Imagine that you move into your new dorm room only to find that your internet connection isn’t working. Do you feel a little frustrated, mildly anxious, or totally panicked?
If you chose Option C, you might just be an internet addict. Don’t laugh—a growing number of doctors believe that internet addiction is a serious problem, one that’s on par with established dependencies like alcoholism and compulsive shopping. There’s even a brand-new internet rehab center in Fall City, Washington called reSTART that aims to cure netheads of their wicked ways in just 45 days by reconnecting them to “the real world.” Ironically, the treatment center is located less than 20 minutes away from Microsoft’s corporate headquarters in Redmond.
So far, reSTART has treated a grand total of one patient: 19-year-old Ben Alexander, who says that he used to spend up to 17 hours playing World of Warcraft before he checked in. Ben’s paying a whopping $14,500 for the privilege of participating in rehab activities like “Discovery Quest” and “Weekly Shopping/Planning” (seriously, look at reSTART’s sample daily schedule). That’s more than the price of tuition for PA residents at Penn State’s flagship campus.
Don’t get me wrong—I definitely agree that spending 70% of your day slaying goblins online (or whatever it is people do in World of Warcraft) certainly isn’t healthy. Still, I’m skeptical about the whole idea of “internet addiction.” As two psychologists point out here, it makes as much sense to say that people are addicted to the things they’re doing on the internet—gambling, chatting, even looking at porn—as it does to say that they’re addicted to the internet itself. And underlying problems like chronic depression are likely what prompt so-called internet addicts to act the way they do; unless those issues are treated, just quitting the internet cold turkey isn’t likely to make them any happier.
Then again, it’s possible that I’m dismissing the idea of internet addiction because I’m worried that I’m a borderline web junkie myself. When I traveled this summer to a country where my iPhone didn’t work, I did get nervous about the fact that I couldn’t check my email as often as I usually do—around every fifteen minutes. Maybe I should go ahead and take the internet addiction test (sample question: “How often do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with soothing thoughts of the Internet?”). I’ll let you guys know how it goes.
Does it seem funny to anyone else that the only way to find out whether you’re addicted to the internet is by taking a test that’s only available… on the internet?