Welcome to Netiquette 101, in which we'll be using cyber-case studies to teach you basic but valuable cyber-lessons in being a better cyber-citizen. Today, we discuss how much internet is too much internet.
Case Study: "How do you come up with ideas for this column?" is something that no one ever asks me, but here's the answer anyway: Every week, I go to Google, type the word "internet" into the search bar, click the news tab, and see what appears. This week what popped up was a report from Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital that claimed teens who are "heavy internet users" are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
A "heavy internet user" is defined as someone who's online at least 14 hours per week, in case whether you were wondering whether this category includes you (it does). "The findings add to growing research that has shown an association between heavy internet use and other health risks like addiction, anxiety, depression, obesity, and social isolation," said a press release announcing the study. Are teens—our most precious natural resource—in danger of dying out because of too much screen time?
What We Can Learn: First off, 14 hours of internet per week is nothing. Anyone with a conventional office job is basically on the internet eight hours a day, five days a week. When you factor in the amount of time that a person is fucking around on their phone and using the internet at home after work, we easily spend 50 or 60 hours per week online.
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Obviously, it's not as if the internet is infecting our kids with high blood pressure through Vines of raccoons being cute or Tumblr posts tagged #cisprivilege—the problem seems to be that when you're cruising the information superhighway, your IRL body is atrophying like Jello left out in the heat.
That's why Andrea Cassidy-Bushrow, the study's lead author, included some advice in the release: "It's important that young people take regular breaks from their computer or smartphone, and engage in some form of physical activity."
Everyone from Michelle Obama to your dad tells you to exercise, of course, but that doesn't make them wrong. If you have a teen in your life, make them to get off the internet and read a book. They'll get bored and go outside, guaranteed.
Case Study: "Internet addiction" sounds like a made-up affliction on par with "chocoholism." But it is, as they say, a Thing, as demonstrated by a 2009 story from Newsweek writer Winston Ross.
According to Ross, his brother's addiction to the internet had reduced him to living in a tent off a highway in Oregon, subsisting off food stamps, and bumming computer time at the Oregon State University computer lab. Ross writes of watching his brother, "eyes focused on a computer screen, pausing only to heat up that microwaved meal. He plays role-playing videogames such as World of Warcraft, but he's also got a page of RSS feeds that makes my head spin, filled with blogs he's interested in, news Web sites, and other tentacles into cyberspace." It's a grim story. "I know that homelessness... will kill my brother someday," Ross writes. "He's been consumed by computers for most of the past two decades. Maybe he's a lost cause."
What We Can Learn: There's definitely a line between "heavy use" and addiction when it comes to the internet, and it's pretty clear when someone crosses it.
Case Study: One thing Ross touched on in his Newsweek story is reSTART, an honest-to-gosh internet addiction rehab facility in the Seattle area. It offers an eight- to 12-week program in which participants surrender all their tech and stay in a beautiful woodland facility, participating in "wilderness adventures" such as backpacking, climbing, and water sports. It is to netheads to what those fancy-schmancy Malibu rehab facilities are to Scott Disick: less an actual place to confront your demons and change your life and more of an aggressively pleasant place to dry out (or unplug) for a while and reconnect with the rest of humanity, rather than the bottom of a Patron bottle or your smartphone. According to the Huffington Post, all this costs $25,000
What We Can Learn: The internet is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but at bottom it's a machine that lets you tap into whatever stimuli your neurons are itching for. Worst-case scenario, you create your own little hermetically sealed world and drop into it. That might mean playing 18 hours of World of Warcraft per day, it might mean being a white dude who's really into arguing about rap music with other white dudes on Twitter. Either way, those little worlds are pretty deeply rewarding to the people in them—they're comfortable, and small enough that it's easy to gain a tiny bit of status. The problem is, that status can come at the expense of everything else, including your perspective, your health, and even your home. There are a lot of rabbit holes out there, and getting out of one can be a costly proces.
Thumbnail image via Flickr user Mike Licht.
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