November 14, 2006

"The Internet is an environment. You can't be addicted to the environment."

That's one position. The other is that internet addiction is a big problem:
"The Internet problem is still in its infancy," said lead study author Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist and director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford. No single online activity is to blame for excessive use, he said. "They're online in chat rooms, checking e-mail every two minutes, blogs. It really runs the gamut. [The problem is] not limited to porn or gambling" Web sites....

Excessive Internet use should be defined not by the number of hours spent online but "in terms of losses," said Maressa Hecht Orzack, a Harvard University professor and director of Computer Addiction Services at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., founded in 1995. "If it is a loss [where] you are not getting to work, and family relationships are breaking down as a result around it and this is something you can't handle, then it's too much."

Since the early 1990s, several clinics have been established in the United States to treat heavy Internet users. They include the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, in Bradford, Pa., and the Connecticut-based Center for Internet Behavior....
Uh-oh, I'm sensing convoluted recovery-movement styles of deploying power. I'm siding with the guy who says you can't be addicted to an environment.

(Bonus gripe: I've had it with "Caught in the Web" as a headline for articles about the internet.)

ADDED: La Shawn Barber has this post on internet addiction... with lots of comments.

AND: Eugene Volokh raises the alarm about an even more widespread problem: Communication Addiction! All I can say is that I take some solace in our society's brilliant success at stemming the spread of Thinking Addiction. This rare but distastrous disease can be hard for friends and family to detect as the sufferers may appear to be doing nothing at all or to be engaged in some relatively innocuous activity such as walking or doodling. These addicts fall prey to a dangerous sense of well-being or euphoria; they crave more and more time to think, often to the exclusion of family and friends; they may feel empty, depressed or irritable if they don't have time to think; often they lie to employers and family about activities -- e.g., "What are you thinking about?" "Nothing."; they have trouble stopping thinking; and this thinking may even interfere with school and work.


Nasty, Brutish & Short said...

This from someone who takes the laptop to bed?

Not that I'm criticizing--I'm addicted too.

Ann Althouse said...

Would you say the same about a book?

Larry said...

I love the Internet. I'd be so bored without it. I'm retired and without the Internet, I'd have little to do, especially in the winter. The Internet is a boon for "seniors". Read all manner of things, with ease, in any size type you want.

Thank you Al Gore! :)

aggiepundit said...


What is the "convoluted recovery-movement styles of deploying power" reference"?

I'll take a stab: there's a book out there criticizing the recovery movement, that I have not yet read. Am I right?

Nasty, Brutish & Short said...

Clever, Ann! No wonder you're the law prof. I was about to respond with, "Only if it was the same book, over and over again every night."

But of course the internet is not the same book every night.

The addiction, though, is to the constant need for new information and mental stimulation. It's very different from a book, where you focus on the same story for 200+ pages. With the internet, one is constantly clicking to something new, the very second things starts to get dull.

SWBarns said...

Is it a bad sign that I have checked the comments four times?

So far.

Cornelius said...

Would you say the same about a book?

No, but would you say the same thing about TV?

Anonymous said...

Those who criticize 'internet addiction' should try living in the US outback. Here, we have one newspaper full of AP and Reuters, and we all know the value they present. And when I grew up here there were only two TV stations, unfortunately including Dan Rather.

The internet provides an exposure to a real world in an otherwise intellectually barren wilderness.

And those people think they're educated.

TMink said...

OK, the recovery INDUSTRY is an outshoot of a SELF-HELP group that has helped millions. The INDUSTRY and the groups are not the same. The industry, like any industry, seeks to increase their market share. That is how you grow profits, it is the capitalist way.

But it is important for us as consumers to differentiate between the self-help movement that has helped millions and the industry that has made billions.


TMink said...

I read the original article, linked in LaShawn's (great) blog. The key sentence says that one in 8 people contated in the phone survey had admitted to one of the criteria for an addiction. (my paraphrase.)

It takes around 6 criteria to classify behavior as an addiction. So a correct reading is that one in 8 meet one in 6. Not so impressive when you crunch the numbers.

Yet, folks can avoid their responsibilities and cause problems for themselves in a myriad of ways. Internet, sure; Church, uh-huh; Recovery meetings, absolutely, coffe shops, you bet. Pick your poison.

A more interesting question to my way of thinking is if there is anything inherently addictiong about internet use. Alcohol and certainly cocaine have clearly understood addictive neurological pathways. Porn to (the Buzzcocks' Orgasm Addict is playing in my mental ipod as I type this.)

Now I really enjoy your blog and the comments section, Dr. Helen's too. But I have not SOLD anything to access and read what you are saying or who is trashing my comments.


RPD said...

I am reminded of the robot in the movie "Short Circuit" rolling into a library shouting "INPUT! INPUT!"

Jonathan said...

Do you suppose that a "director of Computer Addiction Services at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass." might have a stake in perpetuating the belief that "computer addiction" is a problem?

The main question about addiction isn't about what you are addicted to. It's about whether your behavior gains you more than it costs. In the case of, say, alcohol addiction, it's clear that for many people the costs far outweigh the benefits. In the case of computer use the situation is much less clear, since people use computers for many purposes and many of these purposes are productive. If you use a computer incessantly to play games and avoid your work and family, then maybe there is a problem. But that is much different from using your computer all day because it makes you more productive in your job and helps you to stay connected to family who live far away. Would anyone say that a carpenter is addicted to hammers?

dick said...

The bit about the TV is probably true. My next door neighbor is a 60+ year old heavy equipment operator. His TV is never turned off. When he goes to work he just leaves it on. he comes home, puts on his dinner, watches TV until it is ready, dished it up, goes back to the TV and eats, falls asleep, wakes up, switches channels about every 3 minutes. I have never seen him go out anywhere. Everything other than work for him is spent in front of the TV. Doesn't matter what is one, he watches.

I do think there is a form of addiction to surfing the internet but then the question becomes how much is it addiction and how much is it being interested in learning new things or interest in the thoughts of someone you would disagree with on any subject. If you are surfing the internet just to fill time that is different from surfing the internet to learn things and then how is the disinterested onlooker to know which is the reason for the surfing?

RebeccaH said...

The internet is my connection to the world. I'm retired, not in good health, and can't trust the newspapers or TV anymore, especially as there's no way to respond to them. So, if I'm addicted, it is no worse an addiction than that of people who talk on the phone all the time, or watch TV all day, or join social clubs so they can gab with friends.

Meade said...

My name is Meade, and I am an Internetaholic.

I used to be addicted to finding information at my public library. Now I'm addicted to finding information over the Internet on the computer at my public library.

In addition, I'm addicted to the emotional intimacy I share with my family, friends, and labrador retriever. How do I know this? Because I begin to crave that intimacy after being separated from them whenever, for example, I realize that my public library closed three hours ago and I've been locked in for the night.

Shanna said...

I think maybe it is more like being obsessive compulsive than addiction. You have to check the same sites, you have to see what new posts are there, etc...

Maybe that's splitting hairs, but it's not the same as addiction to alcohol or cigarettes where there is a physical need.

I suspect the people who they are calling addicted are more compulsive. And I base that on absolutely nothing :)

Anthony said...

And I base that on absolutely nothing

Technically, that should be referred to as "A study I read in The New England Journal of My Ass". Heh.

I've seen people not only walking and reading books by RIDING A BICYCLE and reading books. That's bizarre.

It's more OCD in my book. I've known people to go bonkers over their fantasy baseball leagues, long before the Internet made that activity more easily available. My old roomie would actually take trips to Chicago to participate in a 3-day "draft".

I guess the whole "addiction" language only becomes kinda useful when the activity starts costing more money or severely hurting the rest of your life. In that sense, I think it's akin to a physical addiction.

Anthony said...

Errrr, that sentence should read "walking and reading books BUT".

This thing needs an editor.

Anonymous said...

(cue Satie's Gymnopedies )

Do you suffer from a curiosity about other people and places? You're not alone. Before, all you could do was read blogposts with "ever" always spelled incorrectly, and photoshop Hitler moustaches on Republicans and post them on Fark.

But now, there's hope. With intense therapy, you too can once again become totally self absorbed.

Call Doctor Aboutjamoney at the toll free number, and if his tarot readings aren't running late, he'll diagnose your bank problem right over the phone -- the phone which, like the television, is never a problem; it's just that nasty internet that's unhealthy for your little braincase.

Operators are standing by; probably surfing the internet and eating Pringles. Call now!

Internet Ronin said...

Once again, Sippican Cottage speaks truth to power! Touche & LOL!


Shanna said...

I've seen people not only walking and reading books by RIDING A BICYCLE and reading books.
Hee. I get that way about books to a certain extent. Not the bicycle, but I absolutely get compulsive. I read one book by an author that I like and it's in a series? Forget the next week as I buy every book in the series and spend all my free time reading.

But like I said, it's compulsion, not addiction. When the series is over I go back to tv or internet or the bar. Usually you're just substituting one entertainment with another, so who cares?

Stephen B. said...

I'm writing a paper for a senior level polisci class responding to Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" and subsequent works. My prompt was this: Is American democracy at risk of collapsing because we are increasingly "bowling alone." ['Bowling alone,' if you are not familiar, is a term often used to describe the loss of social capital over the past few decades.]

I'm thinking of saying (in my paper) that we aren't really 'bowling alone,' but rather are just bowling with a different team--our internet friends. The studies that I've read that show a decrease in social capital don't even ask about internet communications and organizations (like those of us who regularly commune in these comments).

So what do you guys think? I'll use you as my peer reviewers. Are we really bowling alone, or are we just socializing elsewhere--out there in the ether?

Pogo said...

I read while walking all the time, mainly because the street traffic is so terrifying, I just can't look.

One additional trick: I can jot notes and underline in books while walking. Ta Daaah!

Rowena Hullfire said...

I think you're on to something, stephen b. Good idea for the paper.

Agree w/bw about the outback. I live in the Appalachian outback, since 1994, and have had internet access since 1995. I don't think I would have lasted here otherwise.

I crave mental stimulation, new ideas, reading, etc., and the internet is a great way of getting that mental stimulation. I won't make any sexual innuendo jokes here but leave that up to the fertile imagination of the reader.

Blogs are particularly cool because it's information filtered through personality, and the ones I read have a regular commentariat whom I enjoy greatly. I post comments, as if someone cares what I think, but self-expression still counts even if no one is listening. The tree falling in the forest makes noise even if there's no one there to hear it.

The internet is an environment? I disagree. If you think that, you need to look up, let your eyes readjust, and see the objects in the room, the color of the walls, the paintings, the plants, the rug, the couch...there, that's your environment. The internet is just a little screen. Perhaps a mental environment, but not an actual one.

Jim O'Sullivan said...

How much of your readership do you owe to internet addiction? I, for one, am here only because I am an addict. This post is like one of those tobacco company ads that say you should stop smoking.

Anonymous said...

Well me an addict if you will. This is a great post here...I could not agree more! Dedicated to inform the public on relative issues. Keep up the great work!

Ann Althouse said...

Reading while walking... I used to do that all the time. Now I use my iPod to listen to books while walking. It's much safer and I'm less likely to get mad at the sidewalk bicyclers.

Anyway, I mainly dislike all the addiction talk... especially when it's tied to the idea that you need to stop and you need professional treatment. I think it's fine to do the things that you're passionate about. The internet is mostly about reading and thinking (at least it is for me). I think that living at that level is admirable. The question is what does it take the place of? If it takes the place of watching TV, going to the movies, playing video games, and reading things written on paper, I really don't see what the problem is. If it takes the place of paying attention to people you share a home with, you need to pay attention to the time you're spending on it... but it's exactly the same problem you'd have with TV or reading.... and no one ever tries to make you get professional help for that.

Bruce Hayden said...

Overall, I agree with Ann's sentiments. But then I look back over the last six months and see what I have not accomplished that I should have, and a lot of the blame can be placed on my use of the Internet, and, in particular, blogs.

This became obvious to me a couple of days ago, as I got back on skis for the first time this year, and found that I was not in the type of shape that I try to be in at the beginning of the ski season. My legs are still cramping a bit, two days later. It will soon pass, and I will be back where I want to be by the end of the year. But it is worse this year than it has been since I moved back to Colorado four years ago.

The other thing that I find I have slid on is reading books. Back when I was traveling a lot back and forth to CO every other week, I was reading between one and two books a week. Now, it is closer to a couple a month. On the other hand, I traded fantasy and science fiction (mostly) for what passes for reality here - and have discovered an interest in history. Indeed, I have read more history books in the last year than I had in the previous 20.

GPE said...

Years ago I submitted this letter to Click and Clack - the Car Talk Guys - addressing the issue of "Thinking Addiction." It made their "Best Of" list and was a modified version of something that had been floating around in email form for many years before that.

Like for Click and Clack, maybe my story will help others suffering from TA.

Meade said...

Great letter, GPE!

Now I've got to get out of here for a while. Wouldn't want to be the one to hit Ms. Ann's site meter for 6,666,666.

Maybe someone could kindly e-mail once it passes.

Meanwhile, I'll just go somewhere and bowl alone.

Internet Ronin said...

If this be addiction, might as well make the best of it (which is why I am here and not elsewhere ;)

A lot of people are making money off this idea, and I predict even more will be making even more money. I can't wait for the "internet addiction recovery center" ads to start popping up on television (replete with Pachlabel's Canon playing softly in the background).

No doubt, re-programming will entail reclining in a barcalounger watching mindless drivel on television for hours at a time.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mortimer Brezny said...

The internet is mostly about reading and thinking (at least it is for me).

I thought it was about adopting an alternate persona and YELLING at others.

Ann Althouse said...

About laptops in bed and "clotting up" the ventilation holes with the bedclothes: I checked my laptop, and the open lid is below the ventilation holes, positioned in a way to hold down any soft material that might tend to bulge up and block the holes. So I am not worried about this... even though I do sometimes fall asleep with the laptop right on my lap... only for a few minutes. I turn the laptop off and put it on the table before I go to sleep for the night.

But this is an significant difference from a book. Books never burst into flame.

Internet Ronin said...

so I'm not worried about this

You should be. Very much so. There was an article the other day about this very subject which said that laptops are not meant for laps and are not marketed as "laptops." They are marketed as "notebooks" and all of them warn users to use them on HARD surfaces only. (I read it, so it must be true, although it probably isn't ;-)

Despite what you say about the vents of your Apple, it is definitely a fire danger when used that way, particularly for long lengths of time. And if you fall asleep with it on... Well, I hope you have a smoke alarm in your bedroom! I'd hate to wake up one morning and read that you were in the burn ward of the hospital.