One of the great arts of Christian discipline is the practice of saying "no" to oneself. In our indulgent, instantaneous lifestyle, this art has greatly diminished. And perhaps nothing better illustrates the difficulty of saying "no" than use of the Internet.
For those who have a particular weakness, the Internet becomes a time-drain. Playing online bridge, political blogs, reading constantly updated news, shopping for bargains, and of course, Facebook. Any or all of these may end up taking hours of time when only a minute here or there was intended. Likewise, the frequent checking of email ends up taking far more time than most people might think. Even if it's only a few minutes at each check, the interruption can greatly break up the flow of work, distracting one from what should be his primary task.
Even those of us who are concerned about the Internet rewiring our brains may have difficulty disciplining ourselves. One quick check of email, one click on a link someone sent to an interesting article, one click on a link embedded in that article, etc. and suddenly one hour gone, with work still to be begun.
It is possible that the Internet is one of the greatest proximate occasions to sin that we face in our daily lives. A few weeks off-line, and concentration and productivity seem to increase exponentially as far as work is concerned, and attention and devotion to family and others seems to come a little easier. But for many of us, work requires use of the Internet. Whether the mandatory reading of work emails or the use of electronic databases for research, it is difficult to avoid using it altogether.
Yet we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that this is somehow one area of our life that does not demand discipline. Though it be a common folly or difficult challenge, it must be addressed. We have to be able to say "no" to ourselves, to die to ourselves for the good of others, in every context.
Here are a few mortification strategies when it comes to the Internet:
1. If possible, limit the number of times you check email to twice a day, perhaps once in the morning and once in the evening. Do not respond immediately to emails that do not require immediate response - put them on a to-do list.
2. If you are working on the computer and find yourself distracted by other things you can do (besides your work), make a list of these items on a note card. Sometimes these things really are important (scheduling credit card payments, for example), but nonetheless, to stop working in order to do that task is an interruption that throws you off and distracts you for more time than just the amount that it takes to pay the bill. End your work with fifteen minutes of "free" time at the end to accomplish the items on your list.
3. When you sit down to work, delay the email-check or Internet usage until you are at a good breaking time. Do not begin with email/Internet.
4. Set a timer for the amount you want to spend on the Internet, and stick to it.
5. If you are really struggling, turn off the Internet on your computer. It will help you remember to say no.
6. If you recognize writing a blog or commenting on a blog or interacting with FB friends as an important aspect of your work, be intentional about how often you will engage in this medium. Be careful not to let it take priority over the real priorities.
7. Select an important prayer intention. Every time you feel tempted to use the Internet in a way that is unnecessary, counter-productive, or sinful (even to the extent that it ultimately takes time away from your family by unnecessarily extending your work time), remember this prayer intention, and tell yourself no as a prayer offering for that person or intention.
8. Make your Internet usage part of your general exam before bed (or you can make it your particular exam it is a serious problem). Make specific resolutions about how to improve for the following day when you recognize a problem.
9. Bring it to confession when you realize that your Internet usage has been sinful, even if only venially so. Again, make sure you recognize the way that it can interfere with your primary vocation by unnecessarily extending your work time.
10. Cultivate practices that counter Internet distractions. Such things as reading a novel, writing an essay, quiet, meditative prayer, or dissecting a long, nuanced argument can all counter the Internet monkey-mind.
Those are just a few tips for now. Anyone have any other suggestions?