How does the internet affect your relationships?

There we were, my husband and I, lounging around the living room, facing each other but not looking at each other. He was transfixed by his laptop, ear buds in place, watching something on Netflix. I was glued to my own laptop, working on business stuff. Over in a corner of the kitchen, two of our sons played a game on the desktop computer while my oldest daughter texted on her phone. Elsewhere in our home, other kids were using their laptops and iPhones.

We are a wired family, depending heavily on various computer devices to connect with the outer world. The trouble is, while technology keeps us current, our face-to-face time becomes a casualty. In our family, we can’t avoid the Internet. We use it for school, work, and recreation. If I can’t find my phone in the morning as I head off to work, I have a minor panic attack. My phone has apps that I consider necessary for my day to run smoothly: my GPS, iBreviary, and a pharmaceutical/medical dictionary. And there’s the phone itself.

I’m worried that family time is progressively being replaced by computer time: Facebook instead of face time, computers instead of conversation, sitting instead of exercising. So when I saw that Fr. Denis Lemieux had written a new book, The I-Choice: Staying Human in a Digital Age, I bought it. Fr. Denis is a priest of the Madonna House Apostolate in Combermere, Ontario, Canada. He blogs at Ten Thousand Places and has authored several books. His latest book is on the cultural changes brought about by Internet use. In short: “what is technology doing to us, not in itself, but through the accelerated and vast cultural change it is bringing, and what are we supposed to do about it?” This is an important consideration as my family and I spend more of our time on-line.

We are made for relationship with each other. “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). Yet, in my large family, there are many times that we are all home but there is no interaction because we can’t pull ourselves away from our computers. Fr. Denis puts it this way: “We are made for relationship, for communion, and there are no exceptions to this.” Who we are as human beings is shaped by our bond with other people and that is strengthened by fruitful time spent together.

We are made to be in relationship with God but if we are preoccupied with tweeting, texting, or the latest Facebook status, when do we spend time in reflective prayer? Fr. Denis asks, “Are we drowning out the voice of God?” Prayer craves silence, not just in our surroundings, but in our hearts. Encountering God and hearing His voice requires inner calm and an attitude of peaceful recollection that runs counter to a noisy world. We can’t achieve that state if our iPod is constantly pumping music into our heads and our phone keeps making that funny sound telling us we have another email.

And are we drowning out our own voice? If communicating with others is relegated to 140-character tweets and constant Facebook updates, our conversation is superficial and we don’t completely express our thoughts. Or worse, our voice is a catchy Facebook meme. If most of our discussions are on-line, then over time, we may lose the art of conversation since we can’t fully develop our point of view. Typing a response is not the same as speaking it in person. Nothing replaces person-to-person dialogue and nothing destroys it faster than acronyms. So our true self is not revealed and our public persona is an Internet sound byte.

It’s important to spend time with ourselves. Being wired to our various electronic devices makes our lives noisy and distracts us from the interior silence we need in order to know who we are as children of God. Again from Fr. Denis: “You have to have a relationship with yourself before you can have the full richness of relationship with the other … a certain interiority of one’s own person.” How can I know who I am if I can’t hear myself think?

After reading Fr. Denis’ book and reflecting on what’s happening in my family, I am implementing some new house rules:

  1. No texting at mealtimes. These are times for conversation and catching up.
  2. Stricter time limits for the younger kids’ online games.
  3. Encourage the family to seek times of quiet reflection and prayer.
  4. Turn off our devices more often.
  5. Before buying the latest i-gadget, ask ourselves if we really need it.
  6. Encourage internet fasting days.

Internet use is a permanent fixture in our culture. So much of our daily activities rely on it. Instead of trying to avoid it, we need to learn to use it appropriately, ensuring that it doesn’t shatter vital relationships with ourselves, with others and with God. We need to see the good in the technology and discern its usefulness in our lives. We must remember that the internet is a tool to be used judiciously and critically so that it enhances our life and not destroy it.

Lemieux, Denis. (2013). The I-Choice: Staying Human in a Digital Age. Ottawa: Justin Press.

Available at Madonna House Publications

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