There is a war raging here in Israel.
Though we’re blessedly removed from the front line here in Jerusalem, I can’t escape the images of destruction that dominate the big TV screen when I enter a store; nor the constant talk of rockets raining down on Israel’s biggest cities; nor the procession of visitors coming too and from a local shul, where a fallen soldier’s family is sitting shiva.
Then there’s that sick feeling in my stomach whenever I think about what’s going on 80km south of my home.
Yet, in spite of all that, you want to know something strange?
In some ways, I am feeling happier and more peaceful right now than I have in ages.
It happened that the start of this war coincided with a dramatic change that I made in my personal life.
About four weeks ago, I decided the time had come to completely restrict my web access outside my set work hours.
This was a very scary decision for me. I feared that my business would suffer. I am a web business professional, and not having web access for most hours of the day seemed pretty insane.
I wondered what would happen to all those urgent emails and updates that I often take care of late at night.
Opportunities might be missed. Glitches not fixed in time. Projects not completed ASAP.
Those were my stated fears.
But my real reluctance lay beneath them.
The War Inside Me
Being connected to the web had become a habit for me. Maybe even an addiction.
“Internet addiction” in the Jewish world is usually a euphemism for the underbelly of the internet, while my internet habits were more “harmless.” I was simply addicted to being connected to the Web, and most of my time was spent on “kosher” activities related to my business. Though often only very indirectly. For example, did I really need to read all 93 inane comments on that Mashable article about the latest Google Plus update?
Though maybe I wasn’t far gone enough to be considered clinically addicted, the symptoms of my bad habit were troubling enough.
For example, if one of my children interrupted me while I was online, I would get disproportionately annoyed with them. I noticed that often I was most irritable when my activities were non-important.
Another problem was that I would often think of things that I should do online while away from the Web, and then I would become impatient to get back to my computer. This distracted feeling was always interfering with important activities, such as reading a bedtime story for my daughter, having dinner with my husband, listening to a shiur, or even lying in bed at night waiting for sleep to come.
I tried to do battle with those distracting thoughts, but I was no matter for their grip on my mind. I felt enslaved to my computer – a tool that is supposed to serve me, not vice versa.
I would be too embarrassed to talk about it publicly if I didn’t believe that so many people out there have a similar problem. I think there is a good chance you are nodding your head and thinking: “This sounds like I’m reading about myself (or my close relative). Please PLEASE tell me how you solved that problem.”
And do you know the absolute worst symptom of my addiction?
Every night, when I would lay my head on my pillow and mentally review my day, I would be plagued by remorse. I was not proud of the way I’d spent the hours from the time my work day officially ended at 4pm. I had failed to do the things I truly wanted and intended to do, like reorganizing the kitchen cabinets or playing “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” with my kids.
All this was despite the fact that I don’t own a smartphone. Just imagine if I did!
The offline “real” world seemed to slip my mind when I was plugged in to my drug of choice.
Not only that, but I often had a hard time thinking of anything I’d achieved online during those stolen hours. I had to admit that I was not very productive after 4pm, probably due to the fact that I felt torn, guilty and tired.
I knew I had to kick the habit.
A Piece of Cake?
Years ago, I attended a shiur given by Rabbi Yitzchak Shurin at Midreshet Rachel. A small group of us sat around a table listening to Rabbi Shurin talk about the significance of Rabbinic mitzvos. In the middle of the table was a plate of cakes placed there by one of my classmates, who had shared them in celebration of a simcha.
One of the students challenged Rabbi Shurin about the need for Rabbinic laws that added further restrictions around Torah laws, suggesting that maybe all those “fences around the Torah” made life unnecessarily difficult.
Rabbi Shurin said to her:
“When you sat down here 15 minutes ago, that plate of cake was right in front of you. But then I saw you pushed it further away. Why did you do that?”
“Because I don’t want to eat it,” she replied. “I’m watching my weight.”
“If you don’t want to eat it, then don’t. So why do you need to push it away?”
“Because if it’s right in front of me, I’ll probably eat it!”
I had a similar situation with the internet. I wish I could say I was able to break my addiction through spiritual enlightenment and steely willpower.
Instead, I used more crude methods.
A fence around the Internet.
I already had only ISP filtered internet in our home, but now I changed the settings so that all internet was absolutely blocked from 4pm to 8am, save for a one-hour window a few nights a week so that I can check my work emails.
But then the problem was that I have the password, so I can easily bypass that filter. A big gaping hole in the fence!
So I installed a second filtering software called K9, and put in identical time restrictions. But only my husband has the password to K9 (and only I have the password for the ISP account). So I am properly locked out and cut off from the Internet, except for 8-9 hours of my work time.
Thank G-d we put in this system when we did, because with the war going on, I might easily have become even more obsessive about “checking on things” than usual.
Instead my afternoons and evenings have been transformed.
That impatient, irritated feeling is a thing of the past, replaced with meandering bedtime conversations with my children, experimental cookery and lots more time to catch up with friends and work on creative projects.
And what about my fear that my business will suffer?
Now that I am not connected to it 24/6, I actually can’t understand what I was worried about.
I am available every single day and most nights to answers the questions of clients and associates. I don’t think they expect more than that. And if they do, then I’m doing the world a service by re-educating them. And they can always call or skype me if it’s urgent (my skype is not blocked.)
I have finally understood the truth of the statement:
There is no such thing as an urgent email.
And what a liberating truth that is.
Bedtime has crept earlier, and when I review my day, I truly feel a greater sense of peace.
Which says a lot, considering there is a war raging just a few towns away. There is so little I can do to bring peace down South, at least I can take a step to bring some peace into my own life and home.
Please keep up your prayers for the people of Israel at this difficult time. If you’d like to donate to an effort to provide snacks and toiletries to residents and soldiers of the South, please contact me. Your gift will reach them directly within 72 hours.