Thursday, August 14, 2008

Internet Addiction

It has come to my attention, both in my practice, and in a recent review of results from a large survey, that many people are using the internet so much that other areas of their life are suffering.

For university students in particular, a high percentage of individuals report that their internet use is adversely affecting their grades.

The internet can gobble up time in numerous ways: if you are bored, you can find an endless stream of connections that can keep your mind absorbed with new tangents.

Many people use the internet to communicate with others. The internet can be a wonderful technological aid which fosters closeness, expands our community of friends and peers, etc. But it can also cause us to be so absorbed in the activity itself -- of talking to friends, or perhaps to strangers -- that hours of time pass by. Sometimes these hours are spent online when they might otherwise have been spent visiting a friend in person, doing a healthy activity outside, studying, etc. Sometimes these hours are spent in the middle of the night, instead of sleeping.

There are other addictive lures that may snag people's attention, including games, gambling, and porn. Perhaps all of these activities allow people to enjoy certain aspects of life with greater freedom and discretion. But they can be very addictive, in the sense that a relationship can be formed with the activity, at the expense of other life relationships (e.g. with other friends or loved ones, with work, with school, with other interests, with physical self care and exercise, etc.).

So I'm not saying that the internet is bad. But I encourage people to be careful not to be involved with a computer in an addictive way, in a way that is interfering with other life activities and relationships.

To some degree this is a cultural issue -- our modern culture is changing, and the computer is becoming increasingly a part of it. This may be integrated in a way that is healthy and part of a new "normalness", just as any new technological innovation changes behaviour and culture (from the invention of the wheel or of fire, to the printing press, to the automobile, to the TV, etc.). There are those who resist any cultural change, or pronounce it to be unhealthy. So the internet is here to stay, and I hope can remain an enhancement to our culture -- but we need to learn ways to participate in the culture in a way that is safe and healthy, and to be aware of its dangers (just as we need to be aware of the dangers of fire, wheels, or the automobile).

As a formal challenge, I encourage people to try a month without using the internet at all, and to assess how life is different during that time.

I have made a similar challenge to people about TV, to turn it off completely for a month, then to review any differences in the way they feel.

I recognize the irony that I am making these statements in a forum only available on the internet!

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