To meet the requirements for my social work license and stay current on advances in the field, I recently went to a seminar on Internet Addiction. The first thing the presenter did was to ask everyone to put away their phones and refrain from using the internet and email features of the phone until the course ended 6 hours later. What? Six hours without email or Facebook? What if someone couldn’t get in touch with me and there was an emergency? As I noticed the thoughts going through my mind, I realized that they were excuses based on my fears of being disconnected. If I was going to be successful in avoiding the internet, I had to challenge those catastrophic thoughts. That wasn’t easy, especially during our breaks when I wasn’t able to distract myself by focusing on the lecture. When the urge to check my phone got strong, I connected with others by talking about how difficult this assignment was.
In our busy lives, many people find that being connected to the internet helps them feel connected to the world. When we don’t have time to spend with others, we keep in touch and stay up-to-date online. Without internet access, we feel disconnected. Additionally, the internet and our smartphones make a lot of things at work and home quicker and easier. But have we gone too far? Are we addicted to the internet? Let’s look at the criteria developed by Kimberly S. Young:
- Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous on-line activity or anticipate next on-line session)?
- Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
- Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
- Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
- Do you stay on-line longer than originally intended?
- Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
- Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
- Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?
According to Young, if you answer “yes” to five of the above questions, you have an Internet addiction. How did you score? Want another “test” to find out if you are addicted? Try the exercise that I was challenged to do. No internet for 6 hours. I know it sounds scary and chances are, your mind will come up with many reasons not to do it. Here are some strategies to make it easier. Attempt it on the weekend so that it doesn’t interfere with your job, ask a friend to do it with you, or try it on a day that you have plans to do something fun with others. I hope you’ll enjoy the time this gives you to connect with others face-to-face. Let me know how it goes.
Reference: Young, K. (Fall 1998). Internet addiction: The emergence of a new clinical disorder. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 1(3), 237-244. doi:10.1089/cpb.1998.1.237.