Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Internet, Your Brain and Your Inner Life

Has the 24/7 availability of information and entertainment (at your very fingertips) eroded your ability (or desire) to focus on the Lord in prayer, or created a kind of compulsive activism in your spirit?
It's a question I have to ask myself frequently: am I using the amazing potential of the Internet in the best way, not just for my work but for my spiritual good? It's so easy to zip from click to click, page to page, from an insightful article to a trivial quiz to a family Elf-yourself...and there's no doubt that this repeated pattern, day by day and now year by year leaves its traces in the way my brain continues to form neural networks. For better or for worse, I have an Internet brain. And that's the brain I bring to prayer, too, for better or for worse. (I have to admit, it's not always for better.)
What does an Internet brain tend to do? Flit from topic to topic like the butterfly Teresa of Avila used as an image of distraction in prayer. Does this mean that my prayer life is doomed to follow the butterfly's irregular, zig-zagging style? Only, hints Christine Neulieb in a recent essay for Commonweal, if I let it by refusing to train my own brain through moderation in the way (not just the amount of time) I use the Internet.
We can, Neulieb says, "create boundaries for [the Internet's] involvement in our lives, or let it shape us as it pleases..... [W]hether it will make us better or worse people.... is up to us." Neulieb knows that the phenomenon of Internet brain fuzz (admittedly my term) didn't really start with the Internet; it just exacerbates human tendencies to self-indulgence that the ancients knew and wrote about and that spiritual authors applied to the life of prayer. What makes Neulieb's essay so interesting is that she tackles the issues of "your brain on Google" in the light of the classical spiritual language of virtue.
I plan to bring this article back to my attention (and yours!) at Lent, but even now, the days before Christmas and as we start thinking about New Year's resolutions, it is very helpful.

5 comments:

Denise said...

I hear you there! I actually started decreasing my net time for other reasons...then realized my prayer life started coming alive again. It really does suck your inner self dry.

therese rita said...

This is precisely why I don't own a computer. I know it's weird to have a blog w/o a computer but just having online access 2-3x/wk is enough for me. I'm really afraid if the internet was available to me 24/7, it'd get between me & my relationship with God! Great post.

Ruth Ann said...

I am glad you posted this article, which I will read in its entirety. This has been a concern of mine for quite awhile---how the time spent interacting on the Internet affects my relationship with God.

Sr Anne said...

It was a terrific article, and I was delighted to share it. Now, to really apply it to myself...

Anonymous said...

Three of my children have ADDHD which compounds other psycho-social challenges. The computer and internet are important tools for them; however, we must remember computers are tools. In more ways than this, we must not let the creation control the creator.