It seems as if I rarely go more than a couple of weeks without finding something in the news about another new survey on some aspect of marriage and family. One of the latest was sent to me in an e-mail last week. An article in the Washington Times reported:

In a new survey of 1,001 adults, 65 percent said they spent more time with their computers than their spouse or significant other, according to Los Angeles-based Kelton Research, which released the findings yesterday.

The computer/user “relationship” is intensifying, the survey found, noting that 84 percent say we’ve grown more dependent on our computers in the last three years. Harmony is not a built-in feature either: 52 percent of us take our computer’s failures personally, feeling anger, sadness or alienation if the computer did not cooperate or perform well. An additional 19 percent admitted they have wanted to strike their computers.

On one hand, I don’t think it should be too shocking that many of us spend so much time with our computers—after all, we work for hours each day and computers are a primary tool of the work place. But the survey does point to the remarkable way our lives have changed in the last decade. The rise of the internet has transformed our computers into a central hub for communication, research, shopping, media storage, and entertainment. The more we use the Internet, the more we depend on it.

Even apart from work hours, I suppose we would be surprised if we added up the total number of hours we spend on the computer (and on the web). According to the record on my home computer, in the last two days I totally ignored my wife, Merry, as I read newspaper and magazine articles, purchased a calendar, checked my bank account, and—in my never-ending pursuit of trivial information—looked up the results of the 1969 Minnesota state high school hockey final between Edina and Warroad.

Of course, Merry totally ignored me as she spent hours on the Internet looking up information on crafts, curtains, restaurants, and wedding preparations (our oldest daughter is engaged). She wrote dozens of e-mails, and visited a site with information about “Obagi skin care.”

When we spend so much time on computers, it’s understandable that we take computer failures personally. As one therapist noted in the Washington Times article, “As computers become increasingly pervasive in our lives, our relationships with them can begin to seem almost as important as a relationship with a significant other. When problems then occur with the computer, it often leaves people feeling frustrated or helpless.” I can relate—it doesn’t take much to get me frustrated. (“Why is this web page taking so long to download? I thought this was supposed to be high speed internet! This is inexcusable!”)

Though I speak a bit lightly about the internet, I am well aware of how many people disregard their families while spending hours looking up information, talking with people in chat rooms, and participating in fantasy games. And then there is online pornography, which damages families on an entirely different level.

As much as we enjoy the internet, it’s time for many of us to realize how easily this relatively new medium can consume us. It may seem odd to think that you can have a relationship with a computer, but that’s what it is. You need to decide if that relationship is more important than the one you have with your spouse.

And now I need to end this column and get off the computer. Merry wants to check her email.

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