Thursday, January 12, 2012
Is Internet Usage An Addiction?
According to the The Independent, The United Nations, Internet Access is a human right. Certainly, over the past twenty years, the Internet has revolutionised the majority of human interaction. Twenty years ago, life was clearly defined by opening hours. Shops closed at 5.30pm on Saturdays, supermarkets were only open late on Thursdays, and if you wanted to pay bills you often sat down for an hour a month and wrote and posted cheques for every service you received. The only established dialogue between people was a one-way communication from the throne of the media to the populace in the printed form. The vast majority of the world was able to spread ideas to strangers through the letters page of the newspapers, magazines, and – occasionally – in photocopied fanzines. Life was expensive, time consuming, and the stressful tussle of a Saturday morning race around the local supermarket before the shelves were stripped bare by hungry people who worked for a living was certainly one of the least enjoyable parts of many peoples everyday lives.
Nowadays, you can click “repeat previous order”, and your shopping arrives (albeit with orange juice replaced by orange paint) at your doorstep.
So... is frequent Internet use an addiction? Absolutely not. With the transformation of the access the population have from print media to the internet, anyone in the country can, if they really want, set up a website about anything. And, be it derelict railway stations, or your wedding, they can and do. In order to participate in modern Britain, Internet use is practically a necessity. If you want the best prices and largest choice for your utilities, your travel, concert tickets, consumable goods (music, books, and film), the Internet is the broadband nipple you should eat from.
How could business be done these days, if you waited for the postman to arrive with the letters in the mid-afternoon? How could you work flexibily, from home, or caring for children or relatives, or stranded with cancelled trains in a suburban snow drift, without it? Slowly, and with incumbent delays, for a start.
Engagement in many aspects of modern life, culture, news, and my friends who live half way across the world, or work night shifts, is only practically possible through the time-shifting element of the Internet. Time spent working at home in evenings, and on the train travelling to and from work, is time I don't spend at the office until 10pm. For us who are relatively lucky enough to have jobs, albeit understaffed and with high workloads, the Internet allows me to leave work with enough time to give my children a bath and put them to put at night. For those of us for who love people where 8pm in their country is 4am in mine, or for those where the only opportunity for daily phone contact is to call someone in America on their lunch hour when it is 1am in Britain, the Internet is the only practical way to keep relationships alive. Ask any touring businessman, musician, or anyone whose parents are in Australia, for example.
Imagine a world where the only way to watch the news was at three set times in the day – 1pm, 6pm, and 10pm. Imagine a world where the only news you could read had been vetted and sanitised with the agenda of a set of shareholders and checked with a Paper Editor. Where the people involved, or accused, in these stories, were silent and voiceless to correct gross lies unless it served an agenda. Imagine if all you read about Hugh Grant, or Christopher Jefferies or Mllly Dowler was through the lens of a newspaper trying to shift product.
Certainly, the signal to noise ratio can be very high. More than once, the adage “Never read the bottom half of the internet” has been heard. But it is not Internet usage which is an addiction : the Internet is a portal, and like any machine – a car, a cigarette, pornography (42,337 of the 1,000,000 most popular sites are porn) – it is not what it is that is crucial, but the usage it provides. The Internet, like any machine, is not an end in itself. A car undriven is just a lump of metal parked somewhere. A cigarette unsmoked is just tobacco wrapped in paper. In the same way that people are not actually addicted to cigarettes – but to nicotine, the medium – The Internet – and the message and function are easily confused. A woman who starved her 3 year old baby whilst playing World Of Warcraft is not an Internet addict, but a World of Warcraft Addict. It is no surprise it is called “World Of Warcrack”, and there are “Warcraft Widows” the world over. The addiction is not to the method of delivery – the cigarette, the roar of an engine, the roar of the guitar or the orgasm of promisciousity or the thrill of the goal – but to what it does to human beings somewhere inside of us on a physical, chemical, psychological basis : a temporary, impermanent escape from the prison of circumstances that surround us.
Certainly, when real life itself is frankly, mundane, often boring, and frequently fairly joyless, the Internet can offer a vital opportunity for us to recast ourselves as who we want to be and not who or what the circumstances of our finances and social surroundings force us to be. And the Internet is, relatively speaking, a cheaper, and more reliable form of entertainment than almost all the other options. A film costs £8.80 and barely lasts two hours excluding adverts for mobile phone providers and caloriffic sugary products. If reality itself were not mundance and joyless, then a Washing-Up-Simulator App, or perhaps a Xbox Game called “Get To Work On Time!” (which involves, say 60 minutes of standing motionless and trying not to touch anything, which would oddly enough be similar to games such as Desert Bus! and Takeshi's Challenge) would be an enormous success.
All human addiction is a desire to transcend and escape reality. The key to any enjoyable activity is to knowing when you have to come back down to reality. The issue of Internet Addiction is symptomatic of something else : anyone who has been a sleepless, exhausted parent knows the temptation to reclaim an hour of time to be something other than a Mother- or Father-Unit shackled to a small child.
There is no such thing as Internet Addiction, as such. Like Food Addiction, modern life has become such that to fully engage in our world around us, we must partake in use of the Internet to pay our bills and interact : in the same way that a food addict must eat or starve to death. All addiction is not an addiction to the medium, but what the trigger creates in our mind : a distraction from the often less than amazing reality.
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away.", Philip K Dick, "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later".