When the Dish Breaks: An Internet Time Out

As I sat there working on my proofs, I began to notice other web-induced dependencies as well. Even though I knew we had no connection, my eyes would still invariably drift over to the mail icon checking for that rousing red dot that signals a waiting note. Nothing.

The drift followed a pattern. It happened when I felt stuck, unsure, bored, overwhelmed, dismayed, or in need of a break. It happened when I was worried by a thought, or by the absence of thoughts. When my brain felt too full or too empty, I looked for the dot, for a quick fix, a quick fill. I couldn’t tolerate a moment of blank space or a moment of unknowing.

I also began to notice that this attention-drift extended beyond my time spent sitting with a screen. When moving about the house, thoughts of that red dot would flash in my brain and body. I would feel a gravitational pull towards the computer. My feet would move, my torso turn, and my head tilt, as expectation welled within. So many of my preferred pathways through the house, I realized, took me within arms length of those computer keys.

I noticed too how the times I thought to tap were similar in their emotional makeup to those I had identified while sitting. It was when I was tired or bored, overexcited or overwhelmed, needing a buzz or needing a break. The patterns of sensing and responding to my own emotions were the same. Only rarely was I impelled to the computer, for example, by an impulse to communicate with a specific person about a particular topic. More often I just wanted a blast of something from somewhere or someone. Anything. Anywhere. Anyone.

As the days wore on, the pings and pangs softened, and it was clear. I had been relying on my computer connection for more than mere orientation. I had been using it to manage my energy and emotions. I relied on those beeps and blinks for comfort and consolation; for a jolt awake or a calming touch. I activated that connection to get myself moving, prop myself up, and keep myself going; to stimulate, placate, and regulate, so I could deliver a steady stream of attention and effort to where it was needed most. It was an unconscious habit and a conscious practice; a reflex and a choice. I did it, because I wanted to, or so I thought. Until I couldn’t.

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