One of my simple morning pleasures is my coffee and the comics section of the Press-Republican, and this includes the Jumble and the “Dear Annie” column.
The July 7 column was from a reader who believes she is addicted to the internet via her smartphone and wanted advice on how to deal with it. My first response was, “Well, what exactly qualifies as an addiction? I absolutely must have my morning coffee, so is that an addiction?”
Glad you asked. According to the websites Wikipedia and Dictionary, an addiction is, “A physical or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, such as a drug or alcohol.” Additionally it may be harmful and may require larger doses as time goes by to achieve the same effect.
Applying the above definition to my morning coffee: Is it habit-forming? Yes, of course. Does the habit require increased amounts to achieve its effect? Yes, but I can control my consumption to just a cup and a half only at breakfast. Are there harmful effects? The science is still out on that one — I remember when the consensus was that coffee was supposedly bad for you, but the current theory is that coffee ingestion is OK in moderate amounts (less than two cups per day). So, all in all, I guess I have a mild addiction to coffee but nothing near alcohol or drugs and nothing to worry about.
Similarly, I can’t count the Jumble as an addiction for the same reasons I gave for coffee. Brain games like the Jumble have been touted by their marketers as increasing memory retention, problem-solving skills and attention span as well as a good way to hold off dementia. However, new research indicates these claims are false (or as some presidents might say “fake facts”). In fact, one of the largest markets for brain games is Lumosity, which has been fined $2 million for overly-aggressive marketing and fraudulent claims that “preyed on consumers’ fears.” (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jan/06/lumosity-fined-false-claims-brain-training-online-games-mental-health)
If we consider how much we rely on the internet (via smartphone or personal computer), it would seem that there is a high potential for addiction. It is certainly habit forming, uses more and more of your time and, in many cases, is harmful. There are studies that even social networking sites like Facebook are a downer. Many reasons for this negative effect have been proposed, but I favor the theory that jealousy plays a large role in the downer effect.
After all, who wants to know that their bff consistently gets more likes than themselves, which, like it or not, is a measure of our popularity. Surely I am at least as interesting as what’s-her-name. This can also lead to a feeling of loneliness rather than the togetherness that social networks purportedly nurture. All you have to do is search the phrase, “does facebook engender a feeling of loneliness or togetherness” to see that this is real issue. (https://www.cnet.com/news/the-more-youre-on-facebook-the-more-socially-isolated-you-feel)
On the other hand, some researchers claim that the cause and effect actually goes the other way: Lonely people tend to be attracted to Facebook and not the other way round. Either way the studies also show that Facebook and similar social sites do not alleviate the feeling of loneliness that brings many users to the site. (http://uwm.edu/news/facebook-vs-loneliness)
Also, there may be a link between loneliness and boredom: When we become bored, many use the technique touted in self-help books: “Find a creative outlet.” While this works when the outlet is gardening or music or any activity that helps connect us back into the real world, it does not work for the internet because, it’s not the real world — at best it is just a simulcrum of reality, and at some level of consciousness we realize that. Then a vicious cycle begins: We spend more and more time on the internet in a futile attempt to combat boredom, which leads to more loneliness, which leads to….
So, what’s the moral of this story? I’m not sure, but I think it’s something like: Until a time machine is invented, be mindful of how you spend your time.
Dr. Stewart A. Denenberg is an emeritus professor of computer science at SUNY Plattsburgh, retiring recently after 30 years there. Before that, he worked as a technical writer, programmer and consultant to the U.S. Navy and private industry. Send comments and suggestions to his blog at www.tec-soc.blogspot.com, where there is additional text and links. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.