One of the themes on the periphery of any discussion about addiction is the immediacy and availability of the internet. This has meant that at various times technology addiction has been likened to drug addiction, as it is said to reinforce addictive habits with an immediate “hit” similar to cocaine. It would appear that immediate gratification is a key component of addiction, and the internet provides the perfect medium to fuel this addiction, if this is the terminology we choose to use.
There are numerous clinics now dealing with the effects of this new addiction – in the United States, Dr. David Greenfield and The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and Dr Kimberly Young The Center for Internet Addiction. In the UK, Dr Richard Graham and the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London.
David Levy wrote in 2007 of the ‘rewards of sustained attention’, (Levy 2007) – so it may be that overall that we gain as much as we lose with rapid access to so much information. Few would argue that there are times when sustained concentration is required, and that despite the benefits of being able to access more information more of the time, to do something well entails concentration on one thread for a significant period. Perhaps addiction as a concern is so much more prevalent in the 21st century because it has gradually become so much easier to share our thoughts immediately in short unsustained bursts – input to blogs, in wikis, via Face book, Twitter and text.
A piece called ‘Attached to Technology and Paying a Price‘ (New York Times, 2010) described how one family copes with the tensions of being always connected, whilst Charlie Brooker wrote ‘Google instant is trying to kill me’ (Guardian, 2010) about his efforts to concentrate on one thing and find ‘quiet contemplation’. Despite the difference in tone, the articles have many things in common – they describe the difficulties that human beings encounter when coping with the speed and immediacy of information available to them, the difficulties in terms of maintaining concentration, and the need at times for sustained thought and attention.
One of a series of promotional videos produced by The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction