On May 9th I mentioned a number of half-written posts I had and asked which ones I should make into full posts. The answer seemed to be "all of them, why not?" so here's the first. I'm not entirely happy with it, but it's the most complete one of the lot, and I'm not having a great time for concentration at the moment so bah, it'll do.
While aimlessly reading through the BBC Magazine Monitor's "100 things we didn't know last year", I came across this article.
Apparently more than one in eight adults in the (US) study were internet addicts. Signs of addiction include:
- Finding it hard to stay away from the Internet for several days at a time
- Often staying online longer than intended
- Having seen a need "at some point" to cut down on Internet use
- Attempting to conceal Internet use
- Using the Internet to escape problems or "relieve negative mood"
- Relationships suffering from excessive Internet use
Lists like this cover most forms of addiction. Just read the list above substituting "alcohol" or "heroin" or "gambling" or "bingeing on chocolate" for "Internet".
For the record, I freely admit to finding it hard to stay away from the internet for more than a day or two, and I come online to "relieve negative mood" - it's something I enjoy doing, in the same way as I enjoy a nice bath, or a cuppa with a friend. I'm "online" most of the time, most days, but while the computer and msn and so on are "online" I'm quite probably curled up on the sofa snoozing, or filling out a form, or tidying up around the flat. I do my computer-stuff in many short bursts rather than one long stint. I've never tried to conceal my usage, and I'm pretty certain my relationships haven't suffered - quite the opposite! I'm hazy on the idea of "non-essential use". If I order groceries online because it's easier for me than going to a shop, is that essential or not? If Steve plays an online game for half an hour to relax after a crappy day at work, is his relaxation essential? Is reading the news essential? Is contact with long-distance relatives essential?
Even if we get an idea of what is essential use and what is non-essential, but reasonable use, we then still end up on the same old cycle of trying to figure out at which point the use is defined as an addiction. Where's the line that makes it a problem, or possibly even a pathology?
It may partly depend on what the activity is. I know many people who like to read books. They wouldn't want to spend several days without reading a book. They become immersed in a book at bedtime and then realise it's 4am and they've been reading much longer than intended. They have realised they have more books than shelf-space and decided to get rid of a few. They read books to "escape from reality" or because it relaxes them, or cheers them up. But no one would dream of telling them they are addicts, or that they have a problem, or that they must empty their houses of books and from now on they can only read road signs. You just don't do that with Reading Books. Is it reasonable to do it with Using the Internet? Writing diaries is another one. If Samuel Pepys was alive today and writing his memoirs in daily blog form, would he be castigated as an internet addict with "compulsive behaviour issues" as these researchers put it?
It also depends to what extent the activity is taken. For instance, it is normal, even desirable behaviour to keep one's home clean. I also know people who like to take pride in keeping their houses neat and clean. Rather than "oh no, housework, it's got to be done but I wish I didn't have to do it," they actually quite enjoy tidying a room, putting things in the proper places, polishing the surfaces, fluffing the cushions and looking at the results with a sense of deep satisfaction. Then there are those who feel distinctly uncomfortable in an untidy room - people who come to your house for a cup of tea and can't help themselves from lining up your remote controls in order of size on the coffee table, or even say "I'll just rinse my cup out," and then start washing up your breakfast things from that morning. And then there are those who compulsively and constantly deep-clean everything. A friend of mine got burns on her legs at someone's house because she hadn't been warned to wipe the bleach off the toilet seat before sitting down - the householder in question reapplied the bleach several times a day. Few people would argue a statement that this last example shows signs of a problem. But at which point along the spectrum does the "problem" status apply?
I think perhaps the line between a hobby or interest, and an addiction, is when it has a real impact on other people. I'm having trouble imagining someone shoplifting their food and mugging people so that they can pay their line rental or get another couple of gig of bandwidth... but I can, for instance, imagine a child with a full nappy and an empty bottle sticking their fingers in sockets while their parent is at the other end of the house having "just one more f5", so maybe internet addiction isn't such an outlandish concept.
Hopefully someone will prod me before I get too sucked in.