Before we knew, we knew. I am talking about the way we have been joking with one another about how addicted we are to our devices. South Korea, who embraced technology a decade before us, already has Internet Addiction camps that their youth attend. Instead of treatment for booze or drugs, it is rehab for the screens. For children. Internet and gaming addictions are widespread among those seeking mental health counseling for depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatry and Psychology lists Internet Addiction in the appendix “Conditions Requiring Further Study.” Our noses are pressed up against something, and still we refuse to acknowledge what it is that is right under those very same noses.
How can this be? How can something so life-altering be directly in front of us without garnering our recognition of it? In a word, denial. Wherever we find addiction, we find denial, the king of all the defense mechanisms. This is the vehicle through which we refuse the reality that stands before us. Denial takes many forms, some obvious, some more subtle and slippery. There is the way we will wiggle out of the recognition by finding ways to justify our choices. There is the way we will acknowledge something as problematic while simultaneously slipping away from that acknowledgement. It is there in the way we say this is how it is and there is nothing we can do. And it is there in the way we downplay how much it is impacting us. The “funny” thing is though that when we look at a psychological definition of denial, it is an unconscious defense against experiencing unbearable pain. Amidst our great celebration of all things screen, we are suffering terribly. Despite how things look on the surface, the underneath tells a different story. This pattern is always present with addiction, and its henchman denial.
One of the most profound things I ever heard come out of a teacher’s mouth was, “What is real in this moment?” Not how you want it to be. Not how you were told it should be. Not what keeps things smooth with others. But how is it, really? It takes great courage and determination to look at life squarely without backing off or twisting away. It takes great presence and discernment to see the truth as opposed to colluding with a kind of mass denial that keeps us feeling more at home by being addicted right along with those around us. It’s more comfortable this way because we are not alone. This way there is no rub or challenge to the status quo. This way we get to leave the responsibility for our lives and that of our children’s in the hands of something else. Only through looking will we know how to proceed, will we know when our lives have gotten off track, will we know when we are lying to ourselves..
Here is a real denial-busting question to ask of yourself: “Do you think that on your last day you will lament that you did not have enough time in front of a screen?” No? What is it then that you will lament?