The opiate of the messages: Internet Addiction

Submitted by gary on
Printer-friendly version

From article:

Researchers in the US have linked cultural obsession with social media - BlackBerrys, Facebook, Twitter and other devices of the digital age - with the same insidious neural pathways that trigger cravings in alcoholics and drug addicts. What's more, residents living abroad in predominantly expatriate cities such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where Facebook and MySpace are overwhelmingly popular, may be especially at risk.

The link between connection and compulsion comes from a study in which the University of Maryland's International Center for Media and the Public Agenda asked 200 students to abstain from all media for 24 hours. When the day was done, the researchers asked the subjects to blog about their feelings. They expected complaints, but not the physical manifestations of classic withdrawal that were reported: anxiety, mood swings, loneliness, pounding headaches, even delusions of phantom phone rings.

One student wrote: "Texting and IM-ing [instant messaging] my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life." Another student experienced mood swings and "felt like a person on a deserted island" after being unable to check e-mail. "I noticed physically, that I began to fidget, as if I was addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am," the student wrote.

"We were surprised by how many students admitted that they were 'incredibly addicted' to media," Susan Moeller, the director of the media centre, told the online journal LiveScience. "They hated losing their personal connections. Going without media meant, in their world, going without their friends and family." To the students, text messaging and social networking were essential for feeling connected.

The findings resonated with Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist with the Human Relations Institute in Dubai. "Whether it's alcohol, drugs, television, it's the same kind of dopamine being released, and the same neural pathways are being reinforced in your brain," she said.
"Everybody here is from somewhere else and we've all left our families and social circles and places we're familiar with, so we find we might be around a lot of people but we might not be connecting to a lot of people. We're social animals, and so we turn to Facebook."

Dopamine - the neurotransmitter that tugs at the brain, telling it to expect pleasure - is part of what the psychologist Susan Weinschenk calls the "dopamine-induced loop". The advent of text messaging and Twitter has brought instant gratification for anyone wanting to talk to someone or be heard right away. A new e-mail popping up in an inbox or the chime on a phone indicating a new text message might deliver the same buzz as when a smoker takes a drag from a cigarette.

"It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at e-mail, stop texting, stop checking our cellphones to see if we have a message or a new text," Dr Weinschenk noted. Dopamine is also to blame for the happy state of wanting to seek things out, such as when a person begins one Google search and ends up ensnared in an hour-long Googling session, according to Kent Berridge, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

Dr Afridi has seen her share of patients who have replaced real-life connections with compulsive virtual relationships, particularly among Dubai expatriates in recent years. Real-time simulation games such as FarmVille, which allows users to harvest virtual crops, consume hours of patients' time. "Some of the women come to me, they don't work or their kids are at school, and I find they're on Facebook four, five, eight hours a day," she said. "There are kids that come to me and say all my mum does is play on FarmVille every day."

In 2008, the market research firm Synovate found that UAE residents were more likely than North Americans to have an online social network account. The survey said 46 per cent of UAE respondents were members, compared with 44 per cent of respondents in Canada and 40 per cent in the US, out of 13,000 people interviewed globally. People with an unhealthy dependence on updating their Facebook statuses or checking for new Tweets might do well to ask themselves what needs are being met from that behaviour, Dr Afridi said.

"We look at the biopsychosocial needs. Every time I do something, or I'm putting in my new status, it might say something about my needs to be recognised or appreciated or heard." Dr Afridi uses Facebook herself and recognised the convenience of being able to plan dinner parties and get updates on friends' lives, but healthy boundaries are key. Social networking technologies should not become a primary means of communication, she said.

"Our culture is becoming more individualised and isolated, and a lot less mindful of our relations." Crowne Plaza Hotels recently acknowledged this technology-obsessed culture. Last week, the company introduced a "switch off at 7" evening call service across hotels in Europe as well as in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The service reminds guests to turn off their laptops and phones to prepare for sleep. Told of the University of Maryland addiction study, Alexander McNabb, who uses Twitter as many as 30 times a day, did not buy it.

"Two weeks ago, I spent five days in western Ireland without access to the internet or television," he said. "It was brilliant, except I didn't know about that volcano in Iceland. We found out about it in the end over the radio." Did the 45-year-old director of a public relations company experience tech withdrawal? "No pangs at all," he said. "Unless you count the shock and knowledge that I had at least 2,000 e-mails when I got back."


The scary part is seeing

this phenomenon first hand. I have friends who pull out their phones just to look at the screen, even if it did not vibrate or ring, every couple of minutes. I know people whose entire world is on the internet -- I can see in these people's faces, when we get together in person, that after a short duration of real human contact, the stimulation it offers begins to wear thin and they begin to itch for their social media and internet information bombardment. They say, "Uhm, err, I should probably get going," the eyes vacant, the body shifting uncomfortably. Then they are gone, back to the glow of their computers to be alone again, but completely contented.

Knowing what I know now, I find that I'm beginning to see these people the way I might see a heroine junkie. In fact, I'm finding it increasingly harder not to say something to them, to reach out, but in a world where this is so normal and accepted it is very difficult to do that.

It all seems to be the same

It all seems to be the same thing. Obsessive television watching, internetting, gaming and social media. It's right up there with all other forms of addiction (porn included).

Too bad electronic drugs haven't been widely accepted as drugs yet though..

The mechanism is the same,

The mechanism is the same, but it's effects are differently. Every addiction differs in side effects because it affects different parts of our life.

Basically addictions make us escape from reality and give us excessive reward we can't encounter "normally".

As Porn does destroy healthy sexuality, media addiction destroy our ability to communicate with real people and cope with reality. From personal experience I am quite sure media addiction in its various forms have similar negative effects as internet porn or alcohol can have. Maybe not the same but the intensity is equal.

My question would be if the way we use the internet defines whether its an addiction or if it is like porn and even little use eventually lead to addiction.


My question would be if the way we use the internet defines whether its an addiction or if it is like porn and even little use eventually lead to addiction.[/quote]

I was wondering about something similar. Would it be better to take a time out of a day a week or to structure the day or something else? Could use be intertwined with reality to make it less addicting?

And not

only does a novel have an ending, but it requires the use of imagination and a large degree of focus.

With something like a novel or real-life activity, you are really forced to immerse yourself in that one thing for a length of time. On the internet, you might spend 60 seconds on a webpage, then jump to check your email for two minutes, then check facebook for two minutes, then hit up youtube for ten minutes (watching several different and usually unrelated videos), back to the original web page, oh, you got a text on your smart phone, so check that for 30 seconds, then back to youtube, update facebook status, play mindless video game like "Angry Birds" for a while, and repeat process ad nauseum.

I think it fosters an inability to concentrate, because when you are so accustomed to rapid stimulation from multiple sources, focusing on one task becomes a lot like trying to have sex with a real woman after watching porn for 10 hours. Just look around at the people you know. Notice that having a discussion in person is often very boring to internet addicts, and they will constantly fidget, or constantly check their phone or whatever, even in your presence, because a discussion with you isn't stimulating enough for a brain that's wired that way.


That is the thesis of "The Shallows" by Nicholas Carr. The internet teaches us to skim rather than get immersed in what we are reading. And even if you don't go on facebook or check your email, virtually every article has links which can take you to another page and thus break your focus. Not that skimming is not a useful skill, but so is concentration, and we don't get much practice for the latter.

For those who don't have time to get immersed in the book, it started from this article:

Internet free day?

The internet seems to be everywhere, and once you get addicted it's hard to control yourself because most of us cannot go cold turkey for 90 days. I guess we should allocate some daily time to read a (paper) book, in order to balance skimming and immersion. Plus, lots of internet use is mindless browsing, checking emails, facebook, even reuniting, for some novelty.

Here's an idea: make Sunday (or whatever day you prefer) an internet free day. I bet even that's going to be tough. Or, Intermittent Fasting: only allow yourself to "consume" internet within a 4-6 hour window daily, say you can only go online between 4 and 8pm or between 8am and noon. Of course you don't have to stay online for the whole window.

Hm, I think I'm gonna try the Sunday idea. I'll call it my Internet Sunday Bar, lol.

Interesting idea

I'll try your sunday idea but will expand it. I'll see if I can spontaniously integrate internet free days and do other things more consciously, like reading a book. Thanks.

You know, I have lost the ability to read books. Everytime I start I can't concentrate anymore after a few minutes and want to check the internet for novelty. Thats especially sad for me because all my life I was an avid reader, sometimes reading a few books a week.

Last year I stopped using the internet for 3 months and developed an appetite for reading books like never before. I could read all day after it but soon lost it again after restarting internet use.

As dopamine resisters we're

As dopamine resisters we're perhaps uniquely qualified to figure out options. We might need a www icon if internet addicts start chiming in.

I'm finding current written text is degrading too. Time to dust off the classics. It's also interesting to use non-visual inputs. Audiobooks can make my brain feel strange.

Reading active texts such as plays could be restorative in different ways. Or maybe reading groups where one has to discuss book content.