I started studying Internet addiction in 1995 shortly after a friend of mine husband was addicted to AOL channels. He was spending 40 50 to 60 hours a week at a time when it was still two dollars and ninety-five cents an hour. Create a financial burden and their marriage ended in divorce when he started meeting women in online chat rooms. Now it made me wonder if people could get addicted to the internet the same way we talk about drugs, alcohol, sex, so I posted a small survey online I took the same clinical criteria that one would use to define a pathological gambling and they just substituted the word internet and I just wanted to see what I would find a while back when I probably had two email a month I had over 50 emails all from people telling me how they lost their jobs and their marriages. Students across the country having problems with the very tool that they were being encouraged to use.
So expanding my survey and by 1996 I presented the first study on internet addiction at the American Psychological Association and by 1998 I recount net the first book to identify Internet addiction is a new disorder. Now all just was met with great controversy and skepticism which I understood like it was new it was before the dot-com bubble burst but twenty years later this is now considered a rapidly new field. There’s been thousands of internet research topics on internet addiction. It’s now not only just looking at it but looking at treatment protocols looking at risk factors. There’s hundreds of in-patient treatment centers looking at this as a real disorder.
What is internet addiction, what are some of the ways people get hooked and how can we better manage technology in our day-to-day lives. Now one of the first questions i’m often asked is how much time is too much and that’d be like trying to diagnose alcoholism by counting the number of drinks one consumes. You know ten drinks a week is ok but 11 or more as a problem we really can’t quantify addictions that way. What we’re really doing is trying especially with ubiquitous nature of the internet. We really want to do is look at a set of behaviors. So lets see you know the first one is somebody texting while driving but that’s really only part of the pathology. What we often see our people preoccupied with their cell phones and their digital devices. Ask yourself how many times do you check your smartphone during the day I know people that check their facebook 50 times a day. I know that they check their twitter feed 50 times a day their email 50 times a day I’ve worked with people that have gotten into three four five car accidents texting while driving and thank God they didn’t kill themselves or others but they can’t seem to stop the compulsive behavior.
In the internet café from China, Korea, and Taiwan Internet addiction is most problematic they spend 8 10 12 hours every day gaming. Now when you talk about symptoms here you’re talking about you know how long they spend on the internet consequences because of behavior losing sleep, losing poor, nutrition losing interest in other activities just to be on the game. Now in America is considered more of a silent addiction you know you’re not seeing a lot of these internet cafes here.
It’s happening in your homes, in people’s bedrooms and their gamers that we treat that you know they can’t they fail school because they can’t stop gaming or they live back at home at their parents because they can’t hold a job because they can’t stop gaming. We also treat what I call facebook mom’s and yeah you know it’s you know anybody the place candy crush saga, farmville or a number of games but now i’m talking about people that also you don’t forget to pick up their kids at school. Forget to feed them during dinner or they forget to you know put them to bed. They’re so consumed by the behavior we also treat men addicted to internet pornography and if they’re doing this in their job. There we go if they’re doing this at work then they risk getting fired if they do this at home they risk getting divorce with. We also treat just i’m sorry i’m clicking and there we go we also treat people who are addicted to internet gambling and they’re spending money they don’t have to go on virtual casinos and oftentimes this isn’t the same person who might go to Atlantic City or Vegas but it’s usually a younger tech-savvy male-dominated set of teenagers and college students. With any element of addiction is an element of escape what you’re really looking at our people that can create these online lives
through the computer that they like better than their own. So here with a lot of gamers these are virtual worlds or communities so these gamers can create an avatar or character and live in a virtual world with other gamers. Okay and there’s usually battles and goals within the game to achieve but now you might have somebody who’s in real life has low self-esteem is you know socially very awkward but yet in the game they become a great warrior and now they’ve earned respect. They’ve earned power and dominance and recognition from the other gamers and this is very important to understand because that’s really part of the psychology. Of what we’re saying is more the addiction here’s a screenshot from second life this is more of a virtual community and within Second Life what happens is that you have you know residents as they call them and it’s more just a virtual community where you could hang out you can go shopping you can go have a job. You can go to take college classes so you live you hang out and it’s like a game but it gives the example that I’m trying to make about these virtual worlds.
So first off you create an avatar where I can be anybody I want to be okay I could be a tall blonde I could be a short redhead I could be older thinner taller younger I could be a man and that’s the wish fulfillment I can create in my virtual second life something I can’t do in my real life and that’s very important. Now in order to actually buy things in second life it’s free to set up your avatar but then American currency gets exchanged into linden dollars, linden Labs owns second life. So there’s currency to buy clothes, to buy, a card buy, a home to buy furnishings in this virtual community. So that’s very important actually economist study this I mean millions of people use this and they look at consumer behavior now clinically I see it on the down side of it where people spend and invest an awful lot in their virtual world.
So for example I worked with a 55 year old legal secretary and in her real life she had a very modest home, modest cars, modest clothes, she had embezzled four hundred thousand dollars from the law firm she worked for all to support her second life avatar. Again in a real-life very modest living in her second life she was a great Berenice she had diamonds and you know jewelry and furs and she had exotic cars and exotic homes and she had this sort of wish fulfillment of status and power that she could not achieve in our own life. So what do we do about all this, this treatment recovery mean going cold turkey and the answer is no this isn’t like treating using an absence model like you would for drugs or alcohol it’s really more about a food addiction and it’s looking at moderated controlled positive use of this technology.