Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Am I an Addict?

I wouldn’t put Internet addiction in the same category as heroin addiction or alcoholism. But for me, it’s become a serious problem.

Over the past few months browsing has gone from being an occasional and focused fifteen minutes of news-reading to a compulsive, hours-long clickfest. My hand moves of its own accord, against the wishes of my brain. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t actually enjoy or get much out of what I’m reading and downloading–I just click and click like a rat going after a food pellet, long after I should have gone to bed, or done my laundry, or cooked dinner.

People joke about ‘net addiction all the time. “I can’t live without my iPhone.” “I feel like less of a person when I haven’t logged on in a few hours.” Some of these people are exaggerating, but some aren’t. I’m of that generation that is still deeply bothered by people who feel the need to constantly check their Smart phones. I’m sure some of them know that it’s rude, but they can’t seem to stop, any more than I can stop clicking at home.

Endless studies have shown that children are more focused and well-behaved when you take away the constant distractions of phones and computers. Adults, too–though many say they feel anxious and stressed when away from their communication devices, once they’re over the initial hump most people report an improvement in mood, more energy, etc. But actually buckling down and separating yourself from the online world is getting harder and harder.

Luckily for me, I don’t seem to have too many of the more severe addiction symptoms described by the Center for Internet Addiction (Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?) But I was still worried. So a few days ago I took the drastic step of Leechblocking 90% of the sites I visit most frequently. I blocked them 24-7. Sure, I could have instituted a time limit, or just blocked them during the week, but I decided cold turkey was the best approach.

The effect is pretty remarkable. I’ve been sleeping better (probably because I go to bed earlier). I get more work done. I’ve started exercising again. Sometimes I just sit there and stare at the computer for a few minutes, unsure what to do with it if I can’t randomly click from site to site. And then I open up a Word file and actually work on my dissertation, or write a poem.

Being completely unconnected isn’t an option for me–I need the Internet for research, and to communicate with family and friends. But cutting off access to random websites that weren’t absolutely necessary to my daily life seems to have worked. I could, of course, just disable Leechblock whenever I wanted to, but I haven’t. Maybe the key was just to make it less easy to click.

Anyone else dealt with Internet / phone / various other forms of online addiction? Any strategies or recommendations?

3 comments on “Am I an Addict?

  1. Mya
    September 12, 2011

    I had some problems with internet usage a while ago, I couldn’t stop surfing from one page to another until two or three in the morning. Then I’d drop dead and sleep a restless sleep, wake up with a pang of regret and go to work. I wondered why I couldn’t stop and noticed that the more stressed I was the more I net surfed. I guess subconsciously I didn’t want to go to work and net surfing was a way to ensure that I fell asleep without fretting about work the next day. After I quit that job things changed and I almost never overuse the internet anymore. For me, it was an eye-opening experience 🙂

  2. Anthony
    September 22, 2011

    My problem has always been watching too much TV; with a Netflix account, it can be really hard to tear myself away from watching way too much, espescially things i’ve seen numerous times. And like Mya, i’ll often stay up way too late, feel awful for not doing anything I actually should have been working on and just pass out. I’ve found being accountable to another person and checking in with them regularly helps me reduce the amount of time I spend watching it.

  3. gradland
    September 22, 2011

    Mya and Anthony, I hear you both! Lately I’ve discovered that having a project I enjoy working on really helps–just ditched a frustrating chapter and started it over from scratch, and suddenly I find that I’m not really interested in compulsively clicking websites anymore. Still using Leechblock, though, just in case.

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This entry was posted on September 6, 2011 by in (post) Grad life and tagged , , , .
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