Swarmeena, a 22-year-old woman says, “Sad as it may seem, I can’t see myself living without the Internet. When I get home from college at 6:00 p.m., I take my coffee and head towards the computer. I’ll sit there just surfing the Net until about 12:00 a.m. most nights.
My relationship with friends and family is suffering as i no longer talk to them or spend time with them. I keep chatting with my online friends. I just can’t break the habit.”
If you are anything remotely like the above woman, then you’d better ask yourself these two questions: Are you obsessed with the computer? Do you find the Web irresistible?
If the answer to either of these is yes, the bad news is you may be an Internet or computer junkie. The good news is you aren’t alone.
It’s an understatement to say that the computer and the Internet have changed the way we live and communicate. We turn to our computers in search of information, and online friends rather than pick up the phone.
Many of us have more faceless, online friends than friends whom we have seen and know. Some of us shop over the Internet while others spend hours reading and chatting, playing games, or even looking for romance or matrimonial alliances.
However, unlike socially established addiction like addiction to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and TV, many are unaware of computer and Internet addiction.
Jeri Samson and Beth Keen, PhD, who run the Not My Kid Web site for Internet addicts, have this to say: The term “Internet addiction” actually refers to a broad range of behaviors. Researchers in the field have identified five different types of Internet addiction:
Net-Gaming: This doesn’t include just playing games online but also gambling in virtual casinos, e-auctions, and online shopping. This type of addiction can be expensive as these individuals may rake up charges on their credit card or create a hefty Internet phone bill.
Cyber-Relational Addiction: Online relationships in social media become more important than relationships with family and offline friends. Concerns that the individual may attempt to meet an online acquaintance in person should be serious, as there is no way of knowing who the person really is.
Information Overload: The amount of data available on the Internet is virtually unlimited. Some individuals may become obsessed with tracking down certain types of information and organizing it. Surfing the Web and conducting extensive searches of online databases may become an all-consuming activity, reaching obsessive-compulsive levels.
Computer Addiction: While not a true Internet addiction, computer addiction shares a lot of the same qualities. Computer games that can be played without access to the Internet can also become addictive to some individuals. This may also happen with games played on video game consoles such as PlayStation.
Cyber Sexual Addiction: Pornography is easily obtainable on the Internet. While a variety of parental control software has been designed to limit the types of Internet sites to which children can have access, a determined Internet user may get access to pornographic Web sites despite the use of the most sophisticated parental control software. Adolescents who have a cyber sexual addiction typically spend time viewing, downloading, or trading online pornography. They may also participate in adult fantasy, typically with members much older than themselves. These kids may even be enticed to send pornographic pictures or videos of themselves to other online users.
If you think only computer savvy or Net savvy individuals can become Internet junkies, you are wrong. It can be anyone who can access the Internet or computers.
Amutha, a 42-year-old housewife just can’t stop playing games on the computer. She says, “Hmmm, sitting in front of a computer screen for several hours each day? My husband and a lot of people sit in front of their TVs for similar amounts of time each night. My family complains but surely this can’t be as bad as their four-hour, no-interruption serial- and sports-mania where they aren’t even using their brain.”
Sudar, a 15-year-old who took to his new computer like fish to water. His parents were extremely proud that he could do so many things they couldn’t. They noticed things were wrong only when he started refusing to go to school and would spend his time playing computer games at night instead of sleeping. Today, Sudar is a dropout and his parents are trying to get him back into school.
How Much Is Too Much?
When does an interest become a passion? When does a passion become an obsession? And when does an obsession become dangerous to the point of needing intervention?
Dr. Alan Auerbach, author and psychology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada, replied, “We can’t say, because the answers are judgment calls that depend on context. For instance, spending five hours a day connected to the Internet (as I’m doing right now) could be positive and productive for one person, and disruptive, costly, and even life-threatening (when used to meet people) for someone else. While the same could be said for playing games, watching television, and even exercising, the Internet holds perils not seen in other activities. It allows the user into a world that not everyone can cope with. A world of information that may or may not be accurate, of people who may or may not be what they claim, and of offers that may or may not be legitimate.”
The Harvard Medical School’s Computer-Addiction Services identifies the following as symptoms of computer or Internet addiction:
- Having a sense of well-being or euphoria while at the computer
- Being unable to stop the activity
- Craving more and more time at the computer
- Neglecting family and friends
- Feeling empty, depressed and irritable when not at the computer
- Lying to family and friends about activities
- Having problems with school or work
- Carpal tunnel syndrome (hand numbness and pain)
- Dry eyes
- Migraine headaches
- Eating irregularities, such as skipping meals
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Sleep disturbances and changes in sleep patterns
Why Taken Seriously?
There is a very wide range of behavior that might be considered addictive, and not all of it is necessarily harmful. The positive benefits derived from the pleasure of the addiction need to be weighed against the negative effects it may have on the rest of a person’s life. It’s clearly negative if the Internet use becomes obsessive, causing financial, emotional, social, health, or marital problems.
When asked if this addiction can cause emotional disorders, Dr. Alan Auerbach replied, “As with all addictions, it’s hard to state a straight-line connection. Someone obsessed with making money, for instance, might be happy and productive only when doing so. Whereas someone equally obsessed with a movie star might feel distress and seek treatment when others deem this to be inappropriate [behavior]. Moreover, how do we separate the addiction from the secondary effects? For instance, one gambling addict becomes suicidal when all the money is gone; whereas another, who gambles only â€˜on paper,’ writes books on the theory of probability. A common concern with computer addiction is that it’s antisocial.”
Computers have become essential to our daily lives and it is up to us, the users, to determine if we wish to be addicts or not.
Nevertheless, if you or someone you know is an Internet addict, remember, you need to stop living in denial and seek help. You can find help online or with help of family and “real” friends, make a conscious choice to change. The Internet makes our planet truly a small world but just make sure that this wonderful tool to bond us doesn’t become bondage.
- Computer Addiction Services Details symptoms, evaluation techniques, and ways they might be helped.
- The Center for Online Addiction
- Recognizing Internet Addiction in Children
This article is from Science’s archive and we’ve originally published it on an earlier date.