Monday, May 5, 2003

Cold turkey

by Suw on May 5, 2003

My head is a seething morass of thoughts today, each one writhing against the next like a ball of herring desperately trying to escape the tuna fish herding them up to the surface of the sea to ensure that each and every one becomes lunch.
I’m going cold turkey. That’s it. My addiction (or should that be, addyction) to Sweet Addy and MSN has got way too out of hand, and I appear to be absolutely incapable of simply cutting back. It’s like that idea that you can quit smoking or drinking by ‘just cutting down’ – it’s all very well in theory but in practice it’s very difficult to draw the line between ‘enough’ and ‘too much’.
So it is with my pals online – there’s no such thing as a ‘quick chat’ online. I have been known in recent days to have MSN conversations that have gone on for six or eight hours. Admittedly MSN chats tend to be a lot slower than normal ones – we probably could have said the same in half an hour on the phone. But I can touch type, which means that the limiting factor in the speed of the conversation is the typing speed of the other party. If they type slowly, then I can pretend to myself that I’m getting work done in between my contributions. If they type as fast as I do, then that pretence becomes less and less believable.
I’ve been online since 1994, one way or another. I remember when Yahoo chat was full of adults discussing books and literature, rather than 13 year olds pretending to cyber. I remember when a 28k connection seemed to be going like shit off a stick. I remember when web sites never had graphics.
I’ve used the internet for communication, research, work and fun for eight or nine years. I’ve depended on it for work for the last five. But this is the worst my addiction has become, because only now is it interfering with my life in a negative way (i.e. I’m playing online when I should be working). The internet has variously been my mentor, my saviour and my reliable ol’ mate throughout that time, but now it’s really doing my head in.
Faced with this question now, of whether I really am an internet addict, I did what any sensible person would do. I went to Google and searched for information. (Strike one…)
This means that I’m not in bed when told myself I would be (strike two…), and that my intention to get an early night so that I could get an early morning so that I can catch up on all the things that I should have done today but didn’t do because I was too busy chatting to my Australian friends has really bitten the dust. (Strike two-and-a-half…)
It’s clear that the internet is not addictive in the way that, say, heroin is addictive. If it is addictive, then it’s a behavioural addiction, not physiological, but many psychologists just don’t believe it’s real at all. But if in fact addicts “use the Internet excessively as a medium to fuel other addictions… The Internet is just the place where they engage in their behaviour” (Griffths, 2000), then what the hell am I addicted to? Talking?
Actually, that’s not so far from the truth really. I’m a compulsive communicator. I’m afraid that I have the confessional gene, and talking is something I’m rather well known for in the real world. Or should I say, talking too much. But you know, that’s not my fault – if you’d been brought up with my Mum you’d also have learnt that the only way to say everything you needed to say is to not draw breath between paragraphs. And never pause. A pause in our household was always fatal.
It’s a miracle that I ever learnt to punctuate.
However, much of the stuff on internet addiction that I’ve been reading whilst writing this blog seems to be somewhat concerned with cybering, rather than taking an overall look at how excessive internet usage affects people’s lives. Yet there’s a lot more to internet usage than cybering.
And this brings me onto a tangential bugbear that I can’t let pass.
What is wrong with the good old fashioned epistolary relationship, as was once common, facilitated by email and MSN? Huh? Not every friendship or relationship formed online is fake, shallow and lacking in merit. I met a couple of my very dear friends online and our relationships offline are no different to the ones we have online. I also know many couples who have met online and are living perfectly well together offline.
Yet so many people who have no experience of what could tongue-twistingly be called an e-epistolary relationship will immediately dismiss them as ‘unreal’, as if the internet itself is in some way fake. It’s not. There are real people out there, and they are no more likely to be a mad axe murderer than any guy who’s ever chatted me up in a pub. In fact, I would rather get to know someone slowly over a number of months via the internet than get utterly shitfaced in some skanky London bar and hope that my judgement’s not so clouded that I’ll have to gnaw my own arm off in the morning in order to effect an escape. (Don’t laugh. I’m typing one-handed right now, you know.)
Anyway, back to the point. Internet addiction. I’m not going to list the various signs and signals listed on the sites I’ve looked at, nor am I going to link to them, mainly because I happen to tick ‘yes’ to a rather scary proportion of them. (Secrecy regarding online activities? Strike two-and-three-quarters…)
But I have concluded that I’m not actually addicted. Not really. I just need a break and to concentrate on the important things in life, like making sure my business flourishes. (Or at least goes out with a flourish, if nothing else…)
Denial? Strike three! You’re out!

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