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Internet Addicts: Charity Cases or Just Ahead of the Curve?

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By Gareth Cartwright

It's a vast data-surfing canoe that we're all sharing, and I certainly do not claim to be sitting on the shoreline. As frequent and active users of social networking sites, we're all constantly rowing through page upon page of needless information. Devouring the never-ending stream of updates and developments of family, friends and that guy you met in the toilets at IKEA. All the while sitting at our computers, pondering existance and struggling with the wording of a particular introductory paragraph (cough).

But computers aren't the only gateway we have into these vast, all-encompassing water worlds of information. We access these sites through our mobile phones, tablet's and games consoles. We are never disconnected. This variety is great in allowing us to maintain communication no matter what device is at hand, but what about when we start to use more than one at a time, and why we feel the urge to be constantly in the loop? I myself have admittedly had my twitter feed open on this computer and my phone at the same time more than once, even as I write this piece. This seems harmless enough, but certain sources are considering these kind of actions as the potential for a growing insurmountable desire to be connected, and that loop could be a noose in drag.

"Never heard of it," you say? Well, 'Stop masturbating over pictures of your cousin and get out of Cuba,' I say. Internet addiction has been a growing concern since the mid 90s. A quick search of the term brings up a multitude of sites, centering around the research, identification and subsequent curing of internet addiction. Netaddiction.com - the most popular of these - contains research, support services and some pretty bleak predictions for the future of internet addicts. A home page including quotes warning that internet addiction "creates financial hardships" and can "break up marriages and strain friendships". In cases of online gambling, anti-social role-playing and hardcore flatulophilia porn requirements, this outcome can be correct and undoubtedly concerning, but is that really the whole picture? In a word, no.

Most medical authorities reject internet addiction as a legitimate condition, and it has been strongly argued that overuse of the internet is simply a manifestation of other conditions, such as anxiety or depression. This is not the only opposition to the growing concern over internet addiction, though, and is certainly not any excuse to start drinking gin at nine in the morning. Another argument against the growing concern over internet addiction is that, rather than it being a cause for panic, individuals who show signs of being "addicted" to the internet are just the pioneers for a society becoming more and more reliant upon it.

The growth of technology and the internet in recent decades has been almost unprecedented and advancements in the virtual world have helped us to overcome boundaries of geography and culture, and ultimately moved us toward a more connected and (in some ways) more united species. Developments occur instantly on the web, and the time it takes us to communicate or interact has been trimmed to miliseconds. Above humanity's head office reads the sign: "Carrier Pigeons need not apply." We have seen entire businesses and facilities be created and thrive in the online world and this is a trend that shows no sign of stopping, and why would it? Entire businesses can be run and maintained for a minimal cost by a single person at a single computer. Given the current economic climate and the state of our high streets and industrial parks, it is easy to see why retailers and other service providers are resorting to operate exclusively online. A curious and ironic solution to a problem of the same design, but a solution nonetheless.

Aside from saving on time and money, operating on the internet has other benefits to the administrators and owners of businesses and services in the modern era. Larger conglomerates still rely on the work of skilled, willing employees to maintain a smooth well oiled operation. In the real world, companies are limited to the talent pools on their doorstep to find these people, but when a company is being maintained online this can be done from virtually anywhere in the world. Even I'm currently contributing this article despite being almost 150 miles away from the almighty Planet Ivy headquarters.

Given the cost-effectiveness, ease and speed of the online world, it's an obvious prediction that we are only going to continue to see the internet taking on an even bigger and more influential role in our lives. And as for those internet addicts? Well, they are the individuals that will thrive in our online future. We've all got grandparents and parents who rely on us to educate them in the latest online tools and tricks. If we don't spend the time in maintaining our own online proficiency now then we could soon find ourselves left behind. Incontinent, nameless and without any followers, desperately trying to find a postbox, calling on the help of those we branded 'addicts'.

So if you feel like you've spent a little too long being told the weather by 800 different people on facebook today (it's actually kind of nice right now) then don't worry; when the year 2021 brings a Tron-like virtual workplace and there are no windows to see the rain through, you'll be glad that someone out there is reminding you just how grey the clouds can be. You heard it here first...