As a society, we spend more time online today than we ever have in the past. With more and more Wifi connections, smartphones, the commonplace practice of having internet service in our homes, connected TVs and Blu-ray players, tablets, home computers and work computers – at any given moment, any one of us is only a split second away from being online.
On one hand, this is a good thing. GPS helps us to make it to our destinations with ease, we can look up valuable information on the go, absorb art and music from people all over the world, learn new skills, stay in touch with family and friends, and enjoy all of the other benefits of worldwide connectivity.
However, there is a much darker side to such constant internet access, and that’s internet addiction.
Addiction may be a strong word to describe some of the problematic behavior, and no conclusive studies have been done about the actual addictive properties of computer/internet use (and whether or not it’s a symptom of other addictive behavior). Even if we classify it as “overuse,” though, the problem remains a very real part of our society.
In varying degrees, internet addiction can be described as online activity that interferes with other portions of your life. Now, online life and “real” life are not necessarily mutually exclusive – plenty of us use the internet to run businesses, as a method of everyday communication, etc. It’s when online “leisure” activities like gaming, shopping, watching various videos, and general web surfing become a priority over other “real life” activities that internet use becomes a problem.
For many, the vast world of the internet can become an easy escape from responsibility or, as is the case for other potentially addictive behaviors, simply too alluring to resist.
When there are people to communicate with, awards to achieve (as in video games), an endless supply of photos and videos, every product you could ever want, and countless pages of reading material, it’s easy to see how some people could become more attached to what’s going on the screen than what’s going on around them.
This habit, though, can happen at the expense of our in-person relationships, our health, and our interest in things outside of this digital sphere. Becoming so invested in an online pastime can chip away at the amount of effort we put into all other areas of life – in turn damaging marriage, negatively affecting work performance, and creating a general amount of procrastination when it comes to breaking away from the digital device to interact with the real world.
There is no single defining behavior for these problems, and the can develop gradually. If you’re more concerned with checking your email than talking with your spouse, though, or too busy playing Angry Birds to notice how late you’re staying up, you may be giving your online activities too much priority.
Now, it’s worth noting that portions of other addictive behaviors can manifest themselves in online activity, and serious issues like gambling addiction, pornography addiction, and shopping addiction can all be enabled by internet use. Outside of these extremes, though, general “overuse” of internet connectivity is still a common problem.
So how do we fight against it? The temptation is huge! There are computers all over the place, and most of us have a smartphone in our pocket or purse. How can we break the habit of staring at the screen?
The very first step is a shift in priority. The email can wait. The game is just for fun, and is not a necessity. In our digitized, over-stimulated lives, we need to remember how important it is to step away from the screen, to talk with people in person, to have physical contact with the world.
And when it comes to actual addiction, help is available. If you think your spouse or someone you know might have a problem with internet addiction, here are a few places to start:
We have to be careful about forming habits around these relatively new technologies. There is nothing wrong with spending time online, but we can’t let it replace the other important things in our lives.