by David Greenfield
New Harbinger, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jan 20th 2005
David Greenfield's Virtual
Addiction is now six years old, but it remains a useful guide to dealing
with some of the problems that occur with Internet use. It is aimed at a general readership so it
does not use technical terms.
Greenfield bases his advice on his experience in treating clients who
find that they are going online more than they want to, and are getting
immersed in online activities in ways that cause trouble in the rest of their
lives and reduce the quality of their lives.
He provides advice that seems eminently sensible even though he gives no
strong evidence that it actually works.
Given that Internet addiction is still a relatively new problem, it is
not surprising that there have been few studies into what kinds of treatment
are most successful. The problem of
computer addiction for many people is that they cannot abstain from using their
computers. These days, most jobs
require people to communicate by email, find information online, fill out forms
online, or connect with an Intranet.
Both college students and schoolchildren need to go online to do
research for their schoolwork. It is
also becoming essential to have a computer at home or at least to have access
to the web one way or another. Yet for
the many people who have difficulty regulating how much they use computers,
once they are online, the temptation is overwhelming to indulge themselves in
chatrooms, instant messaging, shopping, playing games, viewing pornography, or
simply browsing the web.
Some forms of computer addiction
are easier to regulate than others. I
remember one weekend afternoon when I was a graduate student sitting down in a
computer cluster room and playing Tetris for a few minutes, only to find when I
checked the time that I had been playing for several hours. I also found that other games were also
entrancing, and I was always saying "just one more game." But I saw other people who ended up spending
many nights playing Risk and other group games, even when this meant that they
were not getting their work done. Since
then I have made sure to delete games from my computers, and this is easy to
do. Once deleted, I'm not tempted to
download more games, although a couple of years ago I made the mistake of
checking out a Sims game, and lost a whole day, so I had to delete that
quickly. Many people exercise similar
forms of self-control in their lives.
Reducing temptation makes it easier to control one's actions.
The trouble with the Internet is
that it is full of temptations. All
parts of it are very accessible, and different parts are linked together. Performing innocent searches will often
result in advertisements for items or services that promise to make one's life
so much better. Opening apparently
innocuous email can reveal pornography or advertisements. Web pages pop up out of nowhere showing nude
women, or one gets instant messages from strangers who seem extremely
friendly. One has to be quite an expert
to know how to get rid of all the pop-ups, spam, and unwanted messages. Most people are not expert computer users
though, and so they are exposed to these temptations. Even expert computer users get exposed to temptation, because
like most other people, they often like to do some shopping, playing games,
chatting, or sexually suggestive or explicit material, and websites that offer
these things will generally offer more of them, to draw the user in.
Of course, as Greenfield well
knows, some people are delighted to discover the world of the Internet and so
are very happy to spend large portions of their lives online. But for most of us, there is more to life
than online interactions, and although chatrooms and Internet friends can
provide some sense of community, they are not as satisfying as making real life
friends with whom one sits down to eat food, invites to one's home, or shares
real activities with. For many
families, online activity starts to involve secrecy and lying, and when the
truth comes out, everyone is upset and trust is diminished. Yet the temptation of the online world is
strong, and even when people resolve to cut down on the time they spend on the
computer, they find they are often unsuccessful. As with smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, shopping, and many
other enticing activities, simply saying "no" is not a good
strategy. It may take much more
planning, work with family and therapists, and substitution of other fulfilling
activities to enable one to really gain control of one's behavior.
Virtual Addiction provides a
good deal of advice about what kind of planning and cooperation from family
will be useful to compulsive computer users.
It discusses the nature of addiction, doing self-diagnosis, and the
problems with cyber-relationships, online shopping, online investing, and using
computers at work. For example,
Greenfield suggests to those who do too much online shopping that they turn off
the computer after each time they use it, decide what they need before they go
online and stick to that, avoid browsing through lots of products, try to use
phone or mail instead, shop online with other people around to help rather than
doing it alone, tell other people about one's problems, and six other suggestions. Greenfield's style is casual and confident,
yet he takes these problems seriously.
While there is no guarantee that
the suggestions in Virtual Addiction will work, the mere act of getting
it may symbolize one's commitment to dealing with one's problems. It is a reasonable place to start, and even
if it is a bit dated, the basic ideas will be as effective now as they were
when the book was written. Ironically,
in order to purchase the book, you will probably have to buy it online,
although you might be able to order it from your local bookshop.
© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of
the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at
Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online
Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine,
psychiatry and psychology.