BBC Radio London

Next Tuesday I’m going to be on the Late Show with Jumoke Fashola on BBC Radio London talking about ‘technology addiction’.

Here’s an article I wrote on the subject for Scarlett Magazine:

‘Addicted!’ My husband jokingly says as he walks back in the room to find me on my laptop after his minute-long bathroom break.

‘I was just checking my emails!’ I say. We both know I’m lying. I worry that he might be right. I can spend up to 12 hours a day on my computer – writing, researching, Photoshopping, designing a webpage, reading message boards, blogs and emails. I’ve learned many valuable skills and met many interesting people over the years. It’s adding to my life not destroying it. I’m nothing like an addict. Or am I?

Steve Stephens, the Director of National Addiction Services for Priory Healthcare in the UK, is concerned that the generic usage of the word “addiction” may undervalue it. Many of us describe ourselves as “addicted” – to cars, to chocolate, to watching Big Brother- therefore when we talk about computer addiction, we need to work out whether it is simply overuse, misuse or, indeed, a true addiction. In order to do that he suggests asking yourself some questions.

Do you have a sense of euphoria at the computer?
Do you have a preoccupation with your computer both in the amount of time you use it and in the amount of time you think about it?
Do you neglect your friends, family or work because of your computer usage?
Do get angry when you are interrupted?
Do you get agitated or frustrated when you are deprived of your computer?
Do you find yourself lying about or “minimising” the amount you use your computer ie ‘I was finishing up some paperwork’ when you were in a chatroom or ‘I was just on for an hour’ when you were on until 2am?

I’m getting uncomfortable right now.

Stephens wonders though if a lot of it is to do with generational differences.

‘I am in my 50s, ‘ he says, ‘My preferred mode of communication is face-to-face. I can put up with the phone, but I prefer to look people in the eye when I’m speaking to them.’

I, on the other hand, am 20 years younger than him and I prefer email or instant messaging. If I really need to see someone face-to-face I always have a webcam. I’m not being facetious.

Holly Cox, 29, a market researcher in Pennsylvania is an archetypal example of Generation OS X.

‘I rely on my computer to a fault,’ she says, ‘Sometimes, I feel like my brain has been replaced by an external hard drive. I’m not sure, however, that this qualifies as addiction. I would classify it more as cult member-like behavior, because deprogramming, as opposed to rehab, is a more likely cure.’

Holly isn’t the only one. I have friends who spend hours and hours late into the night on computer games, in chatrooms or on messageboards. I have friends who communicate with their spouses by instant messaging, when they are sitting across the room from one another, each on their own computer. I have one friend who regularly spent all night at work surfing rather than go home where he only had a dial-up connection. I have friends who can’t go outside without checking weather.com or finding directions on streetmap.co.uk. Most of my friends get a bit jumpy if they can’t pick up their email for a day or even a few hours. In my world these are all normal behaviours.

They mightn’t be as extreme as the man I interviewed a few years ago who, while suffering from various chemical dependencies, was compelled to endlessly defrag his computer – finding an almost ironic escape in watching the graphical representation of the computer putting itself back together again piece by piece as he was falling apart- but I will concede that my friends and I are slightly “geekier” than the average person. Surely, we are just living a different kind of lifestyle to non-geeks. Or have I just aligned myself with like-minded individuals in order to normalise and rationalise my own behaviour?

Stephens thinks that perhaps our culture is geared towards addictive behavior, caught in an unending quest for more and more. In Generation OS X’s case, more communication, more information. Still, if computer usage is interfering with your “real life” you might want to test yourself first before running off to find an addiction counsellor.

Agree with someone else the limits of your computer usage. It needs to be reasonable to both you and your family.
Recognise how you “minimise” your usage.
Recognise how you rationalise your usage – ‘I had some important emails so I had to stay on an extra hour’ when they were just from friends.
Realise that if you keep pushing the barriers upwards that you may, indeed, need some help.

Now, I’ve got some emails that I really must answer. So, I’ll set a limit on my usage tomorrow…

Comments
8 Responses to “BBC Radio London”
  1. oliver says:

    No probs so long as you back up regularly…

  2. R.J. says:

    I would comment but…perhaps, later……I’ve just got so many websites to check out, and…….uh uh……there’s another email from Auntie Gertrude to answer, and…..damnit, is that the sun coming up out there……?

  3. ole blue says:

    Yea, I find myself in front of the computer way too often.

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  5. giagia says:

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  6. Gugon says:

    Hi, my name is Gugon and I’m a computer addict.

    I’m a reluctant addict though. Hell, I don’t even like the damn things. Okay, I like them but I hate them, if you know what I mean. At work, I sit in front of a computer for eight hours until my eyes turn blurry, dry balls of skin. Then I go home, eat, manage the kids – and if I’m lucky I have time to sit back down at my home computer and do some writing.

    I worry about EMF’s and eyesight deterioration. But does that stop me from sitting in front of the screen during my free time? No – not really.

    But I could quit any time. If I wanted to. No, really.

  7. r says:

    I was about to jest that soon there will be a service for computing addictions…but then decided that it might be interesting to Google it and see. Yes, addicts, there is such a service…founded and coordinated by a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty and located at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, US. It isn’t “Computer-ers Anonymous” but it does try to address addictive behavior as it relates specifically to computing. And it is an outpatient service.

    Stanford University, too, has some interesting information about computer addictions but does not offer any services. Their site cites the fact that most addiction support groups are online…which they liken to an AA meeting in a pub.

    And there are many other matches in Google but they mostly lead to articles explaining the (very recent) history of computing addiction.

    Many other services and support groups are sure to spring up…probably coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

    Makes me wonder if there are support services for people addicted to support groups.