When you think of internet addicts – what do you think? Probably teenagers on msn for hours on end, talking in words that don’t make sense. Or maybe men in their twenties and thirties, absorbed in the world of online warfare, with wives and children who know the backs of their head more intimately than their faces?
Last week, parents of a three month old baby in South Korea were arrested, after letting their daughter starve to death while they were online raising a virtual child in the role-playing game Prius Online. They didn’t even play at home – they spent hours at a time in internet cafes, only returning home occasionally to give the baby the odd bottle of milk. No wonder The Times were asking yesterday if there is such a thing as internet addiction.
This is an extreme case of course, but I do wonder if there aren’t actually thousands, if not millions, of internet users who although not addicted, find cyberspace overtaking their lives in a way that can often feel difficult to manage. With so much knowledge to explore, so many ways to connect with people, the internet can feel overwhelming. And once you start getting involved in online communities, you can feel a pressure, if only internally, to carry on. It’s a bit like buying regular lottery numbers – you can’t risk not playing once you have your ‘lucky numbers’. Once you establish yourself in a forum or social network it can be hard to leave, for fear of what ‘exciting’ news or discussion might be happening without you knowing about it.
Of course I’m not saying I neglect my children in preference of raising online babies, but I do feel a pressure to somehow be involved, to be available, and if I am not online regularly I often feel guilty, or wonder if I am in someway missing out. Perhaps it is because my work revolves heavily around email, or maybe it is my flighty nature, always wondering if something more exciting might be happening somewhere else or if that next email might be a new offer of work or interesting party invitation. (Disappointingly they never are party invitations, so if you have any kind of celebration coming up, please do bear me in mind.)
As parents, we are very aware of making sure our children use the internet safely, but do we always take the same care of ourselves? With more studies showing a link between excessive internet use and depression, we are right to be concerned, but that concern needs to include the whole family. We mustn’t fall into the classic parent trap – the one where you spend twenty minutes packing wholesome lunchboxes, leaving yourself only time to scoff a piece of bread in the car for your breakfast.
I do always switch my Blackberry off at night, so as not to be kept half awake with dreams of that teasing, flashing red light, but I’m not sure this alone counts as Healthy Internet Use.
I’d be really interested to know how other people feel about their use of the internet. Are you forever flicking between forums, or do you avoid social networking sites as much as possible? Maybe you set yourself a time limit? Let me know…
Photo credit: andyi