When Does Abnormal Become the New Normal?

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?

JWH 1/22/14

7 thoughts on “When Does Abnormal Become the New Normal?”

  1. Jim, given the media here, which routinely exaggerate and sensationalize such things, I have to take all this with a large grain of salt.

    Furthermore, the older generation is always going to complain about how society is going to hell in a hand-basket. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else.

    Hysterical worries about how the younger generation is doomed are typical, especially for conservatives. It’s nothing new. I’ve seen variations of this my entire life.

    As you know, I spend a lot of time on the Internet, and I play a lot of computer games. But that just means that I don’t read as much as I used to. And I haven’t even turned on my television set for the past couple of years.

    I’m still feeding myself, I assure you. And I don’t know anyone who’d rather play video games than have sex,… but there’s no reason you can’t do both, right? (Preferably, not at the same time.)

    Some people are addicts, and they’d have an addictive personality whether computers existed or not. Most people, however, just enjoy doing what they enjoy doing. The only reason we get these scare stories is because people our age didn’t grow up with computers.

    Of course, I know that you understand this, but I guess I think that the whole issue isn’t something we really need to take seriously.

    1. I guess there’s a point when people take things too far. Like gamblers who use all their paycheck for slot machines while their wife and kids go hungry. Maybe addictive behavior should be defined by the amount of harm you cause yourself and others. If you aren’t hurting others, and only wasting a lot of time, then maybe it’s merely a diversion.

      I’d hate to be a gamer living in China though. But even then, we’re only seeing the hype. Those guys in the camp looked like they were still having fun. They were laughing at themselves.

  2. PS. This is kind of interesting, Jim. It’s about that real-life case which inspired “Love Child.”

    There’s nothing about “obsessively caring for a virtual baby” in the story, and playing the game was apparently their job. Basically, they were working 12-hour days.

    It’s still child neglect, of course, and you might well choose to make a living playing a game because you enjoyed playing it. But that “internet addiction” stuff seems to have been just a clever legal defense which actually kept them out of prison.

    1. I think the hysteria over all these issues is more interesting than the actual individual stories. Also, the news media likes to affix blame as if they are judge and jury. I love documentaries, but I do realize they each have their own agenda. My take is the Internet is changing us all, but I don’t think we’re being abnormal. Sure playing WoW 15 straight days is weird, especially if your girlfriend has been pestering you for sex, but maybe it’s a valid experience. I don’t know because I don’t play video games.

  3. The basic question is: where is the border. The border is different for every individual. The stories you refer to are trying to draw a strict border, when in fact it is a grey area which varies for each individual.

    1. Mr. Hellstrøm, I agree. Life is infinite shades of gray. But I can understand the writers, they sensationalize because it catches our attention. For Sundance to have two documentaries that relate to internet life is quite interesting.

      I like borders. I love the story “The Star Pit” by Samuel R. Delany, which is about borders. Everyone has different borders they cannot cross, but not everyone has the same borders. The border I like best is the edge of known knowledge.

      1. Oh, dear me, where would Mr. Hellstrøm be without borders to cross? I think humans tend to create borders because it helps us organize things, categorize them, which is part of the reason we are so successful as a species. At the same time they make me very, very impatient at times.
        The border of known knowledge… I think that is one of the most fuzzy borders there is. Sorry, perhaps I am being pedantic, but I can not, for the life of me, see an edge there.

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