After diving down an internet rabbit hole for the seventeenth time today, I fell across an article about internet addiction. Could this be a real thing? Are people really addicted to the internet? It is just a tool for work, with some sidebar entertainment, right? Well, actually it is a lot more serious than you’d think.
Here’s the scary thing; a Stanford University psychiatrist with a focus on addictive medicine commented in a piece for NPR that internet use can match the pattern for alcohol and drug abuse. That makes internet addiction a real thing.
Stages of Addiction
Addiction has a range of recognizable phases. At first, the user starts with intermittent recreational use. Before long this turns into daily use and before long there are consequences of use and it is at this stage there can start to be problems.
What is consequential use?
This sounds technical but isn’t really, it just refers to the effects of the usage. After a night’s overindulgence on the red wine, the following day you might have a hangover. That is consequence number 1. If it makes you late for work, that’s number 2. If you do this on a regular basis you have three consequences; you’re hungover, you’re late and someone is counting how often you’re late.
Consequences of internet addiction
It is a surprise that being glued to your phone can have these effects, but think about it. Family dinner now becomes a silent ritual as everyone looks at their phone. People on the street walk into each other, or worse into a car, because they are looking at a screen.
It all seems a little reactionary and panicky until you realize you check your phone over dinner, you don’t go anywhere without it and you believe you’re not addicted.
It follows a classic pattern. Staying up all night, dysfunctional relationships and absenteeism all hurry down, one after the other and then there is a problem.
Here’s the problem. At this point defining the problem is the issue. If you have a proclivity to gamble, is it your gambling habit that has you online all day, or is it your online habit making you gamble all day?
Gambling is a good analogy. When you’re playing a slot machine, you lose most of the time but every now and again you win. In internet terms, you do ordinary stuff, but then every now and again you find something that fits with you and the desire for the reward keeps you coming back time and again.
Tech companies want our attention
The tech companies need us tethered to phones and devices because it’s their route to income. The more time spent on Facebook and Instagram the more time you can be part of the huge data mining activity which (if you want to believe conspiracy theories) can influence elections and change the president.
Just as with any addiction, the first step in overcoming it is recognizing the problem. The internet is here to stay. Let’s face it that there is an addiction problem so we can figure out how to deal with it.