If you're reading this now, you might well be familiar with the following symptoms: loss of appetite, wild hallucinations, general background anxiety, clammy palms, irritability and nervous eye-twitching à la Herbert Lom whenever faced with Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies (this is often coupled with random chuckling). Sound familiar? Have you ever experienced these sort of withdrawal symptoms? Are you an Internet addict?!
Well, of course, the above symptoms are completely made-up. But some folk do get a little bit too attached to life online. Let's see if our dearly beloved h2g2 Community considers itself addicted to life online.
A Typical Confession
Imagine, if you will, one of those poor people on TV whose faces are blacked out (or else they're talking hidden under a shadow) in order to protect their identity. You could even pretend that the voice is heavily disguised too, sounding like someone speaking after breathing in lots of helium:
Hello. My name is __________________ and I am an Internet junkie. I don't like to leave my house because I'm afraid that I might miss some emails. If I have to go out I'll be on the net before I leave and as soon as I return again. When I'm away from my computer I start hearing the dial tones everywhere I go and nothing can stop them from invading my head!! (Takes deep calming breath) My palms go all sweaty at the thought of the Internet, the lovely chat rooms and the mindless sites which contain nothing but useless information for me to read. I can't get away from it - it's everywhere. I want my life back! HELP ME SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME!!!! Thank you for listening.
A one-off? Sadly not...
Yes, I keep hearing the modem dialling up in my head as well... especially if I haven't been online for a day or so.
It can't get much worse than that, can it? Surely not...
Wouldn't it be great if there was a CD made of all the dial tones in the world. I'd buy it.
God help us...
What do those pesky doctors think? (Those that aren't addicted to h2g2, at any rate):
I worked this out with my doctor: if I ever want to have a shot at a good night's sleep, I must log off the Internet on or before 11pm.
Obviously, for this to have become enough of a problem to be discussed with my doctor, I must have had quite an addiction. Actually, I have been addicted since 1996, when Internet availability came to my office. So, there you have it. I've haunted several websites since then. But h2g2 is clearly unique (or uniquely clear?). Where else could you spend time at a site around the clock, and still miss some spots you'd enjoy if you only knew about them?
I mentioned this discussion to a friend of mine who works as a counsellor, regarding it as being quite a light-hearted subject. But he told me that 'Internet addiction' is regarded as a serious modern malaise by many people working in the psychiatric profession. Some doctors have been earnestly working on treatments for this 'condition' - a fact that annoys my friend, who is a keen net user himself. As he says - would they view keen train-spotters in the same way? Part of the problem is, of course, that many people think that Internet = pornography, which makes it easier to regard a passion for it as being pathological. What those doctors would make of h2g2 addiction, I cannot imagine. They might even think that there was something unhealthy about me being here and posting this on Christmas Day...
What to do if You Think You're an Addict
Ahhh! Help's at hand. Honest. Here's a five-point plan to lead you back to salvation.
To quote a song, 'We are the ones with the radiating eyes'1. Although the suggested symptoms were made up, I most certainly recognise seeing them in the reflection on my monitor. I am one of a dying breed of true Internet know-alls. We shun the 'web' for more (or should I say less) mature protocols such as Hotline and IRC. Although I would love to introduce others to the wonders of Hotline, I fear some people would never leave the keyboard again. Anyway, enough of the chit-chat, lets get on with the useful stuff. What to do if you think you're an addict:
When you wake up in the morning (please do try to sleep at least one night a week), you should be closer to your fridge than you are to your computer. This is very important since I have seen many a poor soul become inexorably drawn towards their computer before even taking a drink of water.
Go easy on the caffeine, for Pete's sake. Caffeine, although giving the illusion of consciousness, will only cause to you babble, a prime example of which can be found right here. The one exception to this rule is if the drug is used to keep an argument going.
Learn how to argue and win in chatrooms. Easy as this may sound, typing in ALL CAPS often does not win you an argument, rather a kick from the room/server. What you must do is this:
Never change your opinion whilst in an argument, this will make you look weak (remember, people can scroll up to see what you said earlier and quote you).
Stay on the defensive as much as you can. The best way to win an argument is to shred anything the other person says whilst not giving them anything that they could shred. Lastly, in dire circumstances, leave the room immediately and come back later, complaining of a connection failure.
Be wary of becoming a nerd. Note that it is possible to spend an unhealthy amount of time in front of a screen and not ever succumb to nerd-dom, but it should also be noted that you will be treading a find line between cool and freaky. The secret to survival lies in what you do online. Try to vary your habits, and occasionally do something completely crazy (like going to the ITV website or something) to prevent you from falling into a very deep groove. Playing online games is a good way to break up the pattern, although RPGs may get you beaten by the nerdy stick.
Last, and for once actually least, listen to music which will make you jump about, because lets face it, that's the only exercise you're ever likely to get.
Those Who Work on the Internet
Those that actually work on the Internet must be sane, though, mustn't they?
It's not the Internet addicts you should feel sorry for... its those of us who work online... designing websites, conducting meetings, running an online business. We have to look at our screens for eight hours a day, five-seven days a week, relieving the boredom between emails and FTP with searches for the latest computers and network devices which will make our lives easier. It's enough to drive you Mad... MAD I SAY!!!! ARGH!!!!
No sympathy from this chap, though:
Web designers want all the glory (and get it) along with the bandwidth. What about those who spend their days in darkened machine rooms keeping it all running for you threading cables through ducts designed for small rodents not a network engineer's forearm? Bah humbug to the lot of you.
Ooooo-ooh! Virtual handbags at dawn, or what!
It's amazing the convoluted reasoning h2g2 addicts employ to assuage their shame and guilt...
My work involves being an expert in virtually every technical field imaginable, I'm a translator. If I didn't have the Internet I'd need the entire British Library in my office. One day I could be working on documents about landfill sites, the next about shipbuilding and the next on nuclear reactor components. And it's impossible to translate something if you haven't a clue what they are actually talking about. Hence the reason I can't do without the Internet. Somewhere, virtually every subject in existence is covered someplace on the web. OK, so you've got to filter out a lot of junk when you do your research, but among all that junk is an awful lot of information.
At least that's my excuse for spending eight hours a day logged onto h2g2.
All-time Champion Internet Addict
What follows below is a remarkable insight into the daily routine of a potential award-winning champion Internet addict:
I have this daily routine I have to get through, or else I'm dangerous to myself and others. I most often operate with two windows at a time, so if I'm loading something on the one I have the other.
Window 1 - I go to the Michael Ball fan club forum and check all the posts. Then I go to the Ballpoint site (a Michael Ball site) to check for updates. Then I check the AboutMichael site (another Michael Ball site) for updates. Then I check the official Michael Ball site for updates. Then I check the Balliosi site (another... you guessed it, Michael Ball site) and look at the daily picture calendar there (and in December, their extra Christmas calendar). Then I go to h2g2, since that's where I am most of the time.
Window 2 - I check my Hotmail account. Then I check my older, retired Hotmail account. After that, I just surf for hours whatever I'm interested in at the moment. If I don't do this every day, I go out of my skull. My father almost killed me when he got the telephone bills (we had ISDN back then - now we have ADSL).
And if I don't earn the Internet addict prize, I don't know who does.
You win, hands down! But hang on - wait a minute - what the hell have we got here? Oh my good God...
I've actually gotten to the point where in normal conversation I will attempt to use h2g2 smileys by making '<' and '>' motions with my hand, and drawing the code for the smiley I wish to use in the air. So, if I'm congratulating somebody, in the middle of my paragraph I will randomly trace '<bubbly>' into the air, half expecting it to appear.
'I Can Quit Any Time I Want!'
No you can't.
I am very new to the whole computer scene. It all started back in May when my mother bought a computer for my six-year-old daughter. I approached the machine with a hesitant curiosity. How can people spend hours on such a ridiculous 'toy'? My answer came. Here I sit. I still have much to learn. My daughter, who likes to play her educational games, just sighs and walks away when she sees me sitting in front of 'her' computer. My husband bought her a printer and a scanner for Christmas! I mean, she loves them. Well, that's my little tidbit on computer addiction. I would just like to add that h2g2 hasn't helped at all! I love this place! Someday I'll return to reality. I wonder how old my daughter will be when that happens?
Pushing 56, perhaps?
Going Cold Mouse
As one h2g2 wit remarked, if drug withdrawal is called 'going cold turkey', is Internet withdrawal 'going cold mouse'? Anyway, check this out for a tale of addiction, madness, conniving and civic libraries:
Anyway, I admit it - I'm an addict. There are so many people that I keep in touch with via h2g2, email or both, and if I'm deprived of net access then I really miss them! I have had major problems with my home computer recently, and was seriously worried that I might lose my home net access for an extended period. Thankfully, I managed to get my computer fixed. When I got the computer home after it had been repaired, I switched on very nervously, and when I heard the familiar whining noises that signify the modem starting up, I really felt like weeping with relief!
Last year I actually was deprived of home net access for some time due to an unpaid phone bill (and guess how I'd run up the bill?) During that time, I regularly visited my local library to use their computers. Net access there was limited to 30 minutes at a time, which was nowhere near enough, but better than nothing.
The one loophole in this arrangement was that it was a large library with computers on several different floors, so you could have half an hour on one floor, then go to another floor and have a further half an hour there. On one occasion, I contrived to have a two-hour Internet session by going to four different floors in the same afternoon.
I sometimes feel suspicious of that message you get when you shut down a computer - the one that says: 'It's now safe to switch off your computer'. How can it be safe? That means it's time to rejoin the real world!
All joking of addiction aside, there is a very good argument to be made for the fact that it's not the Internet itself that is addictive, but the people you meet there. We'll leave the final word then, to one Researcher who sums up perfectly the human aspect of the Internet. It is, after all, mainly just about humans communicating with other humans:
I'd have spent the last two New Year's Eves alone. As it was, I was logged on and into h2g2 and talking to friends on Instant Messaging. I still had to go to bed alone but at least I know there are people out there who love me and want to spend time talking with me. The Internet is not a replacement for real life, but it makes my real life more bearable.