This post was originally published on December 5, 2014.
I don’t know if it’s their font, their reputation or the sophistication of their illustrations but if The New Yorker publishes something, I take it pretty seriously. That’s why their recent piece on Internet addiction seemed ripe for digging my teeth into. Since I read and write and think about addiction in various forms nearly every day, I sometimes take for granted what the base rate understanding is by the gen pop—or even what is medically and scientifically confirmed. I don’t really care that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)—the go-to reference for psychological disorders—has yet to recognize Internet addiction. I have been privy to the pitfalls of the disorder so I know it’s real—but since it has not been validated in black and white, the reality of the addiction is, apparently, still up for debate.
Contrary to what I might like to think, I am not a doctor. And there is good reason for that. Besides the fact that I barely graduated high school and only had the attention span for two years of college, on the whole my brain doesn’t respond well to stats and numbers. I am more of a feeler than a deducer—I understand things by experiencing them, which is why I love to write about drugs, booze and sex…things I have a lot of experience with.
Experience Vs. Science
So when it comes to Internet addiction, studies and reports mean nothing to me. What holds water are the vivid memories I have of lying in bed next to my boyfriend as we simultaneously played Words with Friends (sometimes against each other) in complete silence. We hadn’t had any form or sexual intimacy in close to five months but it’s hard to expect someone to get it up when he can’t even manage to look up from his iPhone long enough to talk about it. If it wasn’t Words with Friends, it was Hanging with Friends and then Scramble with Friends. It was online blackjack and Candy Crush and how many people were now following him on Twitter. At first, these appear to be harmless moments in a day but collectively they become a protocol of tasks that create a confusing and seemingly impenetrable check out from life.
Not that checking out of life is a bad thing—we all do it—but like with everything, it needs to be done in moderation. Unfortunately, addicts don’t do moderation very well. I am an alcoholic who has never had a problem with gambling but I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel the pain of walking away from the Wheel of Fortune slot machine when I am down 100 bones. The way I see it, if you are putting any facet of your life in jeopardy by paying online Jeopardy, then you aren’t any different than the wife who drinks too much and is sloppy by the time her husband comes home or the single gal who keeps maxing out her credit cards on senseless Amazon purchases or the guy who packs on 30 pounds because he opened a Krispy Kreme on his route home from work—these are all people abusing their preferred method of checking out of life.
My preferred method used to be alcohol—a method I share with millions of other humans, which is why Americans have nearly 10 drinking holidays a year. But since I am one of the seven-to-10 percent of adults who have an allergy to alcohol, I quit drinking and transferred my addiction to sugar, caffeine, food, binge-watching TV, sex and shopping. Others pick up gambling, smoking, video gaming and/or the Internet to manage their emotions. Eventually, the goal is to heal and therefore quiet the mind, lessening our compulsion towards acting out in any area. Sometimes it’s just a game of lifelong harm reduction, trading in a crystal meth habit for Monster energy drinks—both bad for you in different ways but hey, why not settle on the lesser of two evils?
A Behavior We Can’t Fully Abstain From
Beyond what may be considered Internet addiction, we have all come to rely on—and in many cases, professionally forced to engage in—the Internet. It’s not acceptable to not have a Facebook page and to not check it regularly. I have people mad at me all the time for not responding to them on various social media platforms. But I refuse to cow tow to their seemingly unreasonable demands upon my time. Because it sure does feel like if checked Facebook and Twitter the way I am socially expected to, I would find it challenging to participate in my real life as well.
I have to say, what bothers me the most about the discussion of various behavioral and process addictions and their validity is that no one ever seems to mention the most cunning one of all—sports. It’s probably the most accepted and celebrated check out of all time yet nothing sucks more than losing your partner to Sunday, Monday and sometimes Thursday night football. I suppose this is why many women have decided to get with the program and rock a Saints jersey since otherwise they’d feel more included in a conversation spoken in Tagalog than they would one about football. But hearing about sports is the least of it. If you are involved with a sports fanatic, you can forget about time and intimacy. From football to basketball to UFC to girls high school lacrosse—there is always a game to be seen and therefore an issue not to be dealt with.
But if we need to focus on Internet addiction for now, so be it.