Internet: It’s Not You. It’s Me.

Right off the bat, I am going to throw out two statements that I have recently forced myself to acknowledge as true, though I realize that many people may disagree:

What happens online matters, and

Unlike Vegas, what happens online does not stay online. 

Before we delve deeper into those two statements, I want to ask the following questions:

Have you ever logged into Second Life or on Plurk, because you felt like you were “missing something” when you weren’t online? 

When you are online in Second Life, have you ever looked at the clock and said wow, where did the time go?  I was going to log off an hour ago. 

Do you ever feel the need to justify the time you spend online by saying, “Well if I wasn’t doing this, I would just be wasting time watching television.”? 

Do you ever feel guilty about being online or lie about how much time you spend there? 

Are you logging online out of habit versus actually having a specific reason to log on? 

Most of you probably answered no to all of these questions, but I can tell you that I did not.  I answered “Yes” to all of them. 

Most active online users know of or have heard of Problematic Internet Use (PIU), but many people may believe that “if the time they are spending online is time they would normally be spending doing other “useless” type activities”, or “if the time they spend online is controlled to just a few hours in the evening or perhaps on Sunday afternoons”, then it’s not a problem.   But I begin to realize it’s not just the number of hours that I spend actively involved online, it’s also the number of hours I spend thinking about it or reading blog posts or Plurking.  Do I spend more time on my virtual life than I do actively engaged in my real life?  Can you judge problematic internet use just by looking at time spent online? 

I started thinking a lot about PIU in regards to my own online behavior after reading the following study.  I was surprised to realize that “problematic internet users were more likely than nonproblematic users to use the Internet for meeting new people, seeking emotional support and playing socially interactive games.”   I actually would have associated the social aspect of online interactions as a positive outcome of online activity versus problematic. 

According to this study, you are at a higher risk of developing problematic internet use if:

You derive a sense of community from online relationships.

You use voice.   Players that use voice are among the most social players and have the strongest social connections. 

You feel immersed in your online activities.

You spend real world resources, i.e. money, to support your online social activities. 

Ironically, time spent online was the weakest predictor of PIU.  It is the quality of your online interactions versus the quantity of the activity that could present a problem. 

Compulsive, rather than excessive, Internet use is more likely to result in negative outcomes.

So what sort of online behavior could be seen as compulsive?  I begin to look back at my time spent online and think about what sort of behaviors stood out to me as problematic.  I identified three possibilities.  Two types of problems which I have actually suffered with and seen others suffer with, and one I have just observed. 

ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS

tweets-415x480

You can’t talk about problematic online compulsive behavior without discussing online romantic relationships.  Online romances can be healthy. I know many people that are able to maintain a healthy and loving online relationship, but it is very difficult to define and maintain boundaries online.  Plus, many people online have other issues that may interfere with keeping an online relationship in perspective.  When you start letting your imagination run freely, an online relationship can get out of control in just a few days.  It can become more of an obsession than a relationship. 

Though no matter the duration, you will find that your online dalliances will begin to influence you even offline.  You may find that your behavior becomes compulsive, and in turn, your internet use could become problematic unless you begin to set clear defined boundaries and take time to step away from both the relationship and the computer.  If you step away from both for a short period, and your online relationship does not survive the break, then you know you made the right decision and kept yourself from experiencing further heartbreak and wasting a lot of valuable time. 

Unhealthy online romances are one of the prime examples of problematic internet use. 

ADDING VODKA MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER 3926925390_5e51f22531

What happens when you take a person with a possible internet addiction and combine absurd amounts of alcohol?  You could potentially take the possible internet addiction and turn it into massive problem.  

I like to drink.  In fact, I love drinking.  Drinking can break down barriers and encourage bonding.  But in an online environment, a lot of boundaries are already pretty much nonexistent.  People say whatever they want whenever they want.  What good can possibly come out of plurking to your 200 plus friends how drunk you are?  Everyone does it occasionally, but if every weekend, your online friends look forward to being amused by hearing you slur your words on voice, than you may possibly be combining two problems. 

It also leads to other potential problems such as stripping on webcam or saying ridiculous and/or mean things and blaming it on liquor.  Even if this type of behavior doesn’t indicate a problem to you, it can be very annoying to those around you. 

I know that many will say drinking online is better than going out and getting drunk, which could lead to other more serious and possibly even life threatening problems.  Perhaps that’s true.  But for those of you that may even remotely think that your online interactions could possibly be having a negative influence, then adding alcohol is not a good idea. 

It is also interesting to note that alcohol/substance abuse has also been shown to be present in people who exhibit the signs and symptoms of PIU. 

YOU CALL IT E-STALKING, SOME CALL IT LOVE

 facestalk2

We tease about it.  We laugh about it.  We all admit doing it at one point or another, but checking someone’s online profile, memorizing their interests or favorites movies or even knowing their profile well enough to recognize when they delete a pick can be a big sign of compulsive and problematic internet behavior. 

Little things like this done in a repeated fashion means you are becoming a bit obsessive and could be crossing into online stalker territory. Yes, the term “stalker” may be harsh. But there is a firm difference between casually glancing at your ex’s MySpace and religiously analyzing every aspect of their Facebook page. 

Most people obsessively check profiles, because perhaps they no longer have the same level of friendship with the person that they once had and see it as a way of keeping updated on their activities.  Though checking when they log into Second Life, when they Plurk or when they blog is self-damaging behavior.  It’s like picking at the scab that is trying to heal, all you are doing is making it worse. 

Been there.  Done that.  It is a problem!

SOLVING THE PROBLEM

I wish I had the magic solution to help solve these compulsive or problematic behaviors.  Many experts recommend logging out and off.  Though I don’t think completely avoiding any and all social networks is even a feasible solution.    

The way I am trying to deal with my problematic behavior is by acknowledging I was having a problem and ending the cycle of denial.  I have also decided to remember my two beliefs about online activity.  What happens online matters: which means that my online activities have a real impact on my real life, and I can not try to pretend that they don’t.  I also have to remember that what happens online does not stay online, so at anytime my online behavior could be exposed for my entire real life to view.  I spent way too long trying to pretend that what happens online stays online, because I wanted it to.  Pretending that my online activities didn’t matter and that no one would find out was my way of denying I had a problem.

Admit it is an issue.  Acknowledge that it matters, and it does affect your real life.   Attempt to solve it.

Advertisements

8 Responses to “Internet: It’s Not You. It’s Me.”

  1. I answered yes to them all too.

    Great article.

  2. What this doesn’t address, however, is the fact that spending time online is a hobby for a lot of people. If you spend money on online purchases, you’re afflicted with addiction. But, if you spend money on nicknacks that clutter your house, or on a new car project, or on baseball cards, or on various and/or sundry other items, you’re not addicted… you’re normal. People spend hours, days even, watching sports, playing fantasy sports games, watching ESPN after-game shows, chatting with friends and coworkers about sports, spending billions of dollars on tickets and hats and jerseys and other crap, but they’re not considered addicted are they? These studies are hype and bs, in my opinion. If you’re taking something to a compulsive level, that’s one thing – but that level of compulsive behavior can be found in anything, not just online.

  3. Daila Holder Says:

    Selonna: I very much agree that time and resources spent online alone do not create problems. In fact, I think the few studies that have been done agree with that. It is the quality of the time you spend, coupled with your level of immersion along with the compulsion factor, all combine to create possible problematic behavior. Though, as you indicated, anything can potentially become obsessive and lead to problematic behavior. What I found most fascinating about the study I cited in the post is that what I considered the most positive aspect of my online interactions, which was forming social connections, is what experts found to be one of the most important parts that could lead to problems. Unlike the sports fan example you gave in your response, I think many people that engage in compulsive behavior online try to hide the time they spend or the level of interest they have in their online activities. I don’t sit around and discuss SL or Plurk with my RL friends and/or coworkers. I don’t ask them to come over and log on with me like I might if I were going home to watch the game. I also think that the instant gratification that comes from many online activities only encourages risky behavior. I don’t think that my opinion is a popular one, but I do not think that my situation is unique either. Many people can say that their online activities are a fun hobby, and it’s true. Others, such as me, know it crossed the fun hobby line back when we felt compelled to log on, because we were worried our IMs would cap and they wouldn’t all get forwarded to email. But honestly the title says it all, it’s not the internet to blame, it’s me and my compulsions. And this post is my way of saying okay, this is an issue for me and many others. What steps do I have in place to keep things in check? I think just acknowledging the fact that it is a potential issue helps.

  4. Very interesting read. I have been in the process you are now, and in some ways I still am. Although I still spend lots of time online and form meaningfull friendships here (that I concider just as real friendships as those formed in face-to-face), I have a different view on my time online.

    I am just as puzzled as you that social interaction is concidered a problem, but I can see how being very socially involved can add to the problem and make it worse.

    That said, I am very appriciative of many of the things I have learned, the people I have met and the input I have gotten from people I have met online. It has broadend my RL (and my husband’s too – and he isnt online much, and certainly not in SL).

    My English has improved (which secured me an RL job), I have bought lots of new music that I didnt know about, read books I otherwise probably wouldnt, seen places I otherwise wouldnt have gone when I have been visiting online friends, learned new recipies that wow the people I cook for, learned to be more tolarant to people that are different than me, gotten advice and emotional support trough hard times RL (and SL). The list just goes on.

    I cant see how that in itself is problematic, it has enriched my life and the lives of the people closest to me. However, there has been times when I have worried over silly online things. There has been times when I have felt I had to log on. There has been times where I have been upset if I couldnt log on. And THAT is problematic. To me thats where the problem lies and where I have felt the need to change my behaviour.

    Thanks for an interesting post 🙂

  5. Very good article with some very good points and very well written! Thank you!

  6. Renee Harvy Says:

    I answered yes to more than I’m comfortable with, and certainly have experienced negative effects as a result of being online. This post raises some important issues in reguards to that, that I hadn’t considered before. I feel like I have a handle on it, but perhaps not. Thanks for the information.

  7. Yes, online behaviour can be compulsive. But there are studies that say it’s healthy too.
    Here’s a link:
    http://secondlife.reuters.com/stories/2006/12/12/study-on-second-life-and-the-pursuit-of-happiness/

    And my thoughts about it (shameless plug for my blog):
    http://www.sleepwithgiggli.com/2009/02/the-pursuit-of-happiness/

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: