Got dependency issues? Maybe it's time to log off

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2006, 12:00am

Addiction to the internet has been added to the hit list of modern-day fixations

Just about anything can become the target of an addiction - cough medication, exercise, gambling, sex, sleep. You name it - someone somewhere is fixated by it. Another area to add to the hit list is the net.

The malaise of net addiction has been thrust into the spotlight by the story of the 13-year-old Chinese boy who jumped to his death from a tall building after playing the online orcs and humans game Warcraft for 36 hours straight: a clear case of addiction.

The addiction is technically known as online compulsive disorder, or pathological internet use (PIU). Sure, the case of the Warcraft worshipper, whose parents are suing the producer, is extreme. But it underlines just how potent a hold the computer can exert on the mind.

Ask yourself how easy you find it to back away from that browser and log off the net, if you ever close the connection - chances are it is perpetually humming away in the background around the clock.

I don't think I'm addicted, but I do get a buzz from computing and am reminded that one definition of an alcoholic is someone who drinks more than you do. Maybe I have developed a bit of a dependency. Often in the small hours when I can't sleep I find myself rising like a sleepwalker and padding towards the computer, then downloading e-mails just in case someone I know has died or had a baby: don't want to miss out on anything.

Usually, checking just delivers spam about various kinds of gruesome, gratuitous recreational medication and maybe a newsletter. But I find checking so hard to resist.

Other netheads admit that they feel compelled to check their e-mail and messages during business meetings. Soon you will be surfing for stock quotes and disseminating 'funnies' to your friends. You may even sneak in a spot of online gambling, data searching and blogging - the hallmark of the net addict.

Even if you don't wind up going crazy and jumping off a tall building, you may seriously lose it - start ignoring key areas of your life (such as work, marriage and family), quarrel with your significant other, fall into debt and end up alone. You may also develop crippling physical symptoms such as carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines and backaches - not to mention feeling like @@@@.

That said, let's not get hysterical and shun the net for the idiot box. This is a drama but no crisis. Bear in mind that every innovation generates its share of paranoia.

As my favourite blog Boing Boing documents, in the book Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family the steam-age reactionary Reverend Enos Hitchcock said of the novel: 'The free access which many young people have to romances, novels and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth; and prevented others from improving their minds in useful knowledge.

'Parents take care to feed their children with wholesome diet; and yet how unconcerned about the provision for the mind, whether they are furnished with salutary food, or with trash, chaff, or poison?'

God knows what he would have thought about bragging rappers dressed in pimp gear. Presumably he'd have blown a fuse.

Either way, don't panic but maybe cut down on your internet access and smell the coffee or the roses or whatever turns you on.

Meanwhile, I just need to instant message, tool around with some social networking software, drop into the virtual reality world of Second Life, search and surf - just in case I miss out.