Being addicted to the Internet has never been so in style

Being addicted to the Internet has never been so in style

CultureOctober 07, 2016 By Reilly Capps

It’s 3 in the morning and I’m tired and shaky. I want to quit. I feel like I’ve tried everything. But I’m dying for another hit.

It’s not heroin or meth I’m addicted to: it’s the Internet — Reddit, Twitter, Google News. I’ll scroll until my thumb loses feeling, as if somewhere down at the bottom of the unending thread is the meaning of life.

My Internet addiction has led to me missing class, being late to work, and being really, really tired. It’s not just me, though. The world is addicted to screens. Three-year-olds choose playing on an iPad over wrestling with a puppy. Teens barely do much more than text and roll their eyes. On average, we check our phones every 6 minutes, usually within 15 minutes of waking up. Social media addiction is a recognized disorder in the U.K. We’re looking for connection, but we don’t get it from each other, we get it digitally. Scientists say people get “high” off of screens, experiencing little dopamine rushes when something interesting pops up, whether a “like” or another friend’s Instagram feed. Another study claims college students who unplugged for a day actually had physical symptoms similar to drug withdrawal.

It sucks for me personally because, like so many of us, I work with digital things, my work requires a computer. It has all the distractions right there, just a click away. So I’ve gone to extreme measures to cut myself off from the Internet. I’ve used software like StayFocusd, Freedom and GoFuckingWork, which block your access to the sites that are most distracting. I’ve used RescueTime, which tracks your surfing. I even bought a typewriter or two and tried to work on those. But there was always a way around all these fixes: Incognito mode, restarting the computer, using the phone. The Internet is an attractive monster; its tentacles are everywhere.

I’ve met other sufferers. A gaming addict named Chris, 19, who withheld his last name, says the online video game RuneScape ate up his life. “These games are designed to be as addictive as possible,” he explains. He once spent an entire week in bed, getting up only to go to the bathroom, and only eating three meals the whole week. He missed his great-aunt’s funeral because of RuneScape.

Kat, 19, says she’s been so addicted to the online fan fiction site Archive of Our Own that she’s failed classes and spent days not getting out of bed, eating or showering. “It really affects your health,” she adds.

With a screen in our pockets, on our wrists and wrapped around our heads, all with limitless access to distractions, the opportunities of distraction are multiplying exponentially.

The era of extreme screen addiction calls for the era of extreme treatments. There is inpatient Internet rehab, where they confiscate your phone and shut everyone off completely, including one treatment center that takes addicts to a mountain retreat. Another offers Social Media Dependency Therapy — online, of course. In China, they were treating Internet addicts with electric shock therapy, though it was later banned.

The CU Collegiate Recovery Center in Boulder mostly treats students for alcohol and drug abuse. But, increasingly, they’re helping with addiction to screens. At their weekly Gaming and Technology Addiction Recovery meeting, students trade tips about how to turn it all off. The students there recommend the following:

  • Create a Hierarchy of Needs, and tend to the things at the top of the list — like eating, sleeping, bathing, doing homework, exercising — before you turn on the screen.
  • Schedule time with actual people — bowling, stopping by your neighbor’s house, a sports team — and keep your commitments, no matter how attractive the screens.
  • If you can’t do it on your own, go find help.

For me, things are getting better. Finally, for my crippling Internet addiction, I went nuclear. I bought a whole new computer that I never hooked up to the Internet at my house. It just sits in the corner of my basement. When I want to really write something, I fire that up, type like a maniac, and then transfer the finished product, via USB, to an Internet-connected computer. I force to myself to leave my phone in the next room. It’s my monastery, my little desert island of disconnectedness. It’s bliss. It’s changed my life. It’s close to the best $700 I ever spent — the new machine is a glorified typewriter.

Of course, I don’t go down there very often. And, of course, I still have my smartwatch. How can I take it off? There are too many amazing screens to scroll through. What’s on Twitter right at this moment? I better go check.

About the best treatment is the oldest one: a partner. Mine pulls me offline and into bed. It’s actual connection, and better than any screen, no matter what it wants me to click on.