There’s two films showing at Sundance this week about web addiction. Web Junkie from China is about teens going through rehab for internet addiction, a condition that China deems a psychological category for severe treatment. Then there is Love Child, about a Korean couple who let their real baby starved to death while obsessively caring for a virtual baby. A while back there was a spate of articles stating that 45% of Japanese women 16-24 were not interested in sex. Then there are all those stories about Japanese children never leaving their bedroom – it even has a name, Hikikomori. And the long term trend in America is to live alone. Any many young women today claim their boyfriends would rather play video games than have sex.
Now I imagine there are parents in America who would love to send their kids to camps to get them away from their computers, but I’m not sure we think of compulsive internet use as an addiction. When everyone is a pod person, it’s hard to know there’s another way of life.
How much is too much of anything? When does something become an addiction? Are bookworms who read all day book addicts? Lots of retired people spend their entire days watching television. Are they TV addicts? Of course, people who work 60 hours a week are sometimes said to be addicted to their jobs, and called workaholics.
Evidently, there’s an assume dichotomy: normal life and escapism, so if we spend too much time away from normal, we’re addicted. But what if living in front of a computer becomes normal. I was a computer programmer, and often spent my entire work day in front of a monitor. And, then I came home and spent my evening in front of a computer writing. Was I addicted? Or was that just life?
I spend a lot of time at my computer desk. I don’t play games, and I don’t stream TV and movies. I do write, listen to music and read news stories, all of which I did before computers and the Internet, and what I would do if I didn’t have the Internet. A couple years ago I lived three days without power and in the evening I’d write by pen on a yellow pad, listened to books and music on my iPod touch, and played old radio show tapes on an ancient Sony Walkman, all by flickering candlelight.
I know what they mean about addiction. Younger people do spend a lot of time on the net. But women my age spend a lot of time on their smartphones, and panic when they don’t have them. And more people than ever seem to love living alone, often with their TV, computer, and game console.
Is the real problem video games? Is the main worry that video are games more appealing than day-to-day living? In the film clip above one young guy says he played World of Warcraft for 15 days straight. Now, maybe that is an addiction. However, if you have lots of free time, isn’t a computer game a higher form of stimulation? It’s certainly more engaging than reading or watching television. We live in a world of growing unemployment. A good portion of our population is without engaging work, so why not turn to the Internet. It’s better than drugs – where the original meaning of addiction comes from. And what does it say when video games are more appealing than sex?
And there’s one more thing to consider. Humans are self-aware beings living inside a skull of an animal. We have five senses bringing data in from the reality outside of our body. Could the Internet be our sixth sense? Or an extension to our sight and hearing? Doesn’t the Internet just extend the range of our body’s normal senses? Can living alone on the Internet be considered the beginning of a hive mind?
Is hearing a real tree fall in the forest different from hearing a virtual tree fall in the forest?