My heart was racing.
My eyes were glazed, my muscles tense. I took a slight, masochistic pleasure in the repetitive motion injury I was developing in my shoulder. I kept glancing over that shoulder, afraid of being caught, but the fear only added to my excitement.
I had been surfing a popular online comics site on company time.
The site is no longer online, and its identity isn't important. What is important is my own involvement with it.
I had introduced myself to it while surfing over lunch. Beginning with little shifts on my lunch break, I had worked my way up to longer and longer sessions, bigger and bigger fixes. Today, I had started at lunch, and now it was 7:30 PM, and I still couldn't leave. Not while I was so close to finishing all 1700+ pages.
Thirty minutes later, after I finished driving home, a wave of depression washed over me. I had done it all, now. What more was there to live for?
That feeling, that I'd lost my perspective so thoroughly, forced me to reassess my life. Since then, my use of the Internet is under better control. But since I produce online entertainment myself, I can only curb it so much… and disturbing traits remain in me.
Some people divide their week up according to their favorite TV shows. I pre-schedule work breaks according to the update times of online comics. PVP is usually by 2 PM. It's Walky is by 11 PM. Sluggy Freelance, GPF, and Clan of the Cats are midnight. CRFH is 1 AM, which is usually past my bedtime, but if it's 12:50, I'll sometimes stay up and wait…
I know I'm not alone in this, either. How do I know? In the middle of "Fire and Rain," an especially suspenseful Sluggy story, the server tended to overload at midnight, and remain inaccessible for another half-hour. The forums confirmed that readers were checking every five minutes to make sure that the popular but very mortal Zoe would survive her encounter with a superhuman, possibly immortal assassin.
Some would say that's only a sign that Sluggy cartoonist Pete Abrams was doing his job. A good storyteller keeps his audience on the edge of their seats.
There's some truth to that. However, when your brain comes to need, to crave, the rush of endorphins it gets from a few electronically scanned pictures and word balloons, there's a problem. When this happens, Zoë is not your friend.
People can develop addictions to almost anything, given the right conditions. Alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs are the most notorious tempters, but far from the only ones. Chocoholism reached near-epidemic proportions last year, according to Reuters on February 12, 2003. Compulsive gambling has spread across the country as states either legalize gambling (as in Wisconsin) or consider doing so (as in Maryland). And then there's the addiction to Internet use.
This addiction does not narrow down to a specific "webcomics addiction," any more than alcoholism narrows to a specific craving for Budweiser. During the peak of my own addictive behavior, I found other online media as satisfying to my cravings as comics. The Onion's mock-news text or the Capitol Steps' mp3s would work as well as the panels of Narbonic, and I checked their updates just as faithfully.
That's not to say it's impossible to be specifically a Sluggy addict or an alcoholic who drinks nothing but Bud. Regardless of taste, though, the effects are the same.
Some people like Dr. John M. Grohol, Psy.D., claim that "Internet addiction" itself is too narrow a definition for simple compulsive behavior, motivated by a desire to avoid other problems in one's life or just powerful, entrenched habit. They may be correct. The concept of Internet addiction is only about six years old, and there's still considerable debate within the medical community over how to treat it.
Most of us are not advanced enough to need professional help. Milder cases can be treated with a firm resolution, and maybe a little support from family and friends. If you're concerned, though, about your own Internet use, you may want to ask yourself the following questions, taken from the website of Dr. Kimberly Young. See how many apply to you; if it makes you a bit uncomfortable, think hard about cutting back. Acknowledging the problem is always the first step.
- How often do you find that you stay online longer than you intended?
- How often do you neglect household chores to spend more time online?
- How often do you prefer the excitement of the Internet to intimacy with your partner?
- How often do you form new relationships with fellow online users?
- How often do others in your life complain to you about the amount of time you spend online?
- How often do your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend online?
- How often do you check your e-mail before something else that you need to do?
- How often does your job performance or productivity suffer because of the Internet?
- How often do you become defensive or secretive when anyone asks you what you do online?
- How often do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with soothing thoughts of the Internet?
- How often do you find yourself anticipating when you will go online again?
- How often do you fear that life without the Internet would be boring, empty, and joyless?
- How often do you snap, yell, or act annoyed if someone bothers you while you are online?
- How often do you lose sleep due to late-night log-ins?
- How often do you feel preoccupied with the Internet when off-line, or fantasize about being online?
- How often do you find yourself saying "just a few more minutes" when online?
- How often do you try to cut down the amount of time you spend online and fail?
- How often do you try to hide how long you've been online?
- How often do you choose to spend more time online over going out with others?
- How often do you feel depressed, moody, or nervous when you are off-line, which goes away once you are back online?