So, it is finally here. The cure to Internet addiction. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. But it may well be around the corner. A hospital in Pennsylvania has become the first to offer an in-patient detox programme for those who are suffering from an addiction to the Internet. Starting this week, the Bradford Regional Medical Center will offer a 10-day programme devised by experts in other forms of addiction. Those who sign up will be given classes in digital detox and will participate in group therapy sessions much like those addicted to alcohol, drugs or even sex, do.
Some medical experts, of course, insist that there is no such thing as Internet addiction. Some people are over-dependent on the use of digital technology and social media (same difference, if you ask me) and may need intervention to disengage from the virtual world. But calling this an addiction is over-egging it a bit.
Whatever you may call it, however, there is no denying that too many of us have become obsessive about our use of the Internet. We are constantly dipping into social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram to check out what’s happening with the world and to tell the world what’s happening with us. We can’t eat a meal without first taking a picture and sharing it with all our virtual friends. We can’t go on holiday without documenting every single moment on social media. Hell, we even live-tweet miscarriages, births and (more creepily) deaths.
And such is our obsessive desire to remain updated and plugged in that we can ever disengage and just enjoy the moment. We take videos of live concerts rather than immerse ourselves in the music. We take pictures of a beautiful sunset instead of letting its beauty wash over us. We spend all our time on our smartphones when we should be engaging with the real-life people around us.
The downside: There is a dark, malevolent side to the Internet too as those who get addicted to gaming or gambling sites know all too well
In technology-driven societies like Japan, it is estimated that as many as half a million children in the age group of 12 to 18 are addicted to the Internet. So serious is the situation that the ministry of education has started ‘fasting camps’ to help these kids disconnect from their digital devices. These camps are held outdoors where the children (after their touchscreens are wrestled away from them, presumably) are made to interact with one another, play games, participate in team sports, have conversations and group discussions. Or, in other words, experience those childhood joys that we took for granted growing up in a pre-Internet world.
That’s not to say, though, that only kids who were born into the new technology age have a problem disconnecting from the virtual world. Even ‘grown-ups’, who really should know better, find themselves wasting time in ever more inventive ways on the Internet. The office worker who has Facebook open in a side window as he replies to emails. The journalist who can’t stay off Twitter even if she is on a deadline. The young mother who joins chat groups to escape the isolation of being housebound with a baby and ends up hooked.
And these are just the benevolent ways of wasting time on the Internet. There is a dark, malevolent side to the Internet too as those who get addicted to gaming or gambling sites know all too well. And then, there’s the whole murky world of cybersex and on-line porn. But given that this is a family publication, we will draw a discreet veil over that.
So, why do we all get so hooked on the digital world even though we know at a rational level that it is doing us no good? And that we really should be
getting some work done instead?
Well, psychologists say that we get a high from the anonymity that the Internet grants us, allowing us to be whatever and whoever we want. And that we get a sense of validation when we engage with people in the virtual world; especially if we feel isolated in the real world.
Which is, perhaps, why people who work from home are more susceptible to digital addiction. There you are, sitting alone at your desk, staring at a computer when a ping tells you that you have received a tweet, email or even a Facebook update. The temptation to click on the link is too hard to resist. You decide to take a little peek. And before you know it, you’ve wasted an hour and a half of your life that you are never getting back.
Call for help! Some people are over-dependent on the use of digital technology and social media and may need intervention to disengage from the virtual world
I felt a little better about my own digital addiction when I read that Monica Ali, of Brick Lane fame, had written about her gratitude to SelfControl and Freedom in the foreword to her new book. Yes, I use upper case advisedly. These are the names of the apps that you can download to treat your Internet addiction. SelfControl and Freedom allow you to set up a period of time – say three hours – when your browser will behave as if you are offline, allowing you to concentrate on your work without any distractions. If that’s too hardcore for you, there are apps like Anti-Social (a kind of Freedom-lite) that allows you to block off those social media sites on which you waste most time.
Yes, I know, using Internet apps to treat Internet addiction; the irony doesn’t escape me either. There has to be an easier way, right? There is actually. It’s called self-control, with a small s and c this time. We really should give it a try.
From HT Brunch, September 8
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