Volume 96, Issue 95
Friday, March 28, 2003

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Internet addiction: the new heroin?

By Nicole D'Cruz
Gazette Staff

You know you're tired.

You intended to go to sleep early, but found yourself on MSN Messenger playing High Fidelity's "Top Five List" game.

All of a sudden, 3 a.m. rolls around and you don't know whether "So Far Away" or "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" should take title spot for your favourite Rod Stewart song. It's OK – as university students, most of us have been there. With so many university students clocking in late hours on the Internet, addiction seems like a harsh conclusion.

"The Internet is [just] another way people choose to spend their time," says Carole Farber, a media, information and technoculture professor at Western.

Addictions are generally easier to determine through physiological indicators, apparent in alcohol and many drugs. However, gambling, sex and Internet addictions are classified as psychological, with the symptoms and level of addiction varying from person to person.

"Psychological factors of an addiction are far more difficult to decipher," explains Doug Mann, a sociology professor at Western. "We cannot determine if there are any withdrawal symptoms from most psychological addictions."

Grant Campbell, also an MIT professor at Western, believes Internet addictions are possible. "In terms of work flow, there is a significant change in one's rhythm when their daily routine includes multiple sent and received e-mails," Campbell says.

It is difficult to determine the nature of an Internet addiction because the medium offers a user so many different ways to spend their time. With every opportunity comes a possible negative consequence.

As a social tool, the Internet provides people with new opportunities. Mann finds many of his students use the Internet to cover distance while communicating. "[Some would] rather spend time on the Internet talking to long distance friends than engaging in other activities," he explains.

However, this can discourage the possibility of new relationships and brings up the question of alienation. "While we feel we are insulating ourselves, we are isolating ourselves as well," Mann adds.

E-mail has drastically changed the way in which we communicate. Even Canada Post has claimed some financial loss over this new phenomenon. It is, afterall, more immediate and allows people to be braver in some instances.

"People might say things through e-mail that they would not say in person," Campbell says. On the flip side, electronic mail can also be vulnerable to misinterpretation.

When people suffer from anxiety problems, or shyness, the Internet can help them to communicate in ways they never could before. "In moderation, [it can boost] one's all-round confidence," Campbell says, noting if a person relies solely on the Internet to communicate, then there is reason to worry.

"We [begin to] undermine our ability to interact in different ways," Campbell explains. "Excessive Internet usage feeds into what [we] are, but [does] not create what [we] are not."

Mann believes an emphasis should be placed on students "[practicing] oral communication." He worries that, with a lack of face-to-face communication, there is a danger of people becoming one-dimensional.

E-mail and messenger programs are not all that the Internet has to offer. Many users turn to the Internet as a means to gamble or play video games. Online gambling is becoming very dangerous, as it is very difficult to monitor usage.

One can argue that individuals are in fact addicted to communicating, gambling and gaming, and the Internet only assists in these addictions because technology tends to make our lives easier. The Internet may not only assist us in feeding our addictions, but may be pushing them beyond our control.

The Internet is not avoidable in our society, and for many of us, Internet use is inevitable. However, one might compare our relationship with the Internet to our relationship with alcohol. Moderate use can bring us pleasure, but excessive use can leave us incapacitated.

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