On the eve of Ash Wednesday, sliding further down the slippery slope of losing all faith in humanity, I exited the Internet browser and shut down my computer. On VIA train 48, somewhere between Cobourg and Belleville, I turned to face the window. All I could see was darkness-darkness in the rural landscape we were passing through, darkness in my own sad, tired eyes reflected in the window.
How had the Internet gotten such a hold on me? How had it become such a master of my life? Once a tool to help me accomplish good things, I had to acknowledge it had become a digital demon that now threatened my peace of mind-cramming my head full of so much turmoil and frustration that there was scarcely room for anything good anymore, let alone anything godly.
With Facebook, there is the constant, narcissistic draw to like or be liked-to see or be seen. Even the columns I write, as deeply as they come from my heart-like sweet little eggs I’ve hatched-are tossed on my internal scrap heap, branded as worthless, if they’re not read enough or “liked” enough by people “out there.”
Then there are the news outlets, and the clicks of buttons that can take you straight into the dark heart of unimaginable pain and suffering. Last night there had been another murder-suicide, another seemingly normal parent gone mad with depression. Why had I clicked? Why had I scrolled down to study the smiling face of a little boy now gone from the world? His T-shirt in the photograph had said “future”-but there was no future for him anymore. This was not the first time I chose to read something that I knew would make me feel hopeless, sorrowful and alone-questioning the nature and existence of God.
As I examined my drawn, tired expression, I recalled conversations at Church House about what to give up for Lent. The usual suspects were named-lattes, sugar, wine, white flour-but I hadn’t made a decision yet.
I looked down at the shiny blue lid of my computer and suddenly wondered, “Well, what about you? Could I give you up?” Could I digitally detoxify myself-virtually vanquish my computer-with a prayerful heart? No Facebook, no Google, no Internet searching, no trips to the worldwide water cooler that is YouTube, Kijiji or CBC.com.
And there was the problem of work-how could I do my job when I need a computer for so many things?
So, between Belleville and Greater Napanee, I set the ground rules that might make this painful discipline a reality. I would allow myself to use the computer only for work-related emails and Internet searches (keeping the latter to a bare minimum) and for writing. Using some essential computer programs, I decided, would also be acceptable-truth be told, I am not particularly addicted to Excel nor is it really the main problem.
With these rules established, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I drove the few blocks from the train station to my home.
Maybe, with God’s help, at the end of forty days I will find freedom from this powerful force that has been drawing such valuable energy out of me for the last two years.
And, even though the arrangement is between me and God, I told my husband-just in case a little accountability is needed to keep me on track.
Mark was thrilled about the news. Apparently he “kind of noticed” I had more than a little problem on my hands. He even might have tried to tell me, but since we’re not actually friends on Facebook, I wouldn’t have heard a word he was saying.
Michelle Hauser is a parishioner at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Napanee, Ont., and manager of annual giving for the Anglican Church of Canada.