Drowning with too much information? How to avoid internet addiction.

17 05 2010

To have just a few moments to dream, relax and unwind is becoming rare. We are now all bombarded with more information, in one week, let alone one year, than our forefathers would have perhaps been exposed to in their LIFETIME. Now with a rapidly expanding internet world many of us are drowning in this new information age. Questions we may ask ourselves on a daily basis: What to focus upon? How to filter out unnecessary information? How to find content we need? How do we maximise the use of our valuable time?
So how much stuff are we exposed to each day?

For an average person on an ordinary day, it amounts to 34 gigabytes of data or 100,500 words. Input comes from a variety of sources unrelated to work, including movies, mobile phones, television, the Internet, video games, newspapers, magazines, books and music. In 2008, Americans were receiving 11.8 hours of information each day, based by researchers at the University of California at San Diego UCSD study, which calculated only the amount of information flowing into American households. It did not include the amount of information received in the workplace!!! Compare to the 1980’s and that study estimated that Americans received slightly more than seven hours of information on an average day. Indeed, according to a survey some Americans cannot live without going to the net for more than a week, preferring web surfing to friends and sex. There is also a male v female viewpoint – for men its’ the gadgets they love. For women, it’s not just about net shopping, but also seeking information and sharing their lives with others. Interestingly, most would rather throw out their TV or mobile than their laptop.

However, only 14 percent of people on the planet have access to the Internet (source: United News Center). The majority of Internet users (90 %) live in industrialized countries, so internet laggards beware.

It is acknowledged that the web has definitely been a godsend to those who can access it. There are in fact currently one billion Web pages available and competing for attention. YouTube receives two billion views per day and this figure is rising on a daily basis. Young children can quickly research and complete their school projects much more thoroughly and quicker than in the past – no more long trips to the library where you’d be lucky to find one reference book. Indeed, the 2.0 generation doesn’t even have to be in an office or use their pc, as they can easily access information via their smartphones on the move, in the park or school.

I recall completing a school project that asked what did we expect the future to bring. I wrote in the late 1970’s that automation was going to improve our lives. I predicted that as more of our lives functions, be it in the home or at work, became automated in some way, we would all be more productive leading to more free time.

Not appreciating the capitalist world we live in – I naively thought we’d all be enjoying 3 day working weeks and would use the extra free time to indulge in sporting activities or other social interaction (and predicted these would be the growth industries) – certainly not sitting isolated with technology. That dream of having more free time did not happen, other than perhaps in France where the 35 hour week did not assist with new job creation (the original goal) but did increase DIY (Do it yourself) purchases!

Getting the balance right is crucial to enjoying a good life. Sadly, the balance of coping with all this input via computer games, online apps, and now via mobile smartphones is proving a hard challenge for some. Internet addiction rates are up and relapse rates high. Families are sitting in the same room and the art of conversation is dying. Instead one is online with instant messenger, another pressing refresh on Facebook to see if it is their turn on one of the online games or catching up with cyber friends, a third will be catching up on email, and a further maybe playing on their Xbox or DS. Does this sound familiar?

Back in only 1995 the term, Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) was developed as a spoof by Dr Ivan Goldberg, but now psychologists are having to grabble with this phenomenon as a real disorder. Dr Jerald Block, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health and Science University argues that IAD mirror other compusive/impulsive disorders in 4 ways. Excessive use – associated with a total loss of sense and time; Neglect of basics like eating and sleeping; Withdrawal symptoms of anger, tension, anxiety when access is denied and Negative repercussions on both personal and professional relations.
Early research into the subject found highly educated, socially awkward men were the most likely sufferers but more recent work suggests it is now more of a problem for middle-aged women who are spending hours at home on their computers.

Psychiatrist Dr Jerald Block said some sufferers were so addicted to the internet that they required medication or even hospital treatment to curb the time they spent on the web. He said: “The relationship is with the computer. It becomes a significant other to them. They exhaust emotions that they could experience in the real world on the computer through any number of mechanisms: emailing, gaming, porn.”

In South Korea 80% have broadband connection. Here 10 people have died from blood clots after sitting for long periods on the net, one young man died from dehydration after playing a game non-stop for 50 hours and the most sad story reported in March 2010, of a young baby that starved to death as its’ parents played on the internet. The couple neglected to feed their child because they were obsessed with raising a virtual girl character in a popular online game.

In Europe and beyond, more and more kids are showing signs of IAD. Children are becoming addicted to games by sitting in the bedrooms for longer and longer periods. Stories of bottles filled with pee lining up in bedrooms, as teenagers won’t even leave their room for a toilet break are becoming widespread. Likewise, kids gaining more and more weight – not necessarily from junk food eating, but due to lack of exercise.

It’s easy and fun to escape “this world” and loose yourself as you text, email, surf the web or simply turn on the TV. It’s not computers that are to blame but our fragile human condition that needs to be managed. The novelty factor of keeping connected with long forgotten or long distant friends is compelling. The answer is one of balance.

Technology can help use be more productive – complete those research project, smart shop, get informed, complete those tax returns etc. With the free time we gain we should consider how to reconnect to our family, friends and the world.

As with everything in life – moderation is the best model to follow. Limit the time you spend on the net. If your kids are showing some of the above signs, you need to take action sooner rather than later. In extreme cases, cancelling your broadband contract until things resume back to normal could be one step. Going back to our great grandfathers – enjoy a long walk in the woods or park and reconnect with nature. Take long deep breaths to regain a feeling of contentment and reduce stress. Join a sports club and enjoy being part of a team. If you’re not sporty, consider other ways to break the net habitat: dancing, painting, playing music, etc. As the stars in the Mary Poppins film concluded: “go fly a kite” and enjoy the freedom of youth. Invest time with your kids. Kids don’t crave huge amounts of toys/clothes/gadgets, what they do want is attention – to discover the world with you- be it via playing, singing, walking, running or just talking.

Everything is caught up in the rat race, chasing to make those golden dollars, and for what? Perhaps now is a good time to reflect on life and make some changes.

Now excuse me while I break away from my pc to smell the flowers and play with my kids !




One response

18 05 2010

Actually I am addicted to internet. Really an interesting article, I am very happy to read it, because it can increase my knowledge.Thanks

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