October 20, 2006

Internet Addiction Fear Tactics Are Silly

Earlier this week, a study, carried out by researchers at Stanford University, emerged saying that fully one of every eight US residents suffers from "problematic Internet use", and it suggests that such an "addiction" can be as troubling as full-blown alcoholism. As someone who is tethered to the Internet around the clock, at work, at home, and via Blackberry, I can only shake my head at his overblown fear-mongering. Just because somebody happens to use a tool frequently, and enjoy its benefits, does not mean they are an addict, and even if symptoms common with addiction emerge, it doesn't mean that it can be as debilitating as something as serious as drug or alcohol abuse.

A few months ago, I jokingly posted my "Top Ten Things I'm Addicted To", ranging from Diet Coke to the iPod, the Blackberry and Internet in general. Given society's need to assign such allegiances as medical issues, some have gotten a lot of mileage from people like me who just happen to have found their routine and stuck with it.

To say that a person is "addicted to the Internet" is just as ridiculous as saying a truck driver is addicted to the radio, or couch potatoes are addicted to the television. While I'm sure there's a whole raft of folks who could improve their relationships with friends and family if they cut back on time spent in online chat rooms, online games, e-mail and blogs, myself potentially included, a significant number of us rely on the Internet for the very basis of our jobs, and find the Internet to present an amazing resource for communication with those same people we're assumedly neglecting.

When the Internet boom really started to take off in the mid-1990s, most of the fear and concerns thrown about were that stalkers were out there to find you, and that your credit card data could be stolen if you made online purchases. In fact I wrote a column for the Daily Cal in 1997 titled, "Net Results: Not that Scary", which addressed this very issue. Now, nearly a decade later, so many people have moved their businesses and their lives to the Internet that the concern is they're spending too much time, but those spreading fear are still out there.

Do I turn on the laptop first thing in the morning to check e-mail, catch up on RSS feeds and check Web sites? Yes. Is closing the laptop one of the last things I do before going to bed? Yes. Do I sit in front of an Intenet-connected monitor all day at the office? Usually. Do I wear an e-mail and Web connected Blackberry all day long? Yes. Is that a problem? No.

The number of hours in a day are still 24 - but the way I consume those 24 hours are differently distributed than they were before the Internet played such a role. Now, instead of staying up to see SportsCenter to learn the scores, I have already gotten the scores online as well as photos and recaps. The time taken to get that info is a lot less. Instead of calling home and talking with the family, I've read their blog, they've read mine, or we've shared comments and e-mail. Those calling us "Internet Addicts" akin to drunken louts who have given up their futures for the bottle is irresponsible and silly. We've just reapportioned our time and get more done - via the Web.

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