Are You Addicted To The Internet?



I am fascinated by our constant need to be occupied or busy; I like to think of it as an overall “addiction to busy” with technology playing a predominant role. Brenee Brown calls it “crazy-busy”. If we are always busy, we don’t have to feel the unpleasant feelings (or pleasant ones) that come up throughout the day; we numb out.

In my prior career, I felt compelled to check my email and phone before, during and after work. After work, my home computer would chime, letting me know I had new messages. I would glance at the screen, intending to answer one or two messages and return to whatever I was doing; before I knew it 30 minutes had passed. I was exhibiting at least one of the symptoms of internet addiction, spending more time online than I had intended. Today I check email several times a day and no longer use alerts on my home computer.

Dr. Kimberly Young is a pioneer in the field of Internet Addiction. She conducted the first study on Internet addiction in 1996, the subjects in her study met the same criteria as individuals who were classified as pathological gamblers. Gambling occurs in an environment where there is intermittent reinforcement. When people gamble, there is a pleasurable charge which occurs intermittently; it’s called a “variable reinforcement schedule”.

A variable reinforcement schedule exists when we use the internet. Dr. Young talks about the pleasure people receive when clicking and finding content on the internet, viewing a text on the phone, reaching a high score in a challenging game, finding pornography, searching for content on Facebook, etc. The variety and intermittent timing of these “hits” is what makes the internet so addictive.

Internet addiction is difficult to define. David Greenfield (1999) uses a number of terms including: Internet addiction disorder, pathological internet use, digital media compulsion, and virtual addiction. Digital media compulsion encompasses a wide array of devices such as smart phones, laptops, MP3 players and portable games.

Dr. Young developed the first screening measure for diagnosing Internet Addiction, the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire (IADQ). The IADQ consists of the eight questions listed below

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet, (think about previous online activity or anticipate the next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
  8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

If you answered yes to 4 or 5 of the questions, you may want to examine your internet/technology usage. I have decided I would like to create a little more space between me and my technology. For more information see Dr. Young’s website

The Happiness Advantage

One of my favorite books is The Happiness Advantage written by Shawn Achor, a researcher who studied Positive Psychology at Harvard University. Achor draws on a wealth of research (including his own) to support the theory that happiness fuels success as opposed to success fueling happiness. This is particularly meaningful for me having come from the corporate technology world where raises and promotions are the goal. Achor proposes that when we are experiencing happiness in our lives, happiness drives our success.

He proposes five scientifically-proven habits for improving one’s level of happiness; these habits are supported by research studies outlined in the book. Here is a brief look at the 5 habits. The first is the “Three Gratitudes”. Achor recommends writing down or saying out loud, three things you are grateful for each day for 21 days. It is important to do this for 21 days in a row because research shows it takes 21 days to successfully build a new habit. Be sure to include a reason for your gratitude. For example, “I am grateful for my dog Ginger because she is a wonderful companion and gives me a reason to spend more time outdoors.”

The second habit is called “The Doubler” which is a form of journaling combined with reflection. The “Doubler” consists of recalling the most meaningful thing you have done in the past 24 hours. Once you have something in mind, spend two minutes a day writing down every detail you can remember about your example. 

Pick a new item each day for 21 days.The third habit is the “Fun 15”. The “Fun 15” is about incorporating physical activity into your life, it entails adding 15 minutes of fun physical activity to your day (walk, swim, garden, play with the dog). Achor's theory is the more you add fun, positive activity into your life, the more your brain gets into the habit of adding fun activity.

The fourth habit involves practicing random acts of kindness. Achor also calls this "The Ripple Affect”. He recommends consciously adding three smiles to your day, smiling at random people you see throughout the day. This habit raises your level of happiness; if you smile the brain actually feels happier. When we smile mirror neurons in the brain light up the brain and drop dopamine into our systems.

The fifth habit is one of the greatest predictors of physical health. This habit is developing and maintaining meaningful social connections. Achor recommends "recharging your happiness battery" by thinking about one person in your social support network and spending two minutes writing them a positive note or email (praise or thanksgiving). As with the other habits, it is recommended that you continue this practice for 21 days. This habit often leads to giving others more positive feedback throughout the day. I recommend trying just one of these habits for 21 days and enjoying the results.