If the Internet sucks you in for hours, it's only natural, researchers say. We're all wired to compulsively seek the payoffs that it offers, and the Internet's lack of boundaries encourages us to lose track of time and discourages us from exercising any willpower and logging off.
"The Internet is not addictive in the same way as pharmacological substances are," Tom Stafford, a cognitive scientist at the University of Sheffield in the UK, told LiveScience on Thursday. But it's compulsive; it's compelling; it's distracting.
Much like casino slot machines, email and social media sites like Facebook offer enough instantaneous payoffs, even if they are mostly junk, to keep you transfixed and going back for more, the report said. Over time, people become like Ivan Pavlov's famous salivating dogs, conditioned to feel a pleasurable rush when we receive an instant-message ping or are tagged on Facebook, Stafford said.
The Internet is also alluring thanks to its total lack of limits, and staying on task and not wandering over to Wikipedia or checking Twitter can exhaust our self-control. "And because the Internet is always on, always ready, you never get away from the temptation," Stafford said.
How to regain some control? Try web-blocking tools to limit surf time, or commit to working for, say, 20 minutes, then allowing yourself five minutes of Web surfing, Stafford suggested.