Cold turkey

Due to a house-guest, and the pathetic fact that I haven’t existed without my computer and/or smart phone within grasping distance since what feels like 1999, I’m going to attempt to unplug this weekend.

No computer.

No email.

I’m having some issues even typing out “No Tumblr” and “No Twitter,” which makes me a little concerned. No endless feedback loop of approval and funny photographs of baby animals? How ever will I survive?

On the other hand, Facebook and Google+ can go kick rocks. I’ve gone weeks without even thinking about either one of them.

Pour out a 40 for Google Wave while you’re suddenly remembering you’re on Google+, homies.

I’m worried that my inability to conceive of a weekend where I’m not tethered to a glowing screen might be a sign of a deeper problem, like Internet addiction disorder, or IAD, which is also known as problematic computer use, pathological computer use, or Internet overuse.

Ainsley’s breakdown of IAD’s other monikers:
Internet overuse: blogging
pathological computer use: MySpace
problematic computer use: running Windows

I’m not quite sure how I’ll be able to commit to going off the grid, or to what extent. The idea of just keeping my phone turned off, but in my pocket in case of an emergency, is appealing. And I know I can remain without my beloved laptop for, oh, twenty-four hours without experiencing any withdrawal symptoms.

Internet withdrawal symptoms, according to WebMD:
rapid heart rate
severe boredom
inability to obtain an erection
loss of kittens

Okay, so I couldn’t find Internet withdrawal symptoms on WebMD, but that’s not to say that they won’t be on there soon. There’s actually discussion about including Internet Addiction as a disorder within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in the fifth edition, slated for release in May of 2013. The American Medical Association has thus far refused to pressure the American Psychiatric Association to include Internet Addiction as a formal diagnosis, because there are several problems when it comes to its classification.

Aside from a dearth of studies, there’s also trouble defining the term “overuse,” just as with “video game overuse,” which has also been proposed as a disorder. Who’s to say that video game overuse, or Internet addiction, are truly diagnoses to be separated from boring old obsession, compulsion, or self-medication? As of now, it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between a person with an underlying mental illness who is using the Internet and a disorder stemming from the use of the Internet itself. Me? I’ll say I have both. Sign me up for a bunch of studies, just as long as they include some free porn.

There have been several prominent articles written about “onlineaholics” (yes, really) over the past few years, and more than one cites Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack as having been at the forefront of investigating and treating web dependency. Dr. Orzack admitted that in 1996, when she opened her clinic for Internet addicts at McLean Hospital, everybody thought she was “crazy.” But McLean has a Computer Addiction Study Center where Dr. Orzack did her work prior to her death in November 2010, and she also was an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. She wasn’t a quack, is what I’m saying. Even though I rankle with some of her postulations, like that between 5-10% of Internet users suffer from some variety of “web dependency.”

the late Dr. Marissa Hecht Orzack

Another proponent of the Internet-as-an-addiction cause is Jeremy Greenfield, Ph.D., the author of Virtual Addiction. Dr. Greenfield is of the belief that certain components of the Internet can have a profound psychological effect on people, and that about 6% of users can suffer as a result of the dissociation, time distortion, and instant gratification that the ‘net provides. An interesting, and seemingly logical, link that Greenfield makes is that gambling, shopping, and sex in real life can become compulsions, and that the same mood-altering effects can be experienced as a result of engaging in these activities online.

I’ll admit that Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and all the other toys I play with are just as dangerous and alluring as browsing Ebay, Etsy, and YouPorn. But has my life suffered? Eh, I like to think that the network of friends I’ve made and the things that I’ve learned online have only served to make me, and my life as a whole, more awesome. But possibly less productive, maybe. Though who’s to say? Perhaps away from the Internet I’d waste just as much time masturbating on the couch, reading print-and-paper magazines, or wandering the streets of SoHo with my wallet in hand.

One of the strongest voices for recognizing Internet abuse as a clinical disorder is Kimberly S. Young, the director for the Center for Internet Addiction and Recovery, whose PO Box is in Pennsylvania. (Unintentionally sexy shibari shot if you click through.) Dr. Young calls “the fantasy world of the Internet” an escape hatch of sorts for people, ie, Internet addicts, who are grappling with underlying depression and anxiety disorders.

Statistics show that more than half of people who seek treatment for Internet addiction are also seeking “help” for their behavior with online pornography or sexually-charged chatting. Another interesting number? Over half are also suffering from cross-addictions, like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or sexual addiction. To me, as an alcoholic who likes the Internet a whole helluva lot, this means that the underlying causes for compulsive behavior are the issue, not the clicky box itself.

Again, this is me speaking from my experience only, but addiction itself is like metastatic cancer, you have to find and attempt to excise the primary source if you expect to get better, you can’t simply treat the related, resulting ailments. I’m sure there are crackheads who are also “addicted” to Fritos, you can’t merely classify Frito Addiction in the DSM because people who are addicts are, well, easily addicted to stuff. Especially if it’s to something like the Internet, which is so vast and with so many different, specific niches that there’s literally something for everybody to get hooked on. Dirtybiebersecrets, anyone?

Another thing that makes me balk about the idea of classifying Internet addiction as a specific disorder unto itself is that there’s such negative judgment placed on the interpersonal relationships and interactions one can find online. Personally I find the language somewhat incendiary and I want to punch a bitch in the face…perhaps this is further sign of an addiction? Dr. Drew, get me on Celebrity Rehab, even though I’m not a celebrity and I’m not sure if Hazeldon offers Internet detox and rehabilitation services. Maybe there’s an Internet addict halfway house that only has dial-up service.

On Dr. Young’s website there’s the bothersome statement that, “Internet addicts also suffer from relationship problems in almost 75% of the cases and use interactive online applications such as chat rooms, instant messaging, or online gaming as a safe way of establishing new relationships and more confidently relating to others through the Internet.”I use the Internet to “confidently relate to others” and to “establish new relationships.” And you know what? I think it’s pretty fucking great. Some of my closest friends have become a part of my life because we first interacted on Twitter or another platform. In fact, both of my house-guests – including the one who is going to disconnect with me this weekend – were the result of “online-related compulsive behavior.” (Emailing.)

Dr. Young and her brethren might think that I’m not doing enough to treat my addiction, especially if I hop onto Tumblr to post a response to Matthew Barney’s DJED exhibit over the weekend after stating clearly that I will not, but that’s just to bad. If the first step is admitting that I’m powerless, I’m just going to say just the opposite. The Internet has made me more powerful and quitting for good is for sissies.

Meanwhile I have to wonder if 72 hours cold turkey is going to give me DTs.