Addiction and the Internet

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sometimes posts information in bars, knowing that the people who need their help are likely to be found there. But would you send a possible alcoholic into a bar to pick up information on AA?

Monday I came to work and opened my email. Being the first workday of the month, there was an email from Human Resources about health and wellness. The topic of the month is Internet addiction. The email included a link to read more information about Internet addiction, and that link led, of course, to the Internet.

So what about it, my WordPress friends? How many of us could be described as Internet addicts? Do we think about the Internet all the time, even when we are not using it? Do we resent things like work and meals and sleep because they require time away from the Internet? Has our use of the Internet caused damage to our relationships, our careers, or other important aspects of our personal lives?

I generally frame WordPress posts or responses to posts while I am off the Internet, whether driving or showering or mowing. That is less an indication of Internet addiction than it is a writer’s standard procedure for creating effective writing.

If I am addicted to any sites on the Internet, I am addicted to Sudoku and Nonograms. But that is more an addiction to games than to the Internet per se. If I had a hand-held version of either game, or a paper version, I would play just as intensely as I do on the Internet.

I cannot think of any way that the Internet has damaged my personal relationships. I might check WordPress or Facebook while at work, or sneak in a quick game. But when one logs onto Facebook and sees that one’s supervisor is posting while at work, it hardly seems worth worrying about getting caught.

If anything, I have gained important relationships through the Internet. Not through Facebook—I got a Facebook account mostly to spy on my children, and I have never approved a friend on Facebook whom I do not already know. My WordPress community, on the other hand, has become very important to me. I value my online friends and their ideas and interests as much as I value those of people I know in person. Moreover, I take attacks upon my WordPress friends as personally as I take attacks on people I know in person.

Gains and losses both come from making friends over the Internet. Some people pretend online to be someone they are not. At the same time, communities form sheltered existences where people can reinforce one another’s opinions and viewpoints, no matter how peculiar and uninformed those opinions and viewpoints might be. Trolls roam the Internet, looking for victims to verbally abuse. Internet addiction is real, and it can damage lives and relationships. This Wednesday I walked into a room and saw five members of my family sitting, each using a device, not interacting with one another at all—and this included family members who had traveled from other states to spend special holiday time with their family.

This summer, for several reasons, I have had less time to spend on WordPress and other social media. I am copy-editing a book for a publishing company and putting together another book of my own writing for publication through CreateSpace. At work I am filling in for other people who have taken vacations. I am also playing nonograms a lot more than I should. As a result, I missed some of the news that some of you have shared in the past couple weeks, catching up days later. I sincerely hope I have offended no one by my lack of response to their posts.

But what of it, my Internet friends? Are you concerned about Internet addiction and its effects on your life? Or do you feel safe and secure in your use of the Internet? J.

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Five movies for Independence Day

On this fourth day of July, citizens of the United States of America celebrate the independence of our country and remember the freedoms we have as citizens of this country. Americans celebrate with parades, picnics, fireworks, and other traditional activities. Here is a list of five movies that I like to see around Independence Day. Not that I claim they are the best possible movies or that every American should see them. I don’t even watch all five every year, but it’s a safe bet I’ll be watching one of these five movies while others are out watching the firework show.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939): Actor James Stewart and director Frank Capra combine to bring viewers this movie about America’s government. Jeff Smith, played by Stewart, is a simple honest patriot. Named by the governor of his state to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate, Smith finds himself confronted with cynicism and corruption in the nation’s capital. Some elements of the movie fall short—for example, it’s hard to believe that a patriot like Jeff Smith would need a lecture from his office secretary about how a bill becomes a law. Still, the unabashed patriotism of Smith and his supporters—along with the tour of Washington DC’s landmarks—makes this movie a refreshing holiday treat. Some American politicians objected to portions of the movie that depict corrupt politicians (although no states or political parties are named), but the movie was banned in the totalitarian countries of Europe for its celebration of democracy and the power of the common man.

Music Man (1962): Made from a successful Broadway musical, this movie is not about patriotism or the Fourth of July so much as a celebration of the heartland of the United States and the people who live there. Harold Hill is a traveling salesman who markets musical instruments, lesson books, and uniforms, promising to form a boy’s band, even though Hill cannot read a note of music. Marian Paroo is the town’s librarian and must choose whether or not to reveal his scam. With songs including “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Til There Was You,” Music Man joyfully depicts the state of Iowa in the summer of 1912. The dance scene in the library is particularly not to be missed.

1776 (1972): Also made from a Broadway musical, this movie uses song, dance, and acting to depict the writing and acceptance of the Declaration of Independence in the Second Continental Congress of the North American colonies of Great Britain. No movie is a purely accurate source for history lessons, but this movie comes close. The actors truly live the parts of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founding fathers of the United States. At times humorous and at times gloomy, 1776 does not back away from the harsh realities of war and of American slavery. In the end, though, it is a glowing endorsement of that document created back in 1776 which gave the founding principles of a new nation.

Moscow on the Hudson (1984): Robin Williams plays a Russian musician who defects to the United States while his employer, a Russian circus, is performing in New York City. A landmark movie that can help younger people understand the issues of the Cold War, the movie shows the differences between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but it does not retreat into jingoistic propaganda. Life in Russia has joy as well as gloom, and life in America has sorrow and fear as well as freedom and opportunity. Several other powerful actors depict the population of New York City, a group of people who have traveled from all over the world to take part in the American way of life. Though the film is not entirely family-friendly, it remains one of the clearest proclamations of America’s values during the Reagan administration.

Independence Day (1996): An obvious choice for the Fourth of July, Independence Day tells the story of Earth being invaded by hostile aliens from outer space. Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, and Bill Pullman all shine in their roles of survivors who must confront and defeat this unexpected threat. Goldblum is especially effective as the environmentally-conscious computer expert who perceives the threat earlier than most people and eventually helps to create a solution. Doses of humor spice the action of this movie, including some lines so subtle that they might not be noticed until a second or third viewing. The President’s speech to his troops before the final battle is particularly uplifting and memorable.

Happy viewing, and happy Independence Day!  J.

(originally published July 3, 2015)

Sing-a-long/A Long Long Night

I cannot stop myself. When certain songs are played on the radio while I am driving, I have to sing along. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is one of those songs. “Renegade” by Styx is one of those songs. “American Pie” by Don McLean is one of those songs. “Hey Jude” by the Beatles is one of those songs. Even if the station cheats and shortens “Hey Jude,” I continue singing until I have completed all fifteen refrains.

It doesn’t matter where I am or where I am going. I have to sing those songs. This spring I was driving to deliver an hour-long lecture, but “American Pie” came on the radio, and I had to join Don McLean from the first line to the last chorus. Even if I have a job interview later in the day and want to make the best impression possible, I will sing along with “Renegade” or “Hey Jude” at the risk of ruining my voice for the rest of the day.

When I was in college, one of us in the dorm could put on the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” and a group of us would gather, singing all the songs of all the singers. The opening complaint of Judas, the conversations involving Mary and Jesus and Judas, the entry into Jerusalem, the prayer in Gethsemane—we knew them all, every word, every note. I don’t know if that’s good or bad; I just know that we were that way back then.

I’m changing the subject here, but on the Fourth of July my daughter needed a ride to the airport. She needed to be there at four in the morning. I set my alarm to wake up at 3:15 and tried to go to bed at 10 p.m. I was restless and had trouble falling asleep, probably concerned that I would not hear the alarm and awaken in time. When I did fall asleep I had a string of odd and unpleasant dreams. I woke myself from one dream, shouting, “Who’s there? Who’s there?” I had been dreaming that my father and I were at his trailer, and we could see that someone had entered the trailer even though the door was locked. A clothespin on the door was some sort of clue. I managed to open the door and look into the living room which was empty. A large walk-in coat closet was to my right, and I thought the intruder was hiding there. That is why I shouted… and awoke. By the way, in real life my father does not live in a trailer.

Driving to the airport, then, was a mixture of fatigue and stress. The city streets look different at such a time than they look, not only during the daytime, but even at nine or ten at night. To make matters worse, we drove in and out of showers. The highway to the airport was not well lit, and the paint on the pavement was faded. Driving took much concentration, so I focused all my attention on what I was doing. I got her to the airport, she grabbed her stuff and entered the terminal, and on my way back to the highway, I turned on the radio.

After the last few seconds of a commercial, I heard a familiar voice sing familiar words. “A long, long time ago.” I was right there with him, “I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.” I did not sing loud and vigorously. I still needed to concentrate on driving, dark roads badly painted, water on the windshield and on the road, and other traffic (including a truck behind me with its bright lights shining off my mirrors). Besides, I did not want to call attention to myself on the highway at four in the morning of a national holiday—I didn’t feel like taking the time for a sobriety check. Softly, and with a skipped line here or there as I navigated a curse, I made my way back home.

Even as I type this now, the urge to continue singing “American Pie” is nearly irresistible. In fact, I know of only one way to break the pattern of “…and I knew if I had my chance, I could make those people dance….” My freedom comes from four simple words: “A three hour tour. A three hour tour.” J.