Internet obsession

Beth Arnold                                                                                                                      

journalist , award winner writer

 Article first published in The Huffington Post

Letter From Paris: 28 Days (Without the Internet)

When I think of the flap copy for the book I'm about to go off to write, these are the first words that come to my mind:
"If Elizabeth Gilbert had sought solace from Internet addiction instead of from a crushing divorce, this is the book she might've written. Beth Arnold's '28 Days (Without the Internet)' makes us laugh and cry in equal measure, and not just for Arnold but for ourselves. Arnold's compelling personal chronicle -- of her own slippery slide into virtual life and her courageous effort to escape and regain the wholeness of her humanity -- is the book that all frazzled, fragmented 21st-century technoslaves have been waiting for. Even if they don't know it yet."
It is a crazy world we live in. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, elders of every generation have lamented changes in their social fabric, but never in the history of man have we encountered a rabbit hole like the Internet. It provides instant gratification for anything we've ever wanted, anything we've even momentarily imagined we desired. The old Yellow Pages slogan "Let Your Fingers Do the Walking" has never been truer -- within seconds we can travel to other lands and other times, exploring wonders we never knew existed. There are 272 million North American Internet users -- 78 percent of the population and growing -- and more than 2 billion Internet users around the world.

Over the last decade -- especially in the last five years -- our lifestyles have evolved so that we have little to no downtime away from the Internet. When we do step away from our computers, we're mainlining our smart phones. We are constantly Googling, texting, snapping digital pictures and recording movies. We're documenting our lives to death and without respite. Facebook has more than 600 million active users throughout the world. Fifty percent of active users log on to Facebook in any given day. People spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, sharing more than 30 billion pieces of content -- web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums and so on. Besides individuals, every public organization and private company is creating Facebook and Twitter accounts and hiring people to manage them.

Once people are logged in, the interaction begins and the rewards come instantly, as connections are made and then go on and on, a viral, worldwide experiment of Pavlov's dog. We can't resist connecting, because we love our reward. Through the invisible thread of the Internet, we become linked to kindred spirits all over the globe. With these new "friends," we're able to exchange information and ideas, elect presidents, manage revolutions, topple corrupt governments. "Power to the People" goes another old slogan, and the Internet has given us the power of making our voices heard. Could life get any more perfect than this?

Well, yes it can -- with a few boundaries between us and the Internet. Power is the greatest aphrodisiac known to mankind, and because the Internet is our path to power, people worldwide are obsessed with it -- and obsession is exactly the right word to describe our addictive behaviors. Through our computers and smart phones, we're connected 24/7. Some people even sleep with their phones so as not to miss a text or call. We become crazed to own the latest laptop, phone or notebook. We are literally falling in love with technology -- at the expense of our relationships with other human beings and with ourselves.
Scientists report that the Internet is literally changing our brains, that life online is giving us a brain so accustomed to the constant stimulation of electronic multi-tasking that we're becoming unfit for real life, which moves at a much slower pace.

"A lot of young people are breaking into the news business now as bloggers," says a veteran Wall Street Journal writer that I spoke with. "It is often where you get sent as a young-reporter's job. But it is so all-consuming that people tend to burn out. So I tell people that they should look at blogging as a stepping stone to a more normal reporting assignment, and try to move to a steadier article-oriented assignment within two years, because if they just focus on becoming great bloggers they run the risk of burning out and losing their love of the profession. There are some people whose high-intensity temperaments permit them to just blog from morning to night, but most people need a more human pace to their lives in order for their brains to come up with something that is actually worth reading."

While it's a relatively new phenomenon, "Internet addiction" will most likely be included in the "DSM-5" -- the next iteration of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual," published by the American Psychiatric Association, the bible of shrinks everywhere.

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