Friday, October 23, 2009

Guest Blogger: For those in denial, know this affliction is real

Internet Addiction.

Quick! What thoughts just popped into your head? For most, the mere mention of it stirs denial. Denial so tenacious that if it were mixed with any other addiction, it would prove toxic if not lethal. Perhaps your life hasn’t been tainted with this wide sweeping modern ‘affliction’ that feigns as a modern ‘affection’? Or perhaps that warm fuzzy glow has already beguiled you! Read on if you dare…

For those of you in denial, know that this affliction is real. So real, that back in March 2008, the American Psychiatric Association finally decided to classify it as a disorder and include it in the forthcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
1) excessive use… loss of sense of time… neglect of basic drives

2) withdrawal… feelings of anger, tension, … depression when the computer is inaccessible

3) tolerance…the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use

4) negative repercussions: arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue
Sound like a horrible substance addiction? The article even continues to cite deaths stemming from internet use, and things like high relapse rates from recovering addicts. Still think internet addiction is a big joke?

But what really lies at the belly of the beast here? When people subscribing to Playboy and Penthouse spend countless hours viewing explicit images of women au naturel, we don’t say, “Oh he’s (she’s?) addicted to magazines." We say they’re addicted to pornography. Just as we wouldn’t say drug users are addicted to bongs, pipes, and syringes; they’re addicted to a substance.

That takes the concept of internet addiction to a whole new level. It is a universal delivery platform for everything the world over. It provides everything that drugs, caffeine, and cigarettes do, and then some. Pick your substance, any substance. And at the core, it provides a temporary (or permanent depending on your level of use) escape and/or release from the stresses of everyday life.

The internet provides a similar escape/release, but also brings into play virtual realities, endless musings and rants of friends and colleagues, and instantaneous answers to any of life’s questions. It provides on-demand entertainment and interaction with people farther than your neighborhood. It provides information that even the largest libraries would revel at. Is it the internet’s fault for making this possible? Is it the internet we are really addicted to? Or is it home videos, chatting, googling, gaming, information seeking?

The internet also promotes procrastination, without really being procrastination. Yes, the internet is a distraction from the duties of the ‘real’ world; but is it so wrong to laugh, engage in great (debatable?) conversations with friends, or become versed in new things that intrigue you the moment that you want to learn about it? And what’s so bad about playing a quick game of web Sudoku between those long hours of writing and researching for that deadline project at work (or your friend’s blog)?

As with any addiction, it really boils down to self-control, and in the case of the internet that means being able to balance and moderate your time between your responsibilities and your time spent with your escape of choice (mine, for the last 15 minutes or so: That is much harder to do with the internet because of our lack of awareness of time's passing. It’s all too easy to get sucked into that comforting glow of alternate reality.

As hopeless as the affliction/affection (afflection?) seems, there is still promise for recovery. For the bargain price of $15,500 ($200 app fee, $800 interview fee, and $14,500 program fee), you can spend 45 days at the recently opened reSTART, located in Fall City, Washington, and be cured. Its 45-day program involves outdoor activities and interaction with animals that inhabit its 5-acre grounds. I wonder if attendees find comfort in the fact that in a 15-minute drive, they can arrive at Microsoft’s headquarters in nearby Redmond, Washington?

In the end, I am intrigued, anxious, and scared, all at the same time, for RP’s venture into the world without internet. What will be her new escape? What new hobbies will she undertake? And the big question, how much will it affect her productivity? Will it be positive or negative? Is one year too long? I’m as anxious as you to observe the side effects of her abstinence.

Marcus Murphy has been using a computer since he was 5 and building them since he was 14. His new startup is The Chic Geek, a computer services company (site under construction). Reach him at murph dot meister dot 32 at gmail dot com.

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