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BLOG: Is the internet driving us insane?

AvantiKumar | March 7, 2012
The power of online addiction could soon be classed as a mental illness, according to recent researchers.

AvantiKumar, Editor, Computerworld Malaysia & Malaysia Country Correspondent for Fairfax Tech Channels


Getting the balance right is one of the key fundamentals to achieving inner fulfillment, they say; but the notion of balance does vary from person to person and also changes depending on the inner and outer challenges that come to all of us. One of the many challenges is from technology, which is supposed to enhance the quality of our lives, but only when we've worked out the right relationship with each new solution or device. Many of us seem to have veered, perhaps unintentionally, into more extreme states: for instance, internet addiction may be causing chemical changes to our brain in ways akin to drug, alcohol and compulsive gambling addiction.

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan scanned the brains of 35 men and woman between the ages of 14 and 21, about half of whom were identified in a diagnostic evaluation as having an internet addiction disorder. They found abnormal connections between nerve fibers in the white matter of the brains of Internet addicts. Meanwhile, Professor Gunter Schumann, chair in biological psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London, told the BBC that similar findings have been found in video game addicts.

Even Tweeting or checking e-mails on our various devices is harder for us to resist than sex or alcohol, according to a team headed by Wilhelm Hofmann of Chicago University's Booth Business School, which used BlackBerrys to gauge the willpower of 205 people aged between 18 and 85, in and around the German city of Würtzburg. The participants were signalled seven times a day over 14 hours for seven consecutive days so they could message back whether they were experiencing a desire at that moment or had experienced one within the last 30 minutes, what type it was, the strength (up to irresistible), whether it conflicted with other desires and whether they resisted or went along with it. There were 10,558 responses and 7,827 "desire episodes" reported.

"Modern life is a welter of assorted desires marked by frequent conflict and resistance, the latter with uneven success," said Hofmann. "Sleep and leisure were the most problematic desires, suggesting pervasive tension between natural inclinations to rest and relax and the multitude of work and other obligations."

We have already have reached a position in the human-machine courtship where online addiction will soon be categorised as a form of mental illness. And as the power of getting the balance right rests ultimately with humans, it might be worth our sanity and health to disconnect from the internet for a just a few minutes, and wonder if we are still the masters of technology?

- AvantiKumar, Editor, Computerworld Malaysia & Malaysia Country Correspondent for Fairfax Tech Channels


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