Illustrations by Joel Benjamin
Internet addiction is not an official condition yet recognized in the DSM-V. But a recent search for "internet addiction help" revealed various rehab centers for internet addiction, therapists who specialize in the condition, as well as Internet & Tech Addiction Anonymous.
I've been clean and sober from drugs and alcohol for a long time and know a fair amount about addiction, which is why I'm able to recognize exactly what's going on with me and the internet: I am trying to patch a hole inside me that cannot be patched by anything external. The internet gives me dopamine, attention, amplification, connection, and escape. It also distracts, disappoints, and paralyzes me, as well as catalyzes my false sense of self. I am cobbling together the dregs of what I can still use to get high into a shitty dopamine party.
Also, I don't know what I'm doing. Lately I feel like the internet is cobbling me together. I feel like there is no longer any barrier where I end and the internet begins. I'm kind of scared.
But is my obsession with the internet actually an addiction? I've decided to answer that question by taking a quiz from Psych Central called Are You Addicted to the Internet? While the quiz is multiple choice, my relationship with the internet is complex, and so I have chosen to write my responses in essay form. I've also decided to take this quiz publicly—not so much as to be held accountable, but because what better place to confront one's internet demons than on the internet with all of you addicts (especially you dicks in the comments section).
OK. Here we go.
1. How often do you find that you stay online longer than you intended?
I like to use my iPhone in bathrooms. I've spent hours on the toilet not peeing. Sometimes it's my own toilet. Sometimes I'm out in the world and I excuse myself to use the bathroom. I always tell myself five minutes. It's never five minutes. I fall down a hole and the vanishing feels good. People think I'm dead. I like it.
I try to set rules around my internet usage. The act of rule-setting means that I am probably an internet addict. Like, people who aren't addicts don't need to set rules about things. They just do them.
Some of my rules include: Ten minutes of meditation before turning on phone or computer in the morning, no social media before noon, only 120 minutes on social media websites per day, only two tweets per day and only after 7 PM, internet detox for 24 hours on weekend. I break them all daily.
2. Do you prefer the excitement of the internet to intimacy with your partner?
Yes. Of course. Unless the partner is a virtual stranger upon whom I have projected a fantasy narrative and we are making out for the first time in a hotel room.
When something real has to be done, like making the bed or paying a bill, I feel like it is going to kill me.
3. Do you neglect household chores to spend more time online?
When something real has to be done, like making the bed or paying a bill, I feel like it is going to kill me. Like, I feel that a cruel and oppressive mother is coming for me and the world is comprised of nothing but Sisyphean tasks, wherein you infinitely push a boulder up a hill and are infinitely crushed. One time I was handwashing underwear in the sink and then I got on Twitter and the sink overflowed and the neighbor downstairs, who just had a baby, sent the building manager up and the building manager busted in and I thought he was a serial killer. So, yes.
4. Does your work (or school work) suffer because of the amount of time you spend online?
My work is online.
5. Do you form new relationships with others online?
I would rather be on the internet engaging with half-imaginary people in a fake way than in real life engaging with real people in a real way. Not that everything on the internet is fake. I have forged some deep connections with people I've never met (or maybe I was connecting with myself—my own desire for who I wanted them to be) via the internet. Sometimes I compare the IRL people in my life with the internet people in my life and I always feel like, why can't the IRL people be more like the internet people? This is maybe because real people aren't pixelated. Their mistakes and annoyingness can't be repurposed into a fantasy. I actually have to see the real people and be seen by them. If people never become real, it's harder for them to disappoint you. That's why the internet is good for sad people. You can be with people without having to be with people.
6. Do others in your life complain to you about the amount of time you spend online?
The person with whom I am in a primary relationship calls my phone my "boyfriend." He becomes elated when the battery dies. One time he threatened to throw it out the window. He is way more concerned with the way I use the internet to shut him out than anything I could do sexually with another person. I tell him that I am not shutting him out. I am shutting out reality. Unfortunately for him, he is real.
7. Do you become defensive or secretive when anyone asks you what you do online?
It's more about the act of being online, itself, than what I am doing there. Everyone knows what I am doing there. I'm tweeting. It's more about the bathroom thing. I will say to the person with whom I have a relationship "I have to poop." And then I'm gone for the rest of the night.
Actually, one thing I am ashamed of is that I like "female friendly" porn. Like, I wish that I didn't like "female friendly" porn. I wish that when I watched Xander Corvus eat "babysitter" Melanie Rios's pussy, I wasn't like Omg he is so in love with her. Like, he has def been in love with her the whole time she has been his babysitter and he has dreamt of this moment and now it is here and he will def want to be with her forever. I wish I wasn't like that.
8. Have you ever noticed that your job performance or productivity suffers because of the time spent online?
9. Do you check your email before something else that you need to do?
I can't even get involved in email anymore, because it usually requires more than 140 characters. If I do send an email, I use Siri to do it and dictate the thing. So, the internet has destroyed my attention span to the extent that I can no longer email. The internet has gotten me off of email. The iPhone has gotten me off the laptop. If the laptop is cocaine, the iPhone is crack. And I take these hits of crack before, during, and after everything.
10. Do you snap, yell, or act annoyed if someone bothers you while you are online?
I'm usually in a comatose state and not aware of the world around me. When I'm down the rabbit hole, I don't see you.
11. Do you find yourself anxiously anticipating when you will go online again?
I've had the shakes.
12. Do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with soothing thoughts of the internet?
My biggest fear is dying. Death is fine, but dying itself—the inability to breathe, the final panic attack—is really scary. I'm also scared of life itself, since dying is implicit in life. Sometimes life seems hyperreal. Like, I look at people and they look like robots or like they are made of rubber and I think I am witnessing the lifting of a matrix, but it's probably just anxiety. In those moments I am like damn, no one knows what's really going on here. My therapist doesn't help. She can't explain what's going on here any better than anyone else. She can't stop me from dying. The internet can't either, but it's a good place to tether that adrenaline. It's easier than rubber people.
Another thing I am afraid of is rejection. If anyone is going to reject me, I'd rather it be me. When a real human being rejects my IRL self, or I perceive a rejection of my IRL self, I need confirmation that I am worthy of being on the planet. The way that I achieve this confirmation is to garner fake love from strangers via an avatar that resembles me.
These attempts at reparation of my core self, or lack of core self, always result in a cascade of binge tweeting. I immediately follow the binge by deleting all or most of the tweets and then follow the mass deletion with a shame spiral.
13. Do you fear that life without the internet would be boring, empty, or joyless?
No, I think it would be beautiful. I imagine myself on a rocky beach, clutching something green. It's probably seaweed, but maybe it's moss. I drink a lot of chamomile tea. I "show up" for myself. Yeah, it would be empty.
14. Do you find yourself saying "just a few more minutes" when online?
If there is anything I don't like, it's linear time. The internet makes me feel like I can bend time. I can't bend time, so I just say "five more minutes" and then fall into a vortex. I go into blackouts.
15. Do you feel preoccupied with the internet when offline, or fantasize about being online?
I think the internet replicates the sun.
16. Do you lose sleep due to being online late at night?
This morning I woke up at 3 AM and went online. It's now 6:30 in the morning. I've done that every night this week, except for Monday, when I didn't go to sleep at all. I think the internet replicates the sun. Maybe goth/emo/highly sensitive people shouldn't be on the internet. We are bound to wither.
17. Do you try to hide how long you've been online?
When I was still drinking, I used to show up at bars, already drunk, and quickly order a drink. I'd pretend that first drink at the bar had gotten me drunk. I keep my So Sad Today Twitter account anonymous, because I am embarrassed by how much I tweet. I feel like there is a connection here.
18. Do you choose to spend more time online over going out with others?
The internet means I get to be with people without leaving the house. Also, I can be anybody I want to be. Like, I can be a fucking wizard on the internet while, in reality, I am here eating Weight Watchers lasagna and wearing a pair of boxer shorts with trumpets on them.
19. Have you tried to cut down the amount of time you spend online and failed?
20. Do you feel depressed, moody, or nervous when you are offline, which goes away once you are back online?
Actually, a lot of times I go on the internet and it's the internet that makes me depressed, moody, and nervous. Like, I go on there and two seconds later I'm like fuck everything. But IRL is somehow still worse.
There is something about the internet that, even when it sucks, holds infinite potential at all times. I may know a site is going to suck, because it just sucked a second ago, but I keep hitting refresh. Eventually it changes. But life isn't like that. When I keep hitting refresh on the same thing in life I keep getting the same thing. Making the same mistakes + expecting different results = fuck.
Actually, maybe that's not entirely true. There's a spirituality in repetitive things: malas, mantras, rosaries, Hail Marys, or as Prince said, joy in repetition. The problem with addiction is that the joy in repetition eventually gives way to a combination of both joy and problems. Then it gives way to just problems.
I think that the internet's grasp on me has something to do with its light and blankness. The light and blankness are sexy and they make me feel like anything is possible. I am sure that life holds the same infinite potential that the internet holds. But unfortunately, I'm forced to be a grown-up in life. On the internet I'm still 16.
Also, I've done well at the internet. If Twitter is a video game, I've beaten it. I haven't always done well at life. I haven't beaten the fact that I am going to die one day. The cheat code for dying is what?
I just don't see myself ever walking a middle path with the internet. It's probably going to have to be all or nothing. Harm reduction never worked for me. Once a cucumber turns into a pickle, you can't turn it back into a cucumber. And I've been pickled by the internet for a long time.
So Sad Today is a never-ending existential crisis played out in 140 characters or less. Its anonymous author has struggled with consciousness since long before the creation of the Twitter feed in 2012, and has finally decided the time has come to project her anxieties on a larger screen, in the form of a biweekly column on this website. Read the first installment here.