Our computer is almost never turned off. There it sits on the dining room buffet with its white pulsing light and its quiet hum. It is always there for us when we need it.
And when we don’t.
It is a laptop and is always accessible. Checking email, browsing the Internet or looking through old photos can be done anywhere in the house at anytime of the day or night.
That is the beauty of technology. And the beast.
I rely on the computer for my writing—typing documents, posting to blogs, and promoting my work on Facebook, Twitter and via email. I use the computer to look for jobs, connect with potential work contacts, and send resumes and follow up emails.
I literally could not function without the computer. It is vital for much of what I do and who I am.
But not all of what I do and who I am.
There are countless evenings when I sit down in front of the computer and read the same soccer stories over and over again, or repeatedly check my blog stats, or look to see if there’s going to be a change in the weather. I don’t need to do these things, yet I do them regularly and habitually.
Instead of reading a book, I’m on the computer. Instead of chatting with my wife, I’m on the computer. The laundry sits unfolded because I’m on the computer. Many nights I stay up far too late because I’m on the computer.
I crave the computer and loathe that I crave the computer. It has become the cure-all to even the slightest bit of boredom and first signs of laziness. I rarely seek other medicines any more.
But more destructive than spending idle time on the computer in the evenings after hours is when I am on the computer in the same addictive fashion during the day when I am with my kids.
I know my kids don’t get the full attention they deserve because I’m constantly going over to the computer to do some unnecessary mundane task. It’s not that I don’t want to hang out with my kids all day. I do. It’s just that they are at the age—two year old twins—when they constantly want my attention, yet aren’t able to engage in activities that keep my attention for long periods of time.
Yes, I get bored sometimes. And I look for opportunities to break away and let them play by themselves. After all, there are two of them, and there is only one of me. I just want a few minutes’ break before we move on to the next activity.
But sometimes those few minutes turn into a few more minutes and then into a few more minutes. And this repeated breaking away adds up to quite a bit of time being on the computer throughout the course of the day.
And almost every time, those breaks are met with screams and cries from my kids. I could rationalize all I want about my need for short breaks and the reasons why they won’t let me take them. But the bottom line is my kids want to be with their daddy, and when daddy’s constantly breaking away to the computer, that is time that we are not spending together.
This morning—a Sunday—I woke up and went over to the computer and turned it off. I didn’t check email. I didn’t browse the web. I just shut it down. And even though turning the computer back on and booting it back up take only a few short moments, those moments seem like years compared to the immediacy of when the computer is already on. And that lack of immediacy is enough to deter me from turning the computer back on.
The difference in my morning was clear to see. My kids got their daddy back. I was engaged with them, and they were less whiney. And, you know, I didn’t really miss the computer.
I think I’m going to start doing this more often.
This post originally appeared at GoodBlogs on March 13, 2011.