Hi, my name is Elle, and I have Internet Use Disorder (IUD). I didn't know I suffered this affliction till today, and, well, to be honest, I’m not sure I “suffer,” per se. I stumbled across this article, ironically published online, which discusses IUD (tell me I’m not the only one who finds the acronym a little—disconcerting), a new disorder freshly added to the forthcoming DSM-V. According to the article, you know you’re an IUDer when you identify with a bunch of the following behaviors: a preoccupation with the Internet; withdrawal when not in contact with your beloved Internet; spending huge amounts of time, often at the expense of other activities, online; and using the Internet to “replace” human interaction.
Yes, yes, and yes. Okay, granted, I’m not superglued to my computer screen 24/7. I read a lot, thanks mostly to my beloved Kindle, a brilliant, candy-like machine that allows me to browse Amazon and buy books with the press of my finger against the screen. Just one little touch against its cool, smooth surface, and those words are mine, all MINE!
Ah, sheesh--I probably have Kindle Use Disorder, too.
Before checking myself into Betty Ford, perhaps I owe myself a slightly closer look into my own Internet habits as well as the cultural construction of addictions. First of all, I, like you (most likely), live in the year 2012, smack dab in the middle of the Information Age. The process whereby I gain instant access to information, from international news to the breakfast habits of my Wisconsinite friend, Eileen, is so much a part of the fabric of my life as to be completely invisible. The rhythms of my life pulse and pound around the structures of my online world. Here’s how the Internet is integral to just about every aspect of my existence.
- Career: I teach five classes per semester, one of them entirely online and the other four partially. I publish my poetry and novels in both hard and electronic versions. Essentially, I trade in information, so accessing it in its many forms is pretty essential for earning that handy little paycheck thingy; as a result, I quite literally research several hours a day.
- Activism and politics: I live in South Dakota. ‘Nuff said. Okay, seriously, I love my job here, but dayum, it’s difficult to maintain my presence as a fat, feminist, and queer rights activist in a super conservative state that boasts around 800K people. Total. Without accessing my progressive groups and friends online, you would find me pretty constantly rocking in a corner, sucking my thumb while pawing through Bitch Magazine.
- Interpersonal relationships: For now, at least, my significant other lives in Florida. The one down south. In the little land finger. Like, not in South Dakota at all. We chat via Skype every single day, sometimes for as long as ten hours. Often we sit in total silence, me sweating heroically over a PowerPoint slideshow, my partner doing superhot, geeky things with computers and dropping seductive words like “Boolean.” Hormones aside, I also use Skype to chat with other friends and social media to keep tabs on their dietary habits, relationship changes, and, most importantly, latest cute doggy photos.
- Personality: I’m an introvert, one who hates the phone (No, you’re not the exception.). Give me a choice between an intimate get-together and a couple of hours browsing Facebook, and I’ll palm a mouse every time. And, you know, how amazing is it that we've progressed to a point where people like me can still keep in touch without stumbling through meaningless and awkward social rituals? I remember when the Internet got big, right around age 20 for me. I was ecstatic. Finally, Elle, known as a nerdy writer and performer but never a social butterfly, could be COOL! Right away, I knew the Internet and I were destined to be BFFs.
Am I often online for 12 hours per day? You betcha. Do I need an intervention? Only if it involves lattes, doughnuts, and lots of free e-books. Truth is, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using the Internet as a tool to access one’s vocational, avocational, and social needs and pursuits. Granted, if someone holes up inside her home, petting her computer and calling it her “Precious” while eating endless green beans straight from the can and transforming her computer chair to a portable commode, she just might require some psychological assistance; however, I somehow doubt the Internet had much to do with any of that. That would be like someone calling his agoraphobia “Outdoor Use Disorder,” transferring the attention to the outdoors rather than his avoidance of it.
Characterizing extended Internet use sounds to me like the discomfort older generations have with the emergence of new media and its worrisome, potentially-corruptive influence. When the novel first arrived in the U.S. in the 18th century, many of the older generation sniffed at its sensationalism and predicted it would corrupt the morals and honor of its readers (mostly women) (Biagi’s Media Impact, 2013). No matter the century, there always seems to exist a divide between generations and media usage. Still unsure? Ask a 50-year-old person what they think of texting during dinner, and then ask a 20-year-old. What’s rude to one generation is normal to the next.
Seriously, I get it: IUD is about excess. Elle is okay because she uses the Internet productively and hasn’t yet descended into a Morlock-like state of social isolation, right? Yet, I don’t hear anything about Magazine or Ping-Pong Use Disorder. I would argue the pathologizing of Internet usage stems largely from our terror of new media, our discomfort with new patterns of communication and learning, and our American love affair with pathologizing. Our over-psychologized culture revels in squishing people into little boxes, trimming their sticky-outie bits in order to achieve an ever-better fit. That, combined with our fear and distrust of new ways of interacting with ourselves, our peers, and our world, creates a pretty fabulous recipe for vilifying extended Internet use.
Truth told, I’m a little suspicious of the concept of addiction, which I would argue IUD espouses. Sure, lives have been ruined and people hurt as a result of substance abuse, but the idea of being addicted to stuff, from food to drama, has exploded in popular culture, so much so that any concentration in an area of one’s life becomes suspect. Addiction is, quite simply, a social construct.
But maybe I’m just wallowing in denial. Perhaps I’m hypnotized by the blinding, artificial light of the computer screen; deafened by the blare of my Pandora songs; and bolstered by the codependent Tweets of my friends and family. Regardless, if a disorder occurs because a person becomes hampered or unhappy with their current state, count me out. I’m pretty happy tethering myself to the Internet for several hours every day. A whole cyberworld awaits my exploration.