Some say that right now we are living in a world where people have Internet addiction disorder (IAD), or as others may call it, compulsive Internet use (CIU), problematic Internet use (PIU), or iDisorder. While the experts on mental health diagnoses, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), have not yet made IAD a clinical diagnosis in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), they are considering it and currently list it as a “condition for further study.” But what I want to know right now, before things get worse, is “Do we have a problem?” More precisely, what I mean is, “Do you have a problem, and if so, what should we do about it?”
I understand that some doctors can be slow. Seems like I’m often sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting. (They even have rooms made just for this kind of thing.) So, I’m pretty sure that if the APA isn’t going to give us a diagnosis (or say for sure that we have a big problem), then as skilled lawyers, we can get quick answers with some research and by simply asking the right questions. You with me? Let’s do this.
What Do the Numbers Tell Us?
When I was researching an article on technology for mindfulness, I found Liza Kindred, CEO of Mindful Technology. She tells us that since 2014, more people in the world have had access to mobile phones than toilets. And that 90 percent of Americans have their phones within reach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Indeed, Kindred says that “Scientists are working every day to make super addictive apps. It’s changing the biology of our brains, getting these dopamine hits” (Erin Griffith, “Tech Addiction and the Business of Mindfulness,” Wired, May 14, 2018;).
Is this a problem? Clearly, more research is needed. That’s when I found Mary Meeker, an American venture capitalist and former Wall Street securities analyst. Her primary work is on Internet and new technologies. She holds an MBA from Cornell and is a partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.
During her keynote address at Code 2018, she described these statistics and trends:
- In 2017, U.S. adults spent 5.9 hours on digital media each day, of which 3.3 hours were on their mobile device.
- In 2018, the world’s 3.6 billion Internet users surpassed half the world’s population.
- In 2018, “There’re 2.2 billion Facebooks, 200 million Pinterests, 170 million Spotifies and 125 million Netflixes.”
- “Internet users are increasing their time on Internet services based on perceived value.”
- “YouTube has more than a billion views of daily learning videos, 70 percent of users use the platform to help solve work, school, or hobby problems.”
And then there is the newest entrant into our online life, virtual reality (VR). VR trends tell us even more about how we spend our time:
- 22.4 million Americans are already virtual reality users (Yulio Technologies, 2018).
- An estimated 82 million virtual reality headsets will be in use by 2020 (Id.).
- The global VR gaming market size is expected to be worth $22.9 billion by the end of 2020 (Statista, 2018).
Do We Have a Problem?
All this begs us to better define the problem. It’s clear that we are and have been developing newer and better technological tools to distract our attention away from our H2H (human-to-human) existence and into smart devices, online, and even virtual worlds. As a result, have we created a culture of online addicted zombies who need an intervention to return to the world of human interaction? More importantly, if we have, is there a single plan or path to return?
If it is true that we are creating Internet addicts, then doesn’t it make sense to take steps to (1) identify and diagnose who is affected; (2) offer, for example, a 12-step system of self-work and peer support; and (3) bring those affected back to a healthy state of social interaction and a balanced life? Well, maybe. Let’s go with this for a minute and see where it leads.
Now the Questions
This first step may be tricky. Since the APA doesn’t have a diagnosis yet, we need a diagnostic criterion to apply to know who is a “normal” user, and by comparison who checks their Facebook feed “too much” or plays “too many” hours of Destiny or some other online game. We may even need to create a study group and then collect normative data. Time is of the essence.
So, let’s start with you. Thanks for volunteering. Please answer these questions:
- Do you think you are on your smartphone too much?
- Has someone ever said to you, “You are always on your phone”—like it’s a bad thing?
- Do you check your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat often?
- Do you often shop online?
- Does your annual credit card summary list Amazon as the largest piece of pie on your “merchandise” pie chart? (You want to go look now, don’t you?)
- Do you game online every day?
- Do you often postpone meals or not answer your phone because your game is more important and you “can’t just stop in the middle of a game”?
- Is your hearing impaired when you are on your phone, PC, or Xbox?
- When someone is talking to you while you are online or using your smart device, are all your answers limited to one word, and, at times, no words at all?
- Has it ever gotten so bad that you simply don’t answer but thought you did and blame the other person for not hearing you?
- Do you have more friends IRL or online? (If you know IRL is “in real life,” then I think you have your answer.)
You May Have a Problem
Okay, I think we are making progress. I have a feeling you answered “yes” to one or more of these, and thus you are probably a Tech Addicted Zombie (TAZ). (While you were reading, I made a new diagnosis. I just figured that if you and I are doing the research and developing criteria, then we should also name our own diagnosis. High five!)
About our criteria, it worried me for a minute when I answered “yes” to all the questions. But, unlike you, my friend, I don’t have a problem because I can stop using tech anytime I want. How about you? Your phone still on? Thought so. . . .
It seems we need to focus on you here. I know that at this very moment you are starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. Are you really reaching for your cell phone? I bet that’s because you haven’t checked your e-mail since you started reading, have you? STOP! If you can just control your FOMO twitch for a few more minutes, then we can probably figure this all out.
Now then, I also sense that you think I am jumping to conclusions about you and that I might be wrong. Oh, I hear you, but look, denial is a sure sign that I am right on this one. So come over here a minute and as we walk to this mirror together. I just want you to consider that what I’m saying could be possible.
Why Does Everyone Want to Leave?
While you take a good long look at yourself, let’s think about a few more factors that may be causing this zombie-IAD problem. To begin with, the world is changing. Our culture and habits are changing with new technology, and even the Earth itself is changing (warming, to be more precise).
In fact, while global warming is proceeding with dramatic effects to our planet, simultaneously we are also constantly achieving new highs for more and more online and VR usage. Is this all a coincidence?
How about this: Did you know that Mars One, a global initiative whose goal is to colonize Mars, had almost a quarter of a million people apply to be the first astronauts to travel to and colonize Mars? AND there is no plan to return any of them!
What’s the future like for you and an entire generation of millennials who are not only slowly moving to a virtual world but are willing to leave the planet altogether? (And never come back!) Should we stop manufacturing tech devices right now and mandate meaningful IRL human interaction before it’s too late? Can we stop all online gaming, shopping, Facebooking, and the like?
“Dear Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, please close your doors. You are destroying real human interaction. It’s not good for humanity. Sincerely, Puny Human.”
Myself, I don’t really believe there is any path back. It would be like trying to walk to 1950. It just isn’t going to happen. So, now, the more important question is, what is our path forward?
The New Path Forward
Perhaps the answer is in the development of an online experience that so closely resembles real life that the line between the two blurs. Then we don’t have Internet addicts, we have people living a normal life online. Perhaps then we don’t have a cultural addiction, but instead an opportunity to create a better virtual “IRL” world.
Have you visited AltspaceVR? Their home page is interesting and on point here. It says:
Hang out with real people in VR. AltspaceVR is the leading social platform for virtual reality. Meet people from around the world, attend free live events, and play interactive games with friends. Day or night, there’s always someone to hang out with. Don’t VR alone! Join a game of Holograms Against Reality, listen to a jukebox, paint a masterpiece, play a round of disc golf, or explore the different spaces. It’s easy to meet up with friends and make new ones. (http://altvr.com)
Okay, now fast forward to 2044 and imagine we have followed this path and find ourselves sadly living in a dystopian world. In the 2018 movie Ready Player One (based on the 2011 novel of the same name), an online worldwide virtual reality game exists where people move seamlessly between two alternate worlds, real life (dystopia) and the “Oasis” (more utopia-ish).
Parzival, one of the main characters, tells us that “People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.” Sounds like a pretty cool place to move to, huh? Our world stinks, a virtual world gives us a new and better place to go. This looks promising.
But, in the end, Halliday, the creator of Oasis, has this cathartic moment and explains the problem with his virtual world:
I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I just didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid for all my life, right up until the day I knew my life was ending. Now, that . . . that was when I realized that, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place that you can get a decent meal. Because reality . . . is real.
So, there it is. Our problem with the virtual world is food not human interaction. We can’t eat or drink virtually. No food and water and we die. (Don’t even get me started about virtual air!)
Therefore, apparently, we must learn to live in both worlds because we can’t live just in the virtual one. But, in the meantime, we must save the real world, so we don’t all have to move to Mars. Then we can develop the virtual world, replete with social interaction, so we remain a world of truly connected puny humans. No more Internet Addiction, no more Zombies, optional Colonization of Mars, and the World Saved. Problem solved. You’re welcome.
Published in GPSolo magazine, Volume 36, Number 6, November/December 2019. © 2019 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.