Are You Addicted to the Internet?

Addiction by Visibly Damaged
Addiction by Visibly Damaged
You know the scenario: a simple email check turns into three hours of Web browsing. Or, it’s already 5am but you tell yourself you’ll go to bed after watching one more video. And this isn’t something that happens once in a blue moon; instead, it’s become a weekly recurring pattern, ever since you got a Tumblr account or looked over to the videos on the right-hand side of a YouTube page. Is this internet addiction?
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Does internet addiction exist?

A 2012 survey by Web research firm comScore found that Canadians spend an average of 45 hours a month online, more time than anyone else in the world. Are Canucks afflicted with internet addiction? The answer depends on who you ask.

The American Medical Association doesn’t recognize internet addiction as a mental disorder. In its view, so-called Web addicts often suffer from other conditions such as depression, anxiety, or pathological gambling. Their condition affects how they use the internet, but there isn’t significant or persuasive evidence to classify internet overuse as its own unique disorder.

However, in countries such as South Korea, China, and United States, there are boot camps and treatment centres for Web addicts, who spend up to 17 hours a day online, missing work or school to catch up on sleep or stay glued to the monitor. These facilities focus on banning its participants from online activities and putting them through physical, team-building exercises that strengthen bonds with nature and fellow members while encouraging physical activity.

When is internet use too much?

Addicted to the Internet by Michael Mandiberg
Addicted to the Internet
by Michael Mandiberg
Whether it’s considered a mental disorder or not, there’s definitely a line where Web surfing goes from use to abuse. Broadly speaking, internet overuse becomes a problem when it affects your day-to-day life. It can go from missing work deadlines to getting fired from your job, from being detached in your personal relationships to causing breakups, from reckless spending to bankruptcy.

How else can you tell when the Web starts to take over your life? Case studies by psychologists describe individuals who feel:

  • Angry and anxious whenever they’re away from the Web
  • Relief, happy, excited, and more confident once back online.
  • A constant desire to log on when away from the computer
  • Not mentally present during face-to-face interactions.

If you have a little time to spare from all your surfing, try this popular internet addiction test. It asks some thought-provoking questions and scores your Web usage level.

Why is the internet so addictive?

What is it about the Web that makes it such a time thief, siphoning hours away from your days and nights with just a few seemingly innocent clicks?

Well, there’s the abundance of information that you can find on websites, blogs, and wikis. There’s just so much information online that any time a curiosity pops into your head, any time you have a nagging (trivia) question that’s itching to be solved, you can probably find the answer through a simple Web search. If you can get the answers to every little whimsical question and sub-question you can muster, why wouldn’t you indulge?

Internet Everywhere by Alex Proimos
Internet Everywhere by Alex
Proimos

The speed and ease of navigating this gigantic network further aggravates the problem. I have tested this observation myself: whenever I’m using a computer with a slow hard drive or connection speed, I get very impatient waiting for web pages to finish loading. Often I grudgingly decide the text or image isn’t worth my time and I close the browser; I’m off the internet. On a fast computer, however, it’s very tempting to keep clicking and opening tabs on new topics that pique your interests, topics that may have nothing to do with your initial search.

The accessibility of information once you’re online is so great that it creates a magnetic lure to keep clicking, keep opening, keep digging. It takes little time and effort to be gratified with the information you need (or don’t need), so why not keep going?

And when you do keep going, the hyperlinked nature of Web browsing leads to an endless succession of new distractions, capturing and recapturing your attention with every loaded graphic and heading. Whatever page you’re browsing or watching or listening to, there are probably dozens of links and images that seduce you to click and see what’s next, often before you’ve even finished taking in the current web page. It could be links to your favourite things, or links to things you’ve never thought of, but by its very design, the internet pulls you deeper into its network with every hyperlink you access, until you don’t remember why you landed on the page you’re currently staring at.

How can you stop internet overuse?

Over the years since the Web changed the world, it has morphed from an emerging technology with stratospheric potential to an ubiquitous presence that can be unhealthy and overwhelming. For those who want to control their Web usage, there are a few ways.

Offlining

Offlining is the most extreme, ‘cold-turkey’ method. Whether by an undisclosed login and password, by apps and programs that lock out internet connections, by removing the ethernet cable, or by heading to resorts and retreats that are specifically designed to be Web-disconnected, staying offline is a sure way to stop internet overuse. The catch, however, is that it’s basically impossible to stay offline permanently; so much of our work, social, and personal lives are intertwined with the Web that a perpetual online ban would be practically impossible or require a drastic lifestyle change, one which may not be realistic given the circumstances of your life.

Meditation

Meditation by Sebastien Wiertz
Meditation by Sebastien Wiertz
Meditation can be another great way to help manage constant internet use. The short-attention-span, instantly-gratifying nature of the Web can affect our focus, our ability to process information into knowledge, and our facility at thinking critically. Meditation trains the mind to strengthen focus and attention, ignore distractions, and calm nerves from incessant stimulation. This helps to balance your state of mind and possibly prevent overindulgent online behaviour.

At the end of the day, I also think it’s about setting goals and applying self-discipline. Is spending several hours looking up funny pictures or reading random opinions really worth delaying your life-long ambitions? Step back and examine how your internet use affects the big picture, i.e. your life. You can’t get back the time you’ve spent, but you can stop the next tab from loading.

More tips on controlling internet use

Want more ideas on keeping your time online productive rather than compulsive? Try these:

  • Set an timer for one to two hours when you go online. When the timer goes off, log off.
  • Set regular appointments with friends or join a club with regular meetings to give yourself fun things to do besides endless Web surfing.
  • Set one day a week as an ‘offline day’: no emails, no social networking, no internet use whatsoever. Don’t worry; the world won’t fall apart!

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