Today when I tweeted a call for topic requests, Vered from MomGrind asked me if I could talk about internet and computer addiction. This is a serious problem these days and a lot of people from all walks of life fall prey to it. It might not be unanimously recognized by all psychologists, but it has a great deal of traction and support among many reputable psychiatric researchers. It doesn’t really matter what internet addiction’s “official” status among academics is: almost everyone has known or does know someone who is seriously affecting their life and the lives of those around them through internet addiction.
I’m not a psychiatrist: if you fear your problem is so serious you need professional help, go out and see one.
I’m going to write this article for those who might have trouble leaving the computer behind when the back of your eyes are telling you it’s definitely bedtime, but your spouse hasn’t packed up and left yet as a result of it – not quite a full-blown addiction, just on your way there.
Detecting the Problem
The problem with many addictions is that it can be hard to tell when a hobby has become more than just that, and taken a hold on you. It can also be hard to be honest with yourself when facing a list of symptoms, so make the extra effort now – we’re going to go through a few.
1. You spend more time with the computer than with people. Doesn’t matter if they are your family, your friends or random people you stalk at the mall – the first symptom of the problem is spending more time with the hunk of metal on your desk than with the people in your life.
If there are no longer any people in your life because you spend so much time online, then you really need to close your browser and book an appointment with a professional! A good start would be to use the paper version of the phone book.
2. You can’t abide by your own boundaries. Part of personal development is about setting and abiding by boundaries, which happens to be where most people fail when it comes to addiction. If you tell yourself you’ll only spend an hour online before playing with the kids and end up online until after they’ve gone to bed, you’re in trouble. This self-deception is a clear sign of internet addiction.
3. Lying to others about your computer usage. Number two was about self-deception – this one is about lying to others, particularly members of your family who you may have made deals with regarding your computer usage. Lying about your usage so you can stay on that “little bit longer” is a big, glaring warning sign.
4. Feeling unable to live without the computer/internet. If you feel you can’t go without the internet for more than a few hours, you have an internet addiction. “But I make my living online!” Ask yourself if you could do the work offline and then give it to someone else to execute online – such as writing an article on paper for an assistant or friend to type up and post. Can’t bear the thought of that one degree of separation for even a week? Not a good thing!
Likewise, anxiety when you’re separated from computers is a sign to watch for. I get like that when I leave my mobile phone at home – perhaps I’ve got a problem there!
5. Misguided spending on your computer. Did your hard drive just die and, despite the fact you couldn’t afford rent or Johnny’s daycare fees this week, you went out and bought a replacement? When the anxiety of having no functional computer demands money required for other expenses, it indicates a dependency.
Solving the Problem
Solving the problem on your own, or with the support of your family, requires that you’re doing so before it gets out of hand and to the point where you need to pay excessive prices for therapy. If you’re unsure, trying to solve it on your own and seeing how far you get is a great test – if you can’t manage it, go get help.
1. For the web-workers – get a virtual assistant. They can be fairly cheap and every hourly rate spent on them is one hour that you can shave from your computer time. This won’t solve the problem on its own, but web-workers will have a harder time defeating internet addiction and need to spend as little time as possible online when not completing essential work, at least until the addiction is dealt with.
2. Set your computer usage boundaries early on. There’s no point trying to change your habits if you haven’t decided on your new boundaries. How long are you going to use the computer from now on? For what purposes? Decide this first, take action second.
3. Get your family and friends onside. Ensure your family keeps you accountable and limits the amount of time you spend online. Set a time limit in hours or minutes and make it clear that there are no valid excuses for extended use; you’ve got to be dragged away from the computer no matter what, once your time runs out.
4. Give them the passwords. Once you’ve got the agreement of your family or roommates to help you out, let them change the passwords to your computer’s user account, the modem or router, and your email account. I’m tempted to leave this next sentence out for the sake of the self-deceivers, but you may be able to avoid this pretty ruthless precaution if you can still manage to self-regulate with the help of some self-discipline.
5. Modify your routine. If you trap yourself by checking email first thing in the morning or heading straight for the computer when you get home from work, intending to get off and do other things but never quite getting there, change your routine a bit and get other things out of the way first. It’s much easier to get off the computer if you don’t get on it! Wait until you’ve done your household chores and got time spent with the kids (or pets, if that’s more your thing) out of the way, then give yourself some net time. Reward yourself, in small amounts, for holding out.
6. Don’t use the computer for recreational purposes. Remove the emotive feel-good incentive to use the computer by using it for business and email. Get it done and get off. Uninstall computer games, and vow to stay away from social networks and other recreational web destinations for at least a month or two.
Find recreational activities in real life and completely replace your internet entertainment with them. Completely. Seriously, I mean it!
6. Track your progress. Remind yourself how much good progress you’re making by tracking the amount of time you spend online compared to the boundaries you set in step one. Only spent 8 hours online out of the 10 you allotted for the week? Great work – you’ll do even better next week!
These tips should get you well on your way to a more balanced life – what are your tips? Leave them in the comments!