Online Excess?

On the face of it, I had a pretty varied morning yesterday.  I worked on volunteer placements for the major auction event at my daughter’s school next month and arranged a meeting about it.  I saw to some administrative details for the summer swim club board I chair.  I began orchestrating an outing to Cincinnati City Hall for a group of exchange students.  And I spent quite a bit of time developing Web and print materials for a ballot issue campaign here in our village that I’ve thrown myself into wholeheartedly.  Yet, nearly all of this work was conducted sitting in front of my computer through email exchange and on Web sites.  Increasingly I am aware of how many arenas of my life now occur online:  Household maintenance activities, from bill paying to finding someone to fix the gutters; health care management, from renewing prescriptions to receiving test results; and staying abreast of children’s academic progress and school activities via email, Edline and PowerSchool.

Certainly these processes provide convenience, but for me there’s also tedium.  Hours slip by and I feel drained, my body tired of sitting.  Part of it is the inherent multi-tasking that goes on as incoming emails on one project become more urgent than the immediate task at hand, or I glance through an interesting (but non-essential) article while researching something pressing, or I succumb to the eternal temptation to check out Facebook or other blogs.  In the virtual world it’s harder to keep tasks discreet, and the continual overlap exhausts me.

I’m not sure there’s a “solution” to this situation, or even whether to define it as “a problem.”  But it’s a dilemma with definite spiritual undertones.  I notice more and more that when I’m not at the computer, I’m less inclined to multi-task.  Instead of reading a magazine while on the treadmill, I walk the indoor track and savor the physical activity for its own sake,  or I walk the dog, taking in fresh air, comforted by canine companionship.  It’s a kind of relief to simply chop vegetables for soup or fold the clean clothes, one thing at a time, in silence.  Maybe I’ll be inspired to tackle the yard work more conscientiously this spring!

Awareness seems to be key.  In the Fall 2011 issue of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps magazine, an entire article was devoted to this topic, which caught me by surprise when it came in the mail, enough that I saved the magazine for further reflection.  In Ignatian fashion, John Staudenmaier, SJ, who gives retreats to Jesuit Volunteers (JVs), counsels discernment, recognizing that online activity can be used constructively in all sorts of ways but also that we mustn’t “burn incense before it.”  In particular, he suggests periodic fasts from electricity in JV communities.  “You have to fast from a very powerful dimension of your affective life.  It has to be done humbly.  Fasting from consumption is good when doing a holy thing,” Staudenmaier said.  Definitely food for thought.

Photos via Flickr under a Creative Commons license:
keyboard image by freefotouk
monitor image by yum9me

 

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