What I Learned
One of the things I discovered during my Lenten internet fast was how very, very often I pop on the computer "Just to see if there's a new email." The first week of Lent was extremely difficult; I'd stand, forlorn and disoriented in the middle of my kitchen, yearning to get online. Then I'd make myself do something else (start the laundry, read a book to the kids, put something away) and I'd find myself suddenly busy with a million things that needed doing. By the end of the first week, I had a rhythm that sustained me throughout Lent and it really wasn't at all difficult to refrain from checking email or surfing blogs. (Of course, it helped to know that I could get online the next Sunday. I don't know that I'd be as serene if I had to give it up entirely those 40 days. And I should mention, too, that I continued to use the internet for work. I looked up coloring pages and science projects for the kids, searched for recipes when I needed to use up some extra ricotta, renewed and reserved library books as needed, etc.)
The second thing I discovered was that when I have time online, I will surf just for the sake of surfing. When I limited my internet usage to one day a week, I just didn't have time follow a series of links, research a phrase or acronym someone used that I didn't understand, look up frivolous things like the name of the actor in the movie I saw the other night that I thought I recognized but can't remember where, etc. I pretty much just read through my Blogger dashboard, replied to email, read through the analyses of Project Runway and LOST, and laughed at the Onion and Cakewrecks.
I had hoped it would give me more time for prayer, but it wasn't my internet fast that helped me to pray. Instead, it was a 27 day Rosary novena that I started in early March for discernment. When it comes down to it, I can find things other than the internet to keep me from God. Phone calls, TV, even books can all distract me from developing a prayer life. It's not the internet that's to blame. It's my self-indulgence that keeps me from God.
What I Did
Still, nothing sucks a person in like the internet. I'm very glad to have gone through the fast and am trying as much as possible to continue the habits I developed during Lent. A few things that help me, in general, to fulfill my responsibilities instead of slacking off:
1. Do it now.
This phrase is borrowed from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which I've been reading and LOVING. Too often I say to myself, "I'll get to that in a minute, right now I'm just going to pop online for a bit." I try now to physically turn myself toward the task and think, "No. I'm just going to do it now."
2. Turn off the computer.
If I have to boot up, log in, wait for the fourteen different security screens to check for viruses and only THEN have access to my email, I am much more likely to say, "Eh, I'll do it later tonight." Having ready and immediate access is a recipe for disaster.
3. Be in the moment.
When I had no ability to immerse myself in the world of the internet, I had to force myself to stop thinking about it. Instead of wondering whether anyone had commented on my post, or replied to my email, or whether a certain blog had updated, or what so and so thought of the TV show or movie I'd seen recently, I had to switch my brain to whatever was going on around me in my real life and be present there.
4. Plan ahead.
Whenever I couldn't get something off my mind, I used the post-it feature on my computer to make a small note to myself so I could plan on doing it Sunday. Some things I wrote down during Lent: Trip to Savannah/Charleston Aug 13th (flights?), Grass by Sheri Tepper, LOST actress same as Rome?, Check Netflix queue for Oscar winners.
5. Start something, anything.
Whenever I felt that temptation pulling me back to the computer, I forced myself to do one thing: Put a plate away, bring a toy upstairs, clean a sink. Usually, it distracted me and eradicated the temptation. And it felt good to have accomplished something when I was done.
What I Missed
I didn't get to read any news at all. Not even the headlines. There was simply no time for it. I also didn't get to comment on anyone's posts, or even to read the comments other people left. I think online discussions are one of the benefits of the internet: even if you don't have time for a 1/2 hour phone conversation, you can have a deep and meaningful discussion on an important issue if you comment back and forth on someone's blog. So missing out on those facets of the internet were difficult for me.
In retrospect, I think giving up the internet is the perfect Lenten sacrifice for me. It's something I do constantly, and though it's enjoyable, it's certainly an indulgence that isn't essential to my life. Giving it up made me notice I didn't have it, and miss it, and I was happy to do that for God. Everything I discovered duplicates the experience of other bloggers I've read who did a similar fast, which says something to me about the internet itself and the ease by which we all fall in love with it.
I'll end with a funny video from the Onion. Happy Easter everyone!