How do you know when you‘re addicted to the Internet? You tilt your head sideways to smile. You dream in HTML. Your wife says communication is important in a marriage, so you buy another computer and a second phone line so the two of you can chat. The above list of "symptoms" can be heard in various permutations as often as the "blond" jokes, For many people, the very idea of being addicted to the Internet is enough to produce smiles and laughter. Even the term "Internet Addiction Disorder" was coined by a sarcastic psychiatrist who thought some of his colleagues were going over the top when they started to report symptoms. But though some think Internet Addiction is like. for the growing numbers of people, it is no laughing matter, "Intended as an informational conduit for researchers, academicians, students and computer professionals.
The Internet now hosts a growing number of lay users, and a grOWing number of addicts", says Sarah Lehrman, a psychiatrist who, realizing the problem, has started an online support group for users hooked on cyberspace (58). This new addiction, developed by our technological nation, has become a "condition from which an estimated 5 million Americans suffer. or one out of every nine Internet users", estimates the author of Digital Drug Marilyn Elias (13) According to many experts, it is becoming clear that millions cannot control the habit of spending endless hours in front of the computer screens, and that addiction to the Internet can cause as much damage in people's lives as alcohol, drugs. and gambling. Why is this new epidemic so widespread?
Computers are rather inexpensive: even one thousand dollars can buy a perfectly adequate one. Daniel Dern, the well-known author in many computer-related fields, states that "no fewer than 55 million US households - more than 50 percent of all American families - own at least one" (45). Connection to the Internet is also inexpensive: unlimited access can be bought for less then 20 dollars a month. The modern - the devrce that links one computer to another via phone lines, has become standard equipment on most new machines, and so has the software for many online services. Not only do CompuServe, America Online. Prodigy, and most other Internet providers give away their software, most offer free online trial to new subscribers. People are drawn into trying a new "fad", only to realize Ihey cannot control it. As Sarah Lehrman notes. "ralher than becoming Ihe technological saVior of our time, the Internet iust might be emerging as the addiction of the millenium. surpassing even TV with its pen/asive grip on our minds and souls" (60).
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Dr. Kimberly Young, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of Caught in the Net, defines Internet addiction as "a psychological dependence on the Internet, regardless of type of activrty once 'Iogged on' " (18). She identifies various types of Internet addiction such as cybersex, online relationships, and information overload. Many researchers agree that up to 10 percent of Internet users have the potential for an addiction problem. According to Young, dependent users spend an average of 38.5 hours per week online, whereas non-dependent users reported fewer then five (43). The bright graphics of the Internet, the anonymity and speed, are too much of a good thing for some users, who will neglect family, Work. and school in order to stay online.
These people find themselves ignoring important aspects of their lives, in favor of playing in cyberspace close to 40 hours a week. "It is tearing families apart, destroying careers. and shattering relationships in much the same way alcoholism and drugs abuse do", argues Lehrman (61). Net addiction can cause depression and withdrawal from reality. People use Internet to avoid problems In their lives or because they lack social skills, employing the Internet as an escape mechanism. "Internet addicts spend long hours in chat rooms and role playing games. They seem to be searching for missing parts of their emotional lives, like socral interaction, sexual fulfillment, and an opportunity to safely express forbidden aspects of their personalities" (Young 34). Computer addicts can be people who are depressed, lonely, afraid to go out, in high family conflicts, and, generally, people in trouble because they can't leave their computers. They are students, professionals, housewives, the retired, everyone.
They are men. women, and children. How can this problem be dealt With? Kimberly Young suggests several methods to those people that have a problem pressing "Quit" button, such as setting goals before going online to eliminate wasting time, setting an alarm clock and when it rings physically leave the computer, or hanging a postcard next to a monitor With major problems that arise out of not structuring your time, and another With a list of benefits of doing otherwise. My friend. an ex Internet "junkie", has his own solution. which he expresses as a humorous serenity prayer: "Almighty Webmaster, grant me the serenity to know when to log off, the courage to know when to check my e-mail, and the Wisdom to stay away from chat rooms."
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