There is one point I would like to make, though, and that is the seeming presumption that “face to face” time is somehow “better” than online, with the seeming implication is that a healthy balance involves preference to the non-computer activity. To make such a blanket assumption, IMO, causes one to judge one over the other – so when you do one you feel guilty and the other, you feel antsy. Also for those who are truly Spirit-led, to make such an advance judgment interferes with His ability to guide us.
When my house burned down in 2005, Julie and I and our six kids lived in two adjacent apartment with a network cable between them (wireless wasn’t working right) and I thought about something. While I was sitting there chatting online with my kids next door, it occurred to me that from my observable and detectable experience in the moment, this is no different than if the kids move away and we were chatting across the planet. I nurture my “real” relationships every day on the computer for “real life” friends I can’t just jump in a Learjet and go visit but through the rich resources of the Internet, we can do what is second best.
Can people go online too much? Of course. Anything can be toxic, including religion. Do you think that somebody who goes to daily Mass at two different places, says 15 decade rosaries twice a day, prays the Liturgy of the Hours, does contemplative prayer 45 minutes a day, daily confession, and neglects family responsibilities because of all that time at religion, is in danger of the exact same issue you’re warning us about online? Funny there is a thread going right now on excessive Churchgoing. We should get you two together!
Cyber relationships are equal to personal relationships? Pope Benedict XVI and I could not disagree with you more strongly.
I honestly don’t know anyone who devotes him or herself to God as you describe in your last paragraph who neglects their daily duties. I suppose it’s possible, but that means that you are not really drawing close to our Lord. Such a close relationship with God can only produce good fruit. If that is not true, then Christ is a liar. Look at the lives of the great saints. They all spent most if not all of their free time in prayer, and gave of themselves completely to others.
Here is an excerpt from an article about internet addiction:
What is Internet addiction or computer addiction?
Internet Addiction, otherwise known as computer addiction, online addiction, or internet addiction disorder (IAD), covers a variety of impulse-control problems, including:
Cybersex Addiction – compulsive use of Internet pornography, adult chat rooms, or adult fantasy role-play sites impacting negatively on real-life intimate relationships.
**Cyber-Relationship Addiction – addiction to social networking, chat rooms, and messaging to the point where virtual, online friends become more important than real-life relationships with family and friends. **
Net Compulsions – such as compulsive online gaming, gambling, stock trading, or compulsive use of online auction sites such as eBay, often resulting in financial and job-related problems.
Information Overload – compulsive web surfing or database searching, leading to lower work productivity and less social interaction with family and friends.
Computer Addiction – obsessive playing of off-line computer games, such as Solitaire or Minesweeper, or obsessive computer programming.
The most common of these Internet addictions are cybersex, online gambling, and cyber-relationship addiction.
The article also lists symptoms of internet addiction.
Signs and symptoms of Internet addiction vary from person to person. For example, there are no set hours per day or number of messages sent that indicate Internet addiction. But here are some general warning signs that your Internet use may have become a problem:
Losing track of time online. Do you frequently find yourself on the Internet longer than you intended? Does a few minutes turn in to a few hours? Do you get irritated or cranky if your online time is interrupted?
Having trouble completing tasks at work or home. Do you find laundry piling up and little food in the house for dinner because you’ve been busy online? Perhaps you find yourself working late more often because you can’t complete your work on time — then staying even longer when everyone else has gone home so you can use the Internet freely.
Isolation from family and friends. Is your social life suffering because of all the time you spend online? Are you neglecting your family and friends? Do you feel like no one in your “real” life — even your spouse — understands you like your online friends?
Feeling guilty or defensive about your Internet use. Are you sick of your spouse nagging you to get off the computer and spend time together? Do you hide your Internet use or lie to your boss and family about the amount of time you spend on the computer and what you do while you’re online?
Feeling a sense of euphoria while involved in Internet activities. Do you use the Internet as an outlet when stressed, sad, or for sexual gratification or excitement? Have you tried to limit your Internet time but failed?
I think these are very good questions that we need to ask ourselves from time to time.