Cold Turkey
March 10, 2011 4:05 PM   Subscribe

I was deeply affected by this recent MetaTalk comment and I have some questions regarding internet addiction and productivity.

• Is there good reason to believe that the internet is addictive and if so how does it compare to more traditionally understood addictive behaviors?
• If you've tried giving it up have you found your productivity or quality of life improve as a result?
• Does the internet lead to life avoidance and procrastination in real life?
• Does the internet take the place of more worthwhile activities?
posted by 2bucksplus to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
yes, yes, yes, yes
posted by nathancaswell at 4:07 PM on March 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'd suggest you take a look at "In the Shadows of the Net," a book by Patrick Carnes about a particular form of internet addiction, that of compulsive online sexual behavior. Carnes spells out all the different ways that compulsive use of the internet distorts relationships, in the intimate realm, at least.
posted by jasper411 at 4:12 PM on March 10, 2011

"The Center for Online Addiction offers hope and valuable resources to those seeking treatment for Internet addiction. Internet addiction is a type of compulsive disorder." Here is a series of self-tests that can help determine one's level of addiction.

A survey conducted by the Stanford Institute of Quantitative Study of Society concluded that "Internet time is coming out of time viewing television but also at the expense of time people spend on the phone gabbing with family and friends, or having a conversation with people in the room with them." The Internet certainly has changed my life. Twenty years ago I used to spend an hour every day reading my local newspaper, and close to another hour watching television news. Now I get a daily digest of the topics that interest me in a matter of minutes through the internet. Each individual must decide for themselves the costs and rewards associated with social aspects of the internet.
posted by netbros at 4:37 PM on March 10, 2011

Best answer: • Does the internet take the place of more worthwhile activities?

Maybe. It depends on what you deem as worthwhile. You might be interested in the book, The Winter of Our Disconnect. I have not read the book but I have heard the author interviewed on NPR and I have read excerpts of the book. The author tells of how one of her children regained interest in the saxophone, and joined a jazz band, when he no longer had access to the internet and other technology.

I have heard a lot of people on Metafilter dispute the idea that the internet is an addiction. I have read articles that have also disputed the idea. On the other hand, I have read some articles purporting that the internet can be addictive. I have seen mental health professionals advertise counseling services for "internet addiction."

I'm no expert. I don't know if it can be classified as an addiction. To me, it can be a very bad habit and I think all things (mostly) are fine in moderation. Anecdotal, but my friends that have the most fulfilling and productive lives, in my eyes, are not heavy internet users. My most "engaged" friend does not have internet access in her home. She is the friend I most admire because she lives in the moment, has a very close relationship with her kids and husband, and has a clean house.

I think it depends on how you are using the internet. Is it a replacement for "real" friends? Is your house a wreck? Is your health suffering (weight gain, loss of sleep, etc.)? Are you delaying professional aspirations? Are your relationships suffering?

If you've tried giving it up have you found your productivity or quality of life improve as a result?

Most definitely. When I have internet free days I am more productive. Is my quality of life improved? It's hard to say. Before the internet I was "addicted" to fashion magazines. I would hole up and escape while reading magazines. I think it's important to look at the possible underlying cause of procrastination or unhealthy escapism.
posted by Fairchild at 4:38 PM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

yes/similar, yes, yes, yes
posted by J. Wilson at 4:38 PM on March 10, 2011

I'd like to add my perspective into things, as I have an active life online as much as offline.

Is the Internet addictive? Almost certainly so.

If I give it up, will my productivity or quality of life improve? This is not very straightforward. Once I learned to stop "wasting time" online, then my quality of life improved. The Internet is necessary for my line of work (web development), and I do spend a lot of time online at home to either work more, or research about my career. But I used to waste a lot of time with online games, chat rooms, unnecessary browsing of meaningless forums, social networks, etc.
Once I figured out how to unplug when I needed to -- to run errands, attend events, just plain get out -- my quality of life improved. Before I would make excuses to be at home lounging on the Internet than to get out and do things. Now I'd gladly go out than stay at home online.

Does the Internet lead to life avoidance and procrastination? Of course it does. It affects some people way more deeply than others. How many people do you know that will not do their homework or go out just because they just cruise Facebook instead? Once you drink from the firehose, the overload stream of information is hard to get off from. You feel compelled to be on, for fear of missing something, when you are actually missing out on what you really need to get done IRL.

Does the Internet take place of more worthwhile activities? This really depends. Honestly, if you don't have much obligations or responsibilities in life, you are hurting not yourself or anyone else if you just spend all day and night online. It is when you have things to take care of, offline, is when the problem begins. What is *truly* worthwhile? You won't know until you try, yet many Internet-addicted won't even try. So that is difficult.
But is chatting with long distance friends online more worthwhile than hanging out at a bar with friends you only mildly get along with? Is reading and researching about topics you enjoy online more worthwhile than reading a book? It's hard to say.
But mostly, honestly it is more true than it is not.
Going out to learn an instrument, hiking, interacting with your peers, playing board games at a friend's house are all more healthy than just reading MeFi and Reddit all day.

Most people are social creatures, it's not a surprise that most Internet addicted people are very depressed. Facebook causes depression, social networks cause depression, online gaming addiction causes depression. I don't think we are designed to be holed up in our houses reading about each other alone, but rather physically interacting with each other socially.
posted by xtine at 4:57 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

My own experience has been along the lines of this comment in the thread you reference. But I'm sure that not everyone's experience is the same.
posted by lollusc at 5:59 PM on March 10, 2011

I read this comment about the person who turned off the Internet and yet found other ways to procrastinate.. Um, seems like the Internet-less way of being a no good procrastinating human being also nets you a lot of books read, clean apartment, meals cooked, garden tended, and workout accomplished? That sounds awesome! Much better than procrastinating on the Iinternet.
posted by citron at 6:35 PM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

It doesn't really matter how we feel. What matters is how YOU feel.

The term "addiction" and "disease" are loaded and treacherous. Is the internet an addictive substance in the same way that heroin is an addictive substance? What about chocolate? Or beer? Pot? Television?

You can see how it quickly gets ugly.

Instead, it's far better to fall back on that old standard, "Is it interfering in your ability to lead your life?"

If so, then maybe you'll want to work on cutting the cord.
posted by ErikaB at 6:49 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think that the answers to your last three questions are that, yes, certainly, the internt can get in the way if it is not monitored carefully. I think you have to moderate your own behavior accordingly. I know I spend too much time online myself, avoiding stuff I don't particularly feel like doing right now but that I'm going to have to do anyway. I'm a terrible procrastinator.

But the question is, what would I be doing if I weren't on the internet right now, this second? And since my husband is out of town for the week and the teens are playing videogames, this is "more social" than just sitting and watching TV. Which is what, realistically, I'd probably be doing if it weren't for the internet. I COULD be cleaning the house, or creating a masterpiece (theoretically), but I probably wouldn't be.

Look, the internet can be a temporary escape from reality, or it can become your whole reality. As someone who is at home a lot, I think I tilt a little too often towards turning to computer friends vs getting out and meeting people IRL sometimes, because I'm a bit socially awkward and introverted. But if I gave up my computer, would I be going out every day? I'd probably just end up curling up with a book half the time instead.

So, yeah, the internet can enable bad habits, certainly. I push myself to get away and not use a computer at all when I think it is getting in the way of the really important stuff. Honestly, I think that's how most people get by, and it's only if you have an addictive personality to begin with, or if you are already stressed and depressed that any of this becomes a real problem.
posted by misha at 6:54 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Glendale: tl;dr is an acronym for "Too long; didn't read," and is usually a pithy way of dismissing something on the internet that has too many words.

I think you need to look at this the same way you look at most addictions - the possibility exists that you might engage in this behavior so much it is destructive to other key parts of your life. If the internet, video games, alcohol, heroin, or fashion magazines are getting in the way of you doing what you want to do and ultimately making your life worse rather than better, then it's a problem.
posted by OrangeDrink at 8:02 PM on March 10, 2011

The only thing in the real world that improves to the point that real people comment on it, when I don't post on MeFi for a while, is my lawn. No, really. Most of my elderly neighbors pay lawn services to cut their grass and trim their bushes, while I still do it all at my place, on my own. Whenever I'm out cutting bushes, mowing, edging, raking, bagging, sweeping, and blowing, my neighbors smile at me, nod to me, and sometimes, offer me refreshments, and big money for my little truck.

When I'm reading and posting on MetaFilter, and it rains any time from March to November, the St. Augustine grass in the side yard can grow 6 inches in 2 days...
posted by paulsc at 10:49 PM on March 10, 2011

Kathy Sierra wrote a blog entry once about intermittent variable reinforcement and internet behavior.

It really struck home about my own internet use - I do a lot of what she's describing (especially revisiting MeFi several times a day ... anytime you load the site, you win! Special treat time with brand new threads and comments!).

My day job involves internet development, and I have procrastination problems. Sometimes it's like working in a candy shop where all of the sweets are laced with cocaine.
posted by cadge at 9:31 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've thought about this, worried about it, read things about it. (See here for some pointers to research.)

My conclusions go something like this: If you have tendencies to be impulsive, are prone to getting hooked on stuff, have reasons why you procrastinate and avoid stuff, then the internet can be one way that you will use to do that. But if there was no net or you just turned it off, chances are very high that you will just find some other way to avoid what you're avoiding and something else to get hooked on.

Also with anything that you want to get un-addicted to, one of the most important things is simply to keep yourself and the temptation apart. i.e. Don't count on your being able to resist temptation when it happens, make sure it doesn't cross your path in the first place. This is harder to do with the net than with some other things.

One thing that at least improves the situation for me is simply not turning my computer on first thing, but leaving that til after I've got a bunch of offline things done. Also turning the computer off for blocks of time when there is no great reason why I really need it.

But if you're avoiding stuff for a reason, e.g. it seems overwhelming, you also need to find other strategies for dealing with that. Because otherwise it'll still seem overwhelming when you don't have the computer on, and you'll likely find yourself engaged in some other form of displacement activity.
posted by philipy at 11:52 AM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

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