Thursday, October 19, 2006

Are you addicted to the Internet?

The BBC article 'US shows signs of net addiction' reports that a recent study by medical researchers at Stanford University Research Centre in which the headlined claims are:
The results showed that nearly 14% of respondents found it difficult to stay away from the internet for periods of several days.

Almost 6% said they felt their wanderings in cyberspace adversely affected their relationships with other people.

Nearly 8% of people said they went online to escape real world problems.
So am I addicted to the internet?

It has to be said that I like to check whether I have any new e-mails on a regular basis. I experience a sweet sense of delight when I get a personal e-mail from someone I know. I also like to post my most recent images on Flickr (and check on any comments or new views by my friends and family). I see this as being part of who I am. I have a network of friends distributed across the world and I invest some of my social time in keeping in contact with them (this blog often helps in this activity). Many close to me would argue that I don't spend enough time investing in this activity and that I spend too much time with my back to my family reading work-related articles on the BBC website. Furthermore, I feel that there are a number of historical precedents for this social activity. For example, Jane Austen describes her heroines writing regular letters of their daily doings to their dearest but not nearest as a way of keeping up a close friendship or family tie. Did anyone talk about Lizzie Bennet being addicted to paper and ink?

I don't think I am compulsive about my use because I really enjoy spending holidays away from my machine. I don't experience anything like cold turkey. Far from it, I get my eyesight back and a renewed delight in the wind on my face. Of course, if I was an addict I would probably be in denial about my use. The first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem. But I don't think I have a problem. I have a life (of sorts).

To judge by the BBC article, I am a little too old to be a typical computer addict and I certainly do not clock up enough the hours on the computer. They note:
A typical addict is a single, white college-educated male in his 30s, who spends more than 30 hours a week on "non-essential" computer use, it found.
What alarms me in that statement is the idea of "non-essential" use of the computer. Are we to characterize computer-use by a work-based hierarchy. Is it better to be a work-a-holic than a play-a-holic? Is it better to post next year's accounts at midnight rather than relax within Second Life. It seems to me that two quite different ideas are being roled/rolled up in this idea of an addict. I am not denying that it is possible to be harmed by too much computer use or indeed to use the internet in a compulsive way. But it seems to me that human beings are capable of being compulsive about almost anything or anyone. It would make sense, to my mind, to try and understand why they are harming themselves as well as noting their method of harm.

In the Stamford research abstract they note that they asked their respondents to report on their:
unsuccessful effort to reduce Internet use or a history of remaining online longer than intended, Internet use interfering with relationships, and a preoccupation with Internet use when offline.
I think that the binary opposition between offline and online is what I am objecting to in this kind of thinking about the internet. I can fully recognize that a certain sort of internet use can interfere with relationships. We also like to feel some sense of control over our actions. Furthermore, the internet modulates the kinds of self -control and relationship possible. However, it has to be said that MySpace, YouTube and all the rest are also part of the development and maintenance of relationships. It is our intentions towards our relationships that has been modulated by these kinds of technologies.

As a final thought, you might like to ask yourself why you are reading this blog. You might know me and want to keep up with the confusion that I call myself. You might be interested in what I have to say. The erudite wit or my writing style might appeal. I very much doubt that you are reading this for work. Does that mean you have an addiction? Or do you have some much more complicated and nuanced relati0nship with the medium/ia you are engaging with.

Please post comments with a bottle of wine!


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