and the anxiety for a while and live half-full instead of full-full. To stow them away till next Christmas when some little bird flies into my life saying, “wake up, I’m right in front of you, waiting for you.”
When I was studying the Twelve Degrees of Pride in my philosophy days - they were developed by St. Bernard but picked up on by Aquinas, which is how I ran into them - I read the following:
“For the first degree of humility is to "be humble in heart, and to show it in one's very person, one's eyes fixed on the ground": and to this is opposed "curiosity," which consists in looking around in all directions curiously and inordinately.”
The thing with wisdom is that it’s rather timeless. Foreshadowing, and is this case foreboding.
Looking around in all directions curiously and inordinately.
A line penned in the 12th century, but could you come up with a better description of the internet?
If you read the whole of ii.ii.162 in the Summa, we learn that the good life, the one that makes us happy and full to our boots, is eked away by the sin of pride - to start in small ways that help get the bad habits going, and then eventually, a strong enough current mounts to get you more seriously off-quilt. As the twelve degrees of pride progress, the sins get more and more serious.
But it's the “not having your eyes fixed on the ground” that gets the ball rolling.
Excuse me while I check my email for the 4th time today at 9:30 in the morning.
O.K. I’m back.
At face value, the web is rather innocuous.
Nothing really wrong with it all.
In fact, it’s probably our crowning achievement.
What else has allowed so many people to access education? Escape poverty? Be able to connect with friends and family?
Online isn’t all bad.
And that’s the problem.
We get to feel productive.
In the know.
Because there’s so much good wrapped up in it, it feels harmless. Because it’s actually doing us some good.
But we know, in those precious sober moments, that that’s not the whole story.
I cringe at how many tickle parties I’ve missed.
How many hours are not spent reading novels.
Or writing them.
Or evenly simply watching a movie at full attention; laughing at all the right times and really sharing something together.
A gift of self is possible when you are in the present. The job of the internet is to make you forget the present; like the bright lights in a casino that make you feel perpetual day, the hope is that you loose track of time and never leave.
We might think we are doing rather well by avoiding pornography and not engaging in comment threads that lead to nowhere good. But the greatest threat to most of us isn’t cyber-bullying or the outright dirty parts of the internet.
It’s staring us in the face.
It sounds sort of stupid even to say because it’s so bloody obvious:
It's just a waste of time.
From what we really want to do.
And more importantly, who we are.
It’s wrapped up together with all sorts of goods. And not just goods but the highest goods.
Connecting with friends and family.
The pursuit of knowledge.
Training and self-improvement.
These are all things we could do online.
And if I was doing half of them even half of the time, then the umpteen hours a week spent scrolling and clicking at random could be justified. But, the voice of Screwtape rings in my ears when I think of my internet usage. When the head demon writes to his student Wormtail:
"We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons,” he makes me think, “Drat. I’ve been had again.”
I have these awakening moments rather frequently. Like the one just provided by my daughter, Leena.
I haven’t yet figured out how to make them “stick”. How to keep living the good life, the one that’s in front of me, that I actually want to. How to remain a son instead of food.
The new year is that time when we get to take stock and say this is me, who I am, and where I want to be going. And making Zuckerburg another buck isn’t on my top ten for 2022.
So I've decided ... like in the last minute or two as I got to this point in my little spiel ... that I ought to make a goal around this.
Make it concrete.
Write it down.
The experts say these are some of the most powerful tools in getting where you want to go with goal setting.
I’m going to cap my browsing at an hour a day for January.
30 minutes at noon. 30 minutes at 4:30. I'll keep a note pad where I write down all my things I need to do online and check in then.
So there you have it.
An hour of internet use a day for January. After that, I'll reassess.
Maybe you want to join me? If so, how about you repost this blog as a way of "telling someone?"
I’m excited and terrified at the same time.
Wish me luck.
Hold me to it.
And if the intra-web isn't your drug of choice feel free to share your goals in the comments.
I’m rooting for you.