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Newsroom

Prevalent devices and changing society make Internet addiction no joke.

 

Meet Cathy Cruz Marrero, the woman now known as “Fountain Lady” because a mall security camera caught her falling into a fountain in 2011 while she was texting and walking. The video went “viral,” and she became a reluctant YouTube sensation.

Meet Emily Seebohm, the Australian swimmer who was heavily favored for a gold medal in the 100m backstroke in the London 2012 Olympics. She came in second to relatively unknown American Missy Franklin because she spent the entire night before the race on Facebook and Twitter and lost her focus.

Technology has given us the power to be connected at all times, but what happens when you become addicted to the connection?

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1,152 people were treated in emergency rooms in our wonderfully distracted country in 2011 for — ahem — distracted walking, and that’s a low-ball estimate because most people won’t admit that they actually fell into a fountain, or off a subway platform or stepped into oncoming traffic unless it was caught on tape.

Beyond the daily annoyances of seeing a group of kids at the food court in the mall texting each other at the table instead of talking to each other, or the guy screeching into his cell phone while in line at Starbucks, lies the true Internet addict — the kid who locks himself in his room to play World of Warcraft for days at a time, or the person who has lost a relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of Internet addiction.

Tzipora Kinney, 22, of Clawson, grew up in the Internet age and has been forced into her “addiction” through illness.

“I went through all the social media trends of the last decade or so: Livejournal, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest,” said Kinney, who is disabled with gastroparesis, a rare disease that keeps her in bed on IV nutrition or in the hospital. “I find myself checking my email probably 20 times a day,” Kinney said. “The last thing I do before going to bed and the first thing I do before even getting out of bed in the morning is to check my email and/or Facebook.

“I can make it a day without it. I have many times on Shabbat, but even when doing so, it’s the last thing I do before lighting Shabbat candles, and the first thing I do at the end of Shabbat,” she said.

Kinney said she has more online friends than real ones, but some of the reason is based on her illness.

“Even before I got sick a few years ago, you pretty much had to be on Facebook if you wanted to even know what was going on in friends’ lives or get invited to parties and events,” she said. “From a Jewish perspective, the only way to keep track of Federation-sponsored young adult events is through email and Facebook.”
The Internet has helped her meet others with the same disease. “Long-term treatment on IV nutrition is very rare,” she said. “Without the Internet, I’d feel a lot more isolated and I wouldn’t know other people going though the health things I am.”

If she were healthier, she would cut back on Internet use, but “everyone on any college campus is constantly online, even during classes, and so many people are online, often unproductively, during their jobs. So I’m not even sure that being disabled changes anything.”

Kinney said she does not get out much, and the only people she talks to in person most of the time are doctors and nurses.

“I can’t even imagine how much scarier and lonelier and perhaps all-out terrifying it would be to be this sick and without the Internet,” she said. “I can’t imagine my life without it.”

On the other side of the coin is Adam Helfman, 44, who jokes that he is not an Internet addict, even though he can usually be found two hours every morning planning his day at a table at Ellen’s in Sylvan Lake with a laptop, an iPad and an iPhone at the ready. His voicemail is always full because he’d rather text. He boasts of more than 5,000 Facebook friends, and he needs to stay connected for his business, Hireitdone.com, a home improvement referral service.

“My drug of choice is Facebook,” he said, but he also tweets and uses Instagram, the photography website.

“I’m a food addict; I used to be obese, 300 lbs.,” he said.

With 5,000 Facebook friends, he said, “My sphere of influence is pretty big. I don’t cook. I eat out all the time, and I make good choices. I take pictures of my food, and Instagram makes food look better.”

He said he spends about four hours a day on the Internet but is always connected to his friends, “a whole gang of eaters.” I get people messaging me all the time with new restaurant recommendations. We go to all the new spots.”

Being Realistic

Rabbi Jason Miller of Farmington Hills, a blogger who does social media marketing for a number of clients, calls the Internet “a multi-tasker’s dream, but it can also be a nightmare for people who forget to get back into the real world.”

Miller, who has more than 4,000 Facebook friends and spends a lot of time on the Internet, said he makes it a point to get out and exercise.

“I’m very conscious how sitting in front of a computer and surfing the Web can lead to an addiction,” he said. “I believe I’m more efficient on the Internet, but it becomes very easy to become sidetracked.”

Dr. Vera Sekulov is a Southfield-based psychologist who has specialized in clinical and neuropsychology for more than 30 years.

She said, “Internet Use Disorder is not yet a disorder diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association, but it is being recommended for further research.”

She said it is no different than any other addiction and is linked to addictive syndromes similar to Impulse Control Disorders.

“The essential features are an inability to resist an impulse, temptation to engage in action that is harmful to themselves or others, feelings of increased sense of tension or anxiety before engaging in the act and, subsequently, the experience of pleasure, gratification and relief,” she said. “Many individuals are isolated, depressed, anxious and become very aggressive if their Internet activity is being interrupted.”

According to a recent story in Scientific American, “very specific patterns of Internet use are reliably related to depressive tendencies.”

“Peer-to-peer file sharing, heavy emailing and chatting online, and a tendency to quickly switch between multiple websites and other online resources all predict a greater propensity to experience symptoms of depression,” the story said. “Quickly switching between websites may reflect anhedonia (a decreased ability to experience emotions) as people desperately seek emotional stimulation.”

No matter the level of use, from dabbler to addict, unless you live in a cave without Wi-Fi, your Internet isn’t going away, and it’s going to change the way people relate to each other. The cat’s out of the bag, the horse is out of the barn, and the cow’s jumped over the moon.

The next time you see a group of people gathered around swapping jokes, listen closely.
Are they saying, “Did you hear the one about the guy who walked into a bar?” or “Did you see the one about the woman who walked into the fountain?”

 

 

 

 

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