InfoShok: Addicted!

  1. Junk Mail
  2. InfoShok
  3. A Wake on the Internet

Now they think they can stop the Internet by having us all declared insane.--Vicki Richman

“If you feel the Internet has had some kind of negative impact on your life, then I want to hear from you. Tell me your story.” (?) This was posted recently by a journalist “preparing an article on Internet Addiction and its treatment, if such treatment exists.”

If such treatment exists. Of course it exists. It’s called “getting a life.” The best way to wean someone from Internet Addiction is to find them a girlfriend. Or introduce them to Playboy. (!)

The journalist received approximately one hundred responses, of which twenty-two claimed a “cocaine-like rush” and twelve said it “help them to relax”. (?) None reported taking the gulliballoons that the reporter was on at the time.

The American Psychiatric Association already has a classification for people who post to Usenet: the symptoms for “Disorder of Written Expression” include “poor use of grammar or punctuation, sloppy paragraph organization, awful spelling”. (?) That’ll cover quite a few B1FFs, and not a few engineers who were forced through ‘phonics’. The Canadian Medical Association has gone right to the core and created the term “Internet Addiction Disorder”, whose symptoms include “loss of control, cravings and withdrawal symptoms, social isolation, marital discord, academic failure, excessive financial debt, and job termination.” (?)

Addiction, of course, is an imprecise term nowadays. At one time it meant something physical, like addiction to tobacco, heroin, or alcohol. Now it just means liking something, like addiction to reading, food, and marijuana.

And the infobahn. Knowledge is a drug, and socialization is human nature, making the Internet a concentrated speedball of communication and information.

When America On-Line plays on the old “Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out” with “Hook Up, Hang Out, Have Fun!”, they’re being facetious, but they’re also making sense. They know what they’re selling, and what they’re selling is a drug. If they can get you hooked they’ve got you: but not for life. America On-Line is a gateway drug to the Internet.

Withdrawal from the Internet is not going to cause the shakes. It is, however, a dependence much like our dependence on reading: once you learn how, it’s hard to go back. Withdrawal from the Internet is a severe inconvenience. At least, that’s what the users here at USD tell us every time our e-mail computers crash. And they’re very vocal and insistent about their needs.

Some folks are so addicted that they can’t even stop while driving. Will DWI soon mean “Driving While Internetting”?

Computing and driving is on the rise in California, and the California Highway Patrol warns the practice is potentially dangerous. “There’s nothing specifically in the vehicle code that says you can’t compute while driving,” admits one officer, but with studies showing cell phone use raising the chance of an accident by 34%, they’re suggesting people leave their laptops switched off while at the wheel. (?)

Can this addiction lead to death? Suicide? Madness? Yes on all counts, although perhaps it is merely that the Internet (like alcohol) simply attracts the dead, suicidal, and mad.

Hot and Cold Running Media

Marshall McLuhan talks about “hot” media and “cold” media--media that radiates information (hot) or media that absorbs attention (cool). Cold media, such as television, are addictive. Hot media, such as radio, are oriented towards providing lots of information to a single sense (such as hearing).

Cold media are hard, as hard as any hard drug.

“Hot media are low in participation, and cool media are high in participation,” he says. The net is hot and cold media. High in participation and oriented towards a single sense, it sucks you in and then it spits you out. If, as McLuhan says, stone is a cool media and paper is a hot media, then electronic text must be blistering. It changes daily, hourly, or by the minute.

The medium of electronic text over the medium of the net can unify people from vast distances. But the diversity that the net provides means that the net can preserve disunity as well, bringing together only those who want to be brought together, and keeping apart those who want to be kept apart.

And the vast amount of information it provides in all topics threatens to overload and overwhelm. There is no end of people who spend far too much time on the net trying to make sense of all this strange data.

And all the strange people, which is the really addicting part. The Internet hits you in whatever part of your brain makes you a social being. So many people to talk to! And none of them know you’re a computer geek. Or a loser. Or that you haven’t had a date since you took your little sister to the high school prom. It’s here that being on-line becomes addictive, and the commercial bulletin boards know it. Compuserve has made it quite clear that their “CB On-Line” service, in which people come in to talk about various topics, is one of their biggest money-makers. Compuserve charges by the hour.

In France, the “Messageries” provide nearly a third of the revenue taken in by their country-wide Minitel computer network. (?)

That’s as cold as ice.

The truth is, the Internet is as addicting as life itself. In the foreword, I asked you to imagine a supercar that took you to anywhere on the globe in seconds. Now, imagine a room in your home where you could walk in and immediately take part in conversations ranging from any imaginable topic with any number of people from a myriad of cultures. How much time would you spend in this room, and what other parts of your life would you let go in order to do so?

Your answer to that question will tell you whether you’ll find the Internet addicting or boring. This is what pop psychologists mean when they talk about the Internet being “addicting”:

University of Pittsburgh clinical psychologist Kimberly S. Young thinks that cyberspace “chat rooms” and fantasy games are the main attractions for people likely to become “addicted” to the Internet. ``It’s kind of like the Cheers bar, where everybody gets to know their name.’' Young says she’s been contacted by lawyers about divorces caused by the Net addiction of a spouse. (AP 15 Aug 97)

In the past, when you had nothing to talk about with your wife, you both sat back and watched television; or you sat back and watched television while your wife did the dishes. Now she’s got the Internet. You’re shit out of luck--unless you can get some psychologist to call her insane.

  1. Jean-Hugues Roy, alt.drugs, November 29, 1994.
  2. Unless they have a scanner, in which case this will backfire and they’ll start sending pictures from Playboy out over the net. But it’s possible that someone at Playboy is already doing this. At least, they’re experimenting with electronic distribution of Omni, one of the magazines in their stable.
  3. New York Times, March 8, 1995, p. B1, as reported in the March 9, 1995 EduPage mailing list.
  4. Code 315.2, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  5. Toronto Globe & Mail June 15, 1996, p. A1.
  6. St. Petersburg Times, June 17, 1996, p. 14.
  7. Charles Dunlop and Rob Kling, “Social Relationships in Electronic Communities”, Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices, p. 322.
  1. Junk Mail
  2. InfoShok
  3. A Wake on the Internet