Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Healthy Relationship With My Internet Browser

It took me 45 minutes online to make sure my automatic bill payments for my student loans have been going through for the past few months.

I check every so often ever since they didn’t go through for 2 months. What a fiasco that was. So I was checking up, also because my loan servicer changed and I wanted to be sure they weren’t being pissy and all was well.

Forty-five minutes.

The funny thing about this is that if I lived in a time without the internet and everyone having “easy to use” websites, I would not be expected by people—such as my loan servicers—to be kept aware of whether my loans were going through. If the payment didn’t go through, they would send me a letter instead of sending me a message on their online system which I will only see if I log onto their website. With greater power comes greater responsibility…people expect you to keep up on your life.

But the truth is, not everything is easy online. Some websites are crap. Sometimes things just take a long time; I'm glad my bank has so many security measures in place, but it does mean it takes me a long time to log in. My previous bank would text me a code to log in every time. I'm not complaining about it. I'm just stating a fact: the internet doesn't necessarily make everything quickly and easily accessible.

So here we are: back at square one. We have the internet, and some things are easier and some things are not.

If you read my post Information Age Blessings, you know I don’t totally dislike technology, despite being a nature-loving, carefully-eating, water-saving, nuclear-power-advocating, thrift-store-visiting, constantly-outdoors hippie. Being married to an engineer is softening me up more and more to the idea that there is a lot of use to these metal-and-plastic boxes called computers. But I also like to take technology with restrictions so I don’t end up wasting my life online. That applies to time spent checking on my loans as much as it does to social networking.

I’ve developed boundaries in this area; for a while I would pass by the ATM and go into the bank to make deposits in person. When there are problems with bills or internet or insurance, I like to call instead of figuring it out online. Sometimes it takes less time, sometimes more, but I come away with a sense of accomplishment and human connection that I don’t get from working with a computer.

I’m learning to love the internet for what it is and what it isn't. Like all loves, it requires boundaries. I love posting writing to my readership immediately without any intermediary steps. I like being able to work from home and not having to drive forty-five minutes to volunteer on Courage Worldwide's communications team. We click buttons and information goes lightspeed to where it needs to go. I like that. As a writer, I see so many applications of use to me.

But like everything, it’s got to have its end. There have got to be things you say “no” to, a line in the sand that keeps our whole lives from being spent in cyberspace, physical bodies tied to a computer and practically dying of starvation when the router dies. I don’t want my kids to grow up unable to talk on the phone, or too awkward or scared to talk to someone in person.

I gained a greater appreciation for human contact as I grew up and got closer with a God who sees me daily. (As my dear friend says, God never flags us for later!) There is something in being able to make someone smile, even when one doesn’t know their name, that gives one a sense of having accomplished something infinitely worthwhile. It is as if the whole grand purpose of one’s existence can be accomplished more through a small act of kindness and imparting of joy than through all the successes a career could ever hold.

I try to hold onto that fact. I try to treat time with family and friends as precious (and try to keep my worry-induced internet usage at a minimum), as well as valuing time and contact with strangers I pass. Every time you see someone, whether to nod and smile in passing or have a three-sentence conversation at the store, you have a chance to affirm human worth and dignity through your acknowledgement and respect of the other human being across from you. And there are too many ways we wage war against our humanity to not make the most of these opportunities.

So, long story short, if you’re a worrier and do-all-er like me, the computer is possibly the biggest time-sink and distraction in your life. Stop. Stop playing the games that make you feel good about yourself for two seconds and invest in something that will make your whole life feel worthwhile. Stop worrying about student loans, and if you have to check, try to have patience. Choose to talk to and interact with people even when you have the option not to. You will be the better for it—and you will feel the better for it. Which, as First Lady Michelle Obama says, is the most important thing about health.