I received a Twitter comment from @forwardtherapy concerning my last blog entry labelling internet addiction. The comment stated: “My professional experience is, the label is less significant than discussing Internet use as a response to life circumstances.”
From a medical background, the labelling of internet addiction is important as a diagnostic tool for the DSM. Thinking from a therapeutic background (as I would in my psychotherapy practice) I can not help see the relevance of @forwardtherapy’s statement. This was confounded by watching the documentary ‘Web Junkies’ on Iplayer.
The documentary featured teenagers who would play computer games for hours, days or even weeks in internet cafes. Causing them to neglect all other aspects of their lives. In fact, Children have been known to die in these cafes from not eating or sleeping for days on end.
It was made clear that this centre was the only one that sought to treat, not only the children but also the parents. From our first encounters with the children, I was shocked by their gaming usage. It seemed their whole world was no longer in the physical realm; they were fully engrossed in the virtual world. Their friends, lovers and even enemies are all online and many had completely lost touch with their physical surroundings.
As the documentary went on, however, we started to learn the children’s back-stories and heard from the parents. One parent told how he would beat his son. Admitting that she even brandished a knife and attempted to stab him. In his own words, “he didn’t want to stab him really but scare him.”
At that point, all I could think about was RD Laing’s book, ‘Sanity Madness and the Family’. In the book, schizophrenic children were interviewed with their parents, helping to shine a light on the development of the patients’ schizophrenic diagnosis. What came about was a relationship between the schizophrenics upbringing, relationship with their parents, their symptoms and diagnosis.
Returning back to the child in the documentary it does not surprise me that with such a volatile upbringing. Many of the interviewees sought the safety of a world in which there are pre-governed rules. Like-minded people, he could connect with and a place in which he could gain validation not only from the game but also from his friends.
I am not suggesting that this is applicable to all of us in our society but it makes me wonder why so many would rather look at our phones or talk on social media rather than the person sitting in front of us, what are we running from?
There was a post from the discussion on LinkedIn from my previous blog post from Jennie Cummings-Knight which said: ‘I have periods of obsessive checking of my phone for messages, also obsessive checking of emails when I should be writing articles or getting on with coursework. Contributing to online forums is for me another aspect of my addiction to screens.’
Delving into the virtual world then seems to give many of us space to distance ourselves from our problems and anxieties.
A Text Message
(on a completely unrelated side note as I struggling to find the right words to conclude this post, I received a text from a friend and jumped at the chance to switch off from the pressure of work and dive into the monotony of my virtual life.)
Returning to @forwardtherapy’s statement, what seems more relevant in order to treat technology addiction or ‘internet addiction’ is to look past the behaviour and see what it is that many of us are trying to run away from. What are the feelings that drive us to use technology and the internet in a destructive way?
It seems that technology then is the drug of the information age. It allows us to distance ourselves from our troubles, gain gratification (random reward generation for example) while soothing our stresses and massaging our Virtual Egos.
If you feel the virtual world is getting in the way of your life get help. Take a look at how Therapy can help you overcome these issues and reconnect with the physical world