Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tuesday Introspective - Internet Addiction

Article at CNN.com, Monday, September 17, 2007

"BEIJING, China (AP) -- A man in southern China appears to have died of exhaustion after a three-day Internet gaming binge, state media said Monday. The 30-year-old man fainted at a cyber cafe in the city of Guangzhou Saturday afternoon after he had been playing games online for three days, the Beijing News reported. Paramedics tried to revive him but failed and he was declared dead at the cafe, it said. The paper said that he may have died from exhaustion brought on by too many hours on the Internet…China has 140 million Internet users, second only to the U.S.. It is one of the world's biggest markets for online games, with tens of millions of players, many of whom hunker down for hours in front of PCs in public Internet cafes. Several cities have clinics to treat what psychiatrists have dubbed "Internet addiction" in users, many of them children and teenagers, who play online games or surf the Web for days at a time. "

So I read this article late last night and was shaking my head in disbelief, combined with smug complacency of my own moral self-righteousness when all of a sudden it hit me, I had been on and off the internet all day long. As my youngest would say, "Uh oh." What's going on? Am I addicted to the internet? I puzzled this and did some research and came to a conclusion. My short answer is No. My long answer is what follows below.

Last week, my Tuesday Introspection was on technology making us stupid, and here I am, adding addiction to its growing list of evils. Clearly the internet can be addictive, but is Internet Addiction Disorder a real disorder? The disorder is still too new to be accurately documented and there is no real consensus from the professionals on whether it is or is not a true addiction. Some say that addiction to the internet is a destructive force in many addicts lives, causing them to lose touch with reality, jobs and families. Others say it is not a real addiction like alcohol or cocaine. The answer will still need some years of research to document, but in the meantime, there is definitely a growing cause for alarm.

"The Internet is unlike anything we've seen before," says David Greenfield, PhD, founder of the Center for Internet Studies (http://www.virtual-addiction.com/). "It's a socially connecting device that's socially isolating at the same time."

The recent death of the Chinese man is not the first. In 2005, a young South Korean man died after a marathon on-line battle simulation gaming session that lasted over 50 hours. He died of heart failure minutes after logging off at the insistence of friends. In 2002, two men died from internet gaming from 86 and 32 hours of non stop playing. In a July 3, 2007 article titled "Are gadgets, and the Internet, actually addictive?" it stated that in Asia, clinics have sprouted up to treat internet addiction. "One clinic director has estimated as many as 2.5 million Chinese suffer from the condition. (CNN.com, 2007)" It has become a global problem.

Internet addiction can also be very dangerous in that it can combine other addictions such as gambling and sex addiction. In the U.S., a growing number of therapists and inpatient rehabilitation centers are seeing an increase in onlineaholics. (New York Times, December 1, 2005, "Hooked on the Web") Dr. Hilarie Cash who runs an Internet/Computer addiction service center in the home of Microsoft, states that people who abuse the Internet are typically struggling with other problems like depression and anxiety. However, the "Internet's omnipresent offer of escape from reality, affordability, accessibility and opportunity for anonymity can also lure otherwise healthy people into an addiction." (NYT, 2005) Because the condition is not yet recognized by psychiatry as a disorder, it is not reimbursed by insurance companies.

"The Internet is for Porn, The Internet is for Porn.
Grab your d*ck and double-click for Porn, Porn, Porn!"
Lyrics form hit Broadway musical Avenue Q.

Pornography or Cybersex Addiction, is a sub-type of Internet addiction. The Center for Internet Recovery estimates that 1 in 5 Internet addicts are engaged in some form of online sexual activity (primarily viewing cyberporn and/or engaging in cybersex). Studies show that men are more likely to view cyberporn, while women are more likely to engage in erotic chat. In particular, sex addicts often turn to the Internet as a new and safe sexual outlet to fulfill their underlying compulsive habit. One patient claimed that her addiction ruined her marriage when she began researching sex for a romance novel she was writing. Swept into the world of chat room flirting, she became addicted to her online sexual relationships that eventually ended her marriage when her husband discovered her addiction. (http://www.netaddiction.com/)

The Internet is not itself addictive. It is always about the right circumstances and makeup of the individual person that causes the addiction. Technology has become an important and indispensable part of our lives, simplifying and diversifying our world. But like I stated in my post last week, we need to moderate our usage of the internet and our technological gadgets. Anything becomes problematic when it so engrosses our lives to the point of neglecting our real lives, jobs, families, responsibilities, etc.

Kimberly Young, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Center for Internet Recovery states that an Internet Junkie is "someone who is preoccupied with the Internet, hides or lies about their behavior, shows an inability to control their use, uses the Internet as a form of psychological escape, and continues to engage in the behavior despite the problems that it causes in one's life."

Clearly I am not addicted to the internet. Like most of us, I would rather interact with my children, travel, play tennis, cook or read a book then stay on the internet for hours at a time. Even my marathon session yesterday were periods of on-line activity over the course of a day as opposed to non-stop usage. But I must conclude that I could easily be addicted if I do not moderate my behavior.

And just as the concept of internet addiction gives me pause and heightens my perspective of my own internet proclivities, it also highlights how closely I will have to monitor my children's internet usage. All the studies indicate that teens are most susceptible to the lure of the internet and can be most addicted to it. In an article in the China Daily last year titled "Internet Addicts a Virtual Nightmare for Parents," it claimed over 2 million children and teenages under age 18 were addicted to the internet. One 17 year old teenager would go missing for days, holed up in an internet cafe and logged into his virtual world.

In the U.S., Dave Greenfield, a psychologist and assistant clinical professor at UConn, who conducted one of the first studies on Internet addiction, states that “I’ve seen young men and teenagers who are spending six, eight, 10, up to 14 hours a day at the computer. They’re playing computer games, eating their meals and even urinating into a bucket at the computer. It’s having a significant negative impact on their lives. Most people don’t realize the Internet can be addictive.”

In the 60's, parents worried that television was addicting their children. Now we as parents and mentors to the future generation must worry about how the internet is affecting the younger members of society. Moderation is always the key, but children have no understanding of how to moderate their behavior. It is up to the adults in their lives, not just parents, but grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers, friends, to point out the dangers of internet addiction.


Lisa said...

Great post! Wow, I didn't realize people were actually dropping dead in front of PCs. I am coming to the sad conclusion that I need to set some limits on my blogging to make more time for writing. It's all about time management, isn't it? If I wasn't reading and posting online, I'd be off hiding in the corner with a book or otherwise distracting myself from my day job, writing and housework :)

March to the Sea said...

I read an article a week or two ago about some game that you set up a false world and can make money and get married and stuff. The guy in the article plays 12+hrs per day. I think its called secondlife or something..sounds horribly addicting to me personally so I won't even google it.

Melissa Marsh said...

I really am not on the internet that much, save for when I need to research or do my blogging or check email. It's become a tool for me in a lot of ways - I pay my bills online, bank online, and stay in touch with friends. Since my friends have such different schedules than me, phone conversations are not do-able.

That being said, I am hyper-obssessive about checking my email. That is one thing I need to work on!

Patti said...

i love my internets...and it is like everything else. i hear there are dangers in eating too many candy bars at the same time too...

The Anti-Wife said...

This really made me pause and consider how much I'm on the net. I blog and read others, I do my banking and pay my bills, shop, e-mail, research, occasionally play games and often read the news. There are days when I'm probably on way too much. But there are days I'm not on at all and I don't feel deprived or the need to rush to the computer at the first opportunity to catch up. So I think I'm okay for now. I will be more aware of it in the future. Great post. Thanks!

Larramie said...

Human nature being what it is, we're all prone to doing more of what we enjoy. But does that define us all as addictive? Hardly!

There are those who will abuse anything -- including the Internet --, while the rest of us will use common sense.

Ello said...

None of us need an intervention! I don't worry about adults, we know how to use our common sense and be moderate. I just thought this was a thought provoking information especially cause I have kids and I always worry about the susceptibility of our children. They are still learning about common sense and moderation!

Josephine Damian said...

I predict that Internet addiction will be added to the Psychology's Diagnostic Manual when they release a new updated edition.

Back in the day when Bill Gates was asked to predict what he thought the Internet's role in society would be, he said: It will become society.

But I wonder what exactly did that Chinese guy die from? Dehydration? Surely you can go for more than three days without food.... Can not sleeping kill you? (There'd be a lot of dead college students if that were true...).

Ello said...

Hey Josephine,
The only thing it reported was that he died of exhaustion. I guess his body just gave out. Such a crazy way to go.

Church Lady said...

The bucket! That's what I'm missing!

My internet-addiction checklist:

TV remote control---check
cell phone---check
landline phone---check

What is missing is a pee bucket. Clearly, a market exists!

Sorry, I can be so juvenile. Great post, but I'm trying to visualize how I can pee, type, and drink coffee all at the same time.

Precie said...

Church Lady...I really didn't need that visual. LOL.

I'm probably online more than I should be.

And I probably communicate with my IRL friends more online than in real life (I hate the phone).

But I don't have a problem. I can stop anytime I want...