Two years ago I wanted to write an article about my friends who were addicted to their computers. I am glad I didn't, because now I have fallen into a black hole on the internet, where I get stuck for hours.
After the move to Mérida, I lived without internet during renovation. When friends came to visit, their internet-addicted behavior was obvious to me. When I finally got my cable connection it was intermittent at best. During the 'unavailable' intervals I noticed my visiting friends would freak out. They had people in chat rooms to keep up with or hundreds of emails to answer, and spent more time in virtual reality than they did in reality. I thought it strange to travel all the way to the Yucatán for vacation and spend so much time sitting in the house staring at a computer. Eventually I'd drag them outside and we'd walk into El Centro, dance in the street, have a cold drink, or drive to the beach. They always managed to pull away from the cyberspace magnet for a while, anyways.
I've been "computerized" since the early 90's and I spend my share of time online. I write long rambling emails, these blogs, frequently check the news and weather, and do lots of research. But I've never felt addicted to the computer - be it a chat room, email, skype, games - until recently, that is...over the past year.
It started when Pablo showed me Plant Tycoon. I never liked arcade games, but I like pretty flowers. Somehow I got lost in my imaginary nursery, cross-breeding imaginary seeds. It was insane. I spent hours and hours trying to find all of the magic plants from the fabled island of Isola! I've always felt guilty when playing. I feel like I am just wasting my time away. For me time is very valuable and I get mad at myself when I am just pissing it away.
I closed the game for good after a few crazy weeks....but still.....WEEKS???
Once I ended the Plant Tycoon marathon I finished writing the book I'd been working on for two years. All 185,000 words were reviewed, rewritten and typed into the computer. I got as lost in my work as I did the game. And though the lesson I learned was that the book is but a very rough first draft, I don't feel like the time I devoted to it was wasted. And blogging is mostly journaling, and it is still writing, so I don't feel I am wasting time here either.
A few months ago I received email invitations from several friends to join Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other such sites. When I signed in, practically everyone in my email address book popped up as a potential Facebook friend. I was immediately referred to THEIR friends and the whole thing snowballed. All of a sudden I was reviving all kinds of old yet still cherished friendships. Before I knew it I was sucked into scanning madness with one old friend and found myself scouring photo albums for fun or funny photos to publish from our past. That was fun, but I was hooked! I had to stop the scanning madness, and I had to stop opening Facebook.
Things went from bad to worse when someone invited me to Farmville. I now have a huge farm and I am addicted to it. While waiting for crops to grow one day, I saw an ad for another game. I entered YoVille and now I work in a bakery and live in an apartment with no toilet facilities. While waiting for imaginary pies to bake, I accidentally went over to Café World. Now I also own and operate a corner diner. I've been completely sucked into the Black Hole of the Internet in Facebook. I've noticed it is a common syndrome. It is without doubt an illness.
I hope the first sign of a recoverable addict is recognizing the addiction. I stopped playing long enough to write a thirty page outline on a new topic I want to write about...a fun and light theme. I decided to let Jim's Nightmare sit a while longer on the back burner. I'll get it right when the time is right. And honestly, I have a few items about Panamá almost finished.
I know the back of my mind is writing when I am playing a game up front. It's just that OTHER more creative outlets seem healthier. I could be finishing a sewing project or making jewelry, something with more than a virtual outcome. But no! Waiting for artichokes to grow and chickens to roast....
I am weaning myself off the Facebook games by cooking the slowest dishes and growing the slowest plants. I'll only have to check the farm, cafe and bakery once every few days to ease myself out, and then just cut it out completely. Since I found myself goofing off too much, I have been making an extra effort to carry a notebook around and always write my fleeting thoughts. I hope this little addiction is the precursor to a great masterpiece! Or at least something productive....and not virtual. There is always hope, and of course the delete button.