Lately lots of people have been talking about Pinterest, another new form of social media and on-line interaction. Pinterest allows participants to explore and develop their interests in different topics — food, home decorating, body art, and the like — by “pinning” news articles, pictures, video, and other items to their “pinboard” for other people to see and comment upon. Family members and friends have used Pinterest to plan weddings and vacations, share their views on books and TV shows, and find special articles of clothing.
My Pinterest friends sound like they become almost obsessed with browsing other people’s “pinboards” and filling up their own with interesting and exciting content that reflects well on them. Similarly, we’ve all got friends who spend a lot of time posting things to Facebook, or blogging (guilty as charged), or playing fantasy sports, or doing the countless other social networking activities you can do on-line. This shouldn’t be surprising; the internet is a constantly changing, interesting environment that puts the whole world at your fingertips and allows for all kinds of communication. All of these nifty on-line interaction websites also can allow you to reconnect with high school and college classmates and faraway friends and keep track of how they are doing. But when does the attraction of the internet pull your home life out of balance, leaving you tapping out a Facebook message or chuckling at a YouTube video while your spouse or girlfriend or children or friends sit idle for hours? How do you strike a workable real life-virtual life balance?
People have always engaged in solitary activities, like reading a book or playing a musical instrument or jogging, but obsession with on-line activities seems to have special risks. Studies suggest that people who spend lots of time on-line often struggle with depression and sleep disorders and tend to neglect their need for physical activity and in-person social interaction. And, of course, the on-line world, with its anonymity and ability to create weird, fake relationships such as the one that has humiliated Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, involves all kinds of potential personal, financial, and criminal hazards that would never be presented by reading a library book or knitting on the sofa while your spouse watches a basketball game on TV.
We all need to figure out when to step away from the computer.