Monday, January 7, 2013

Internet Addiction and the Tech Generation (That's us)

If the adults in your life are like the adults in mine, they are very concerned over the new phenomenon of internet addiction. It’s a phrase that gets tossed around pretty frequently nowadays, and I think lots of teens dismiss it as alarmism and a generation gap. However, in the last few years I have begun to think seriously about the idea, and after doing some research my findings worry me.
How much time a day do you spend online? How often do you think about the internet when you are offline? How often do you fail to get things done because of the internet? Do you ever choose surfing the net over hanging out with friends? Have you ever been late for class or work because you watched just one more video on Youtube? Have you ever lied to someone about how much time you spend online, or what you do? Have you ever felt ashamed about it?
I know I have.
Medical professionals are still in discussion about what constitutes Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) or whether it really exists at all, but popular culture has embraced the concept already, and I suspect it is because so many of us have glimpsed the abyss at some point or other. In China, IAD is considered one of its “most feared public health hazards” (Wired, 2010). The problem got so bad that as far back as 2004, police were conducting raids of internet caf├ęs and minors were banned from such establishments. A study from Stanford in 2006 concluded that 1 in 8 American adults showed signs of internet addiction.
The internet is totally unique in human history for the sheer volume of compelling distractions it presents. Facebook, Youtube, Tumblr, Twitter, Warcraft, Reddit, Pinterest, Netflix, Minecraft, StumbleUpon, gaming, videos, fanfiction, networking, webcomics, blogging, and of course, the internet cash crop, pornography. Pick your poison.
And this stuff isn’t just interesting, it’s deliberately designed to be addictive, giving us hits of feel-good chemicals in rapid succession – just like junk food. Content providers make money off your presence on their site – they are invested in making it as compelling as possible. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent annually on market research, refining algorithms, improving graphics, studying what colors and shapes will catch our interest, what content will keep us coming back for more.
Kepchar Photography
Not all the stuff on the internet is worthless of course – I would be a traitor to my generation if I thought that. I love the internet. However, the number of hours that I am capable of loosing on it frightens me. Sometimes, when I’m with friends and the conversation is stalled I think, why am I here when I could be on Netflix? Often I do sloppy work on assignments or turn up late for events because the internet was too compelling.
Do these periodic failings mean I’m addicted to the internet? No. The bottom line is an addiction is something to worry about when it starts actively destroying other parts of your life. If your grades drop as a direct result of the internet (not just your lack of motivation) or if your employer catches you on Twitter because you feel anxious and twitchy if you aren’t plugged in, then it’s a problem. If your friends start saying, “I never see you” and you know it’s because of online gaming or Tumblr  – that’s a problem.
All I’m saying is that the tech generation shouldn’t dismiss IAD as the paranoia of maladjusted, tech-clumsy grownups. This will be something we will deal with as a society from now on. The internet is a huge and compelling force in our lives, and like any powerful tool should be handled with care.
Images from: Kepchar Photography

If you are worried about yourself or a friend or ever need a place to talk, know that you can always call Teen Link, 1866TeenLink or 1(866)833-6546. We are open every night from 6-10pm and are here to provide confidential, anonymous and non-judgmental support. Also, if you have something difficult going on in your life that is really affecting and you don't feel comfortable calling Teen Link, please just talk to someone. Everyone needs support sometimes and, the truth is, that most people are can be pretty supportive if you give them a chance. So the next time you are struggling, take a chance, and trust someone with yourself, even if it is just a little bit.  

1 comment:

  1. Teenagers should be guided accordingly with responsible internet usage.