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Internet depression & other issues

The dark side of the internet

As with any powerful gift (eg. money, sex, power), the internet can be used for great good and for great evil. From time to time I receive stories of marriage failures attributed to the internet, cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking. The internet can be a tragic time-waster. Anonymous trolls can make comments online that they would never dare to make if their identity was known, or face to face – as they roam around the web solely to start fights. The internet can be damagingly addictive. It is an easy place for intellectual property theft. The list can go on.

A new study by UK psychologists has confirmed what probably most of us realise – there is a link between internet abuse and depression. It is unclear whether internet abuse leads to depression, or whether depressed people are more likely to misuse the internet.

What are your suggestions for keeping your internet use healthy, accountable, ethical? What do you see as significant negative issues in the use of the internet? I know many will appreciate collective wisdom, some guidelines, even suggested rules for oneself.

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5 Responses to Internet depression & other issues

  1. This is undoubtedly a major problem, yet I wonder whether it is related to the essence of the Internet, or to the nature of mankind and our current culture. Have these problems increased across-the-board, or have they just congregated around the internet?

    If we look at addiction to pornography, is the more of a problem now in terms of the number of persons involved, or has there rather been a shift from the use of printed pornography and strip-bars towards internet pornography?

    In terms of the essence of the Internet I think there are three things going for it that contribute or at least attract such problems:

    1) Privacy – whatever one does online is effectively limited to a 17″ screen, there are no physical traces or links that tie the rest of one’s life, home, work or family to the Internet. Of course, no one part of our lives can be truly separate from the other parts; and over time, as what we at first felt was private grows, it starts to exert an increasing influence on us as a whole.

    2) Loneliness – the Internet has become the friend of lonely people everywhere. No friends, family or community? Log on and seek it online. Unlike watching TV or reading a book, there is a certain level of human interaction online, and this attracts those who are already feeling isolated. I am sure that many who spend a lot of time online are already on the edge of depression, perhaps mistakenly leading to us to feel the Internet causes this depression.

    3) Illicitness – I recall in my younger years spending large amounts of time learning about making high explosives, writing viruses and breaking into remote computer systems. I was not really interested in doing any of these, yet the attraction was that it was forbidden and dangerous knowledge. There is a certain pull of illegal and even immoral information that operates on the level of curiosity at first and yet over time can develop into something much more sinister. It is as well that it occurred when it did as in today’s paranoid society the law takes a particularly dim view of such topics of research…

    In terms of what we can do about it, I will give three suggestions:

    1) Privacy – if you know you cannot trust yourself online, whether in terms of the kinds of site you visit, or just in terms of total time spend, then move the computer into a family area. Don’t go into the study to use the Internet, rather use a netbook or small laptop, connect wirelessly, and sit with the family in the living room. If they keep bugging you, then that’s probably a good thing as it means they actually want to share your time and activities!

    2) Loneliness – one of the little-known secrets about the internet is that it is absolutely full of information about local groups and events. If you are using the Internet as a substitute community, then try searching for groups nearby where you live, and join them. For example, join a Bible Study class at a nearby Church (you don’t usually need to be part of the congregation), volunteer with a local charity, join a knitting club, a working man’s club or something else social. All these things can be found through the internet and help bridge the gap between that 17″ rectangle and the real world. Remember that groups advertise events because they actively want new members, and that means you!

    3) Illicitness – this is perhaps the most tough to tackle, given the sinful nature of all of us. My personal response is again three-fold
    i) First, I have fitted a filter onto my browser, in this case it’s called ‘ProCon Latte‘ and is a free addon for Firefox. Obviously it’s not going to stop me visiting a site, as I installed it and I know how to disable it; yet it will warn me about content on a site that I probably do not want to see or read. It means I don’t have to see or read the content and then weigh my options.
    ii) Second, if I feel tempted to seek out something illicit online, then I resort in the first instance to prayer. Most usually the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; have mercy on me a sinner”. From this I do gain great strength.
    iii) Third, as sometimes the problem is just the amount of time spent or even wasted online, I will block sites which take up time and are not required, for a day or two. This breaks the habitual cycle of firing up the same site to check what’s there, especially for social networking sites. In my case I edit the file /etc/hosts (windows: c:/windows/system32/drivers/etc/hosts) and write: 127.0.0.1 domainname.com (where domainname.com is the one I wish to block); this makes the site inaccessible until such time as I remove the line again.

    I have heard of others who use services that report their online activity to a trusted friend or even their spouse, so that they are always aware that nothing they do online will remain private from their offline world. I think this is a great idea for those with serious problems.

  2. goodness, yes I identify. I was subjected to a bout of internet bullying as individuals from the Anglican group in second life decided to form an exclusive bible study. Only those they deemed worthy were admitted to this.
    It is a sad reflection that as I pointed out this was ‘not Christian’ to have a closed clique, they became defensive and more abusive. Informing me that I did not like individuals within that group.
    One of their number is recently ordained, and I was so tempted to ring the Bishop of Chester. I refrained even though I would close the laptop in tears.
    My husband is a psychotherapist and witnessed this. We have also written articles together on our experiences and helped others with deluded psychotic episodes. He took on the group of Anglicans for me.
    But to be honest…. they are only reflecting what goes on in churches anyways.

  3. The internet can be used for good or for bad. Spreading the gospel via the internet is good. What I dislike about the internet is porn and it seems like this problem is not urgently addressed. I know there are some countries who block porn but most countries allow porn. So what can be done about this?

  4. Personal accountability is very important when using the Internet. Being careful of where one goes and what one views and participates in is vital, but understanding our vulnerability is key. For in our most private moments, where we least expect it, the war for our souls is on and a battle line has been drawn in that vast, undefined, largely unregulated place called – cyberspace.

    What a remarkable tool the Internet can be. On the bright side, wonderful opportunity exists to surf the web for quick access to education and opportunity. But on the dark side, a treacherous undertow exists as well.

    Unfortunately, the “liberty” and free-style “creative license” afforded to everyone using the Internet provides opportunity for those with ill intentions to digress in many ways, even indulging in immoral works, seemingly without accountability, producing that which is contrary to the Christian ideal, which is then cast out as a lure which ultimately becomes a dangerous snare and pitfall for many.

    Man is blessed with creativity – the ability to create and be productive. Mankind’s creativity is a reflection of God’s image and likeness, and our earthly commission is to use that ability to spread the good news of God’s kingdom. Thus, the great gift of creativity should be used to glorify God in all that we do, but we must actively choose to do it.

    As Christians, we are accountable to God for our actions and we must acknowledge our need for His help in maintaining our integrity, especially when using the Internet. The fact is, even in our most private moments, no matter how alone we ever are in the human sense, God is always there – always…in every moment and every second of our lives. So, we must cultivate and practice the constant awareness of God’s presence. This serves not only to cultivate a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father, through Christ Jesus, but it also protects our minds and hearts in all that we do. Christ personally showed us that this can be done…he left a vivid human example for us to follow closely.

    We must be ever mindful that Satan is always working hard to distract people from living in the light and real presence of the Lord. He offers us the same special brand of freedom that he offered to Eve, freedom of choice, and if we choose to step outside of God’s protective presence to independently experience life on our own and in our own terms, Satan is there to cheer us on and coach us right straight to failure, sin, and alienation from God. Satan accomplishes his work in two ways – first, by drawing one out through temptations to take action on inappropriate desires, and then second, he buries that one so deeply in shame they think God could never forgive their sins. We can not stand against Satan’s wiles on our own. We need the shelter of our Lord’s protective presence, but it is up to us to seek it out and then stay within it. That is what freedom of choice really is.

    So it rests upon us as individuals to fully realize the limitations of our human nature and to therefore lean upon the strength of our Lord. Take time daily, first thing in the morning, to contemplate the scripture in Micah:
    “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).

    Christians can and should occupy themselves, in humility, with the promotion of God’s Kingdom and the causes of good on the Internet at all times. If we walk humbly with our God, always in the presence of the Lord, He will provide us with the strength we need through the Holy Spirit to stay close and follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so that we don’t become a causality in the Internet battle for our souls.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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