This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the first one for the letter I.
I hesitated to even write about this topic because it seemed so banal and self-evident. It also leads to some observations of myself that I’m not particularly proud of. But sometimes even the banal and self-evident things need to be acknowledged and the shame-inducing parts of oneself made public.
So let’s start with a statement that seems anything but exceptional: The Internet is one of the major influences on my spirituality. It’s where I go to find information from multiple sources, opportunities for exchange and debate, and like-minded people. It’s where I find words and images that express something I recognize, or something that I suddenly get when I see it, or something that I don’t quite understand but that still intrigues me. It’s how I keep in touch with most of my spiritually-inclined friends, especially the ones who live in different countries. In fact, it seems so much like the “natural” thing to do that I barely even realize how much spiritually-themed time I spend at the computer (which for me usually also means sitting at a desk since I don’t have a smartphone and don’t want one, either).
Partly that’s because so much of my life in general has moved into online spaces during the last fourteen years since I first got Internet access at home. I remember when the whole Internet seemed to be magic and only very few people used it, let alone put up their own content into the cloud (non-techy people barely had email accounts back then). Now, only ten or fifteen short years after some Pagan books had references to “cybershamanism,” examined online rituals that were typed out in text-based chat rooms, or printed edgy spells for the smooth running of software and hardware, all of this seem quaintly dated. The Internet isn’t a mysterious new space for the select few anymore, for the ones who can write code and understand how all the stuff works on the backend side of things. It’s extremely accessible for almost everyone, and it’s nearly everywhere (at least in industrialized countries). And that’s wonderful. Unless it’s not.
I feel very blessed that someone has created all these places where we can put our writing and images and videos and soundfiles for everyone to access without even needing a basic understanding of programming on either side. Not to mention that it’s all practically cost-free, if we assume that a computer and online connection are already in place. I deeply cherish the variety of voices I get to hear, even with my limitation of speaking only two Western languages, and how there is a lot less educational and financial privilege necessary to publish one’s experiences or opinions for everyone to read, look at, or listen to (please note that I said “a lot less,” not “no more”). It’s a blessing to be able to connect so easily and immediately to other people who – like me – are members of such small minorities that there are never enough of us to make a functioning local group where I live. It’s a blessing to be able to have access to this huge stew of opinions, facts, thoughts, experiences, and fantasies in the two languages I speak, and to add to it in my own ways. This sure beats being limited to what you find in the local library’s card catalogue with no one to talk to about what you read!
At the same time, this mass of available data makes it impossible to even keep up the illusion that I may be able to read everything relevant about a topic within this lifetime, partly because there is just so much that is relevant, and partly also because there is such a mass of crap to wade through until I find the worthwhile bits. The instant availability of information means there is no more need for patience, no forced reflection time until the next mouthful of input arrives, which often leaves me stuffed full with food for thought that will eventually be half-digested at best. The wonders of Internet communication make me feel intimately connected to those other people at those other monitors, as long as the technology is running smoothly – and abruptly disconnected from everyone when it’s not.
That’s something I only realized very recently when my Beloved said summed it up like this: “Your dilemma is that you’re at heart a group person but that you rarely ever find a local group that you can relate to.” That hit the nail so smack on the head that I cried with both the relief of being truly understood by this wonderful human I share my life with, and with the very real tragic of this dilemma. It’s true, I’ve ended up doing a whole lot of things on my own, simply because I haven’t been able to find people to do them with in a way that doesn’t require me to twist myself into something that’s not me anymore. And yet I still yearn for face-to-face contact that is not mediated by two monitors and several kilometers of cable (or whatever material is necessary to transmit wireless data).
But as soon as I turn off that cable connection, it’s as if a lifeline is cut. Then I suddenly have to face my loneliness again, my confusion, and my disorientation. And then I immediately want to log in again, because that’s – presumably – where the answers are when you first and foremost work through stuff by reading about it like I do. (Mind you, I acted the exact same way before there were computers in my life. I just existed on a much more limited diet of whatever input I needed at the time. A small handful of zines from overseas, one or two books, and a bunch of vinyl records and mix tapes from bands I’d never get to see play live saved my sanity for a surprisingly long time at least once. No, that wasn’t directly about spirituality, but I’m not sure if the separation of the spheres even makes sense here.). Sometimes I wonder if this already counts as an “online addiction.”
At the very least, the ease of online connections makes it less urgent to find and take care of my connections offline, to both humans and spiritual beings. I get lazy. Here are some things that happen more often than I’m comfortable admitting: Instead of practicing my spirituality, I’m reading about other people’s practice. Instead of going outside myself, I’m looking at pictures of gorgeous trees and wild skies online. Instead of welcoming silence and solitude as times where the stuff I read is digested, where new connections are made in my own mind, and where maybe even the possibility to experience new feelings exists, I’m avoiding them whenever I can.
And, not for the first time, I have to admit that it doesn’t do me much good to let these things happen. Not for the first time I’m wondering how to fulfill my need for connection and food for thought, how to allow myself the joy of wandering aimlessly through the Web and discovering interesting things at a hundred times the speed I did that in libraries when I was younger (and it is a tremendous joy indeed), and at the same time not let my online consumption replace my offline creation/action. Obviously, increasing my digitally disconnected time is the way to go. As is enduring and maybe even embracing the silence and solitude. And actively looking for people with whom to communicate about those things at least a little more directly than by typing stuff into a computer (remember phone calls, Cat?).
I also believe I shouldn’t beat up myself for the amount of my Internet use, even when I know I overdid it again. Because that won’t help. Still, it’s good to know a little better what it is about the Internet that draws me in so much. Because that tells me a lot about what I might want to look for elsewhere. Or what I might want to stop running away from. Because that thing might just be a huge chunk of my active spirituality.
And if anyone is now reminded of the last part of yesterday’s post, that’s not a coincidence…