Internet Addiction and Relationships

More and more people are discovering that the Internet is not just a world in which information could be found about any and all subjects the human mind could possibly imagine. As people learn about the different advantages the World Wide Web has to offer them, they are also being warned about the various dangers existing in this mysterious world. Students are beginning to take classes from the comfort of their own homes, and teachers conduct their classes on the Internet, making them available to a number of students who would otherwise not be able to physically be present inside an actual classroom. The Internet is a way for family members living far from home, to keep close contact with their loved ones and it is a prime medium for friends living in various areas to communicate.

Although the positive aspects of the Internet are quite obvious, the disadvantages that it encompasses make the Internet not just a dangerous place for some, but also a place where great mystery dwells. No one can ever be sure that the person they are speaking to is really who they say they are. Various issues about online relationships, friends and deception come up while on the net. Speak to any online "regular" and they'll tell you how important their anti-virus program is - you never know what you're actually downloading, until it's too late.

As someone who has been going online from the age of 10, I have made the Internet part of my everyday life. While other people flip on their televisions to watch the morning news, as they get ready for work or school, I find myself switching on my computer. I wake up fifteen minutes earlier than I have to, just to be able to check my e-mails and weather before I leave my house. It does not end there. Upon arrival back home in the evening hours, the first thing I do as I enter my room is turn on the computer. Sometimes, I go as far as to bring dinner to the computer and eat while I read what people have sent me throughout the day. This is just concerning e-mails. What about the several chat services, through which over a hundred "friends" can send me messages and with whom I can chat? Hours can pass unnoticed when someone is online, talking to friends, reading various articles, and looking at different pictures. With choices such as voice chats, or ICQ chats, or AOL chats, etc. meeting different people becomes almost like a daily expectation.

The relationships and friendships one builds with people through the Internet are totally different than in "real life". Although there is a strong possibility that the person you are speaking to, is not really who they say they are, chances are, in the end you're going to learn how to judge people and how much to trust them. This is all fine, but as I've been told over and over, "too much of one thing is never good".

An addiction is defined as, "compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal". What makes the compulsive need to be on the Internet any different than using any one of those drugs? Nothing.

In order to understand addiction to the Internet, one must understand the people most vulnerable to this state. During an online survey, 17,521 Internet users were screened about their usage of the net, and 30% of them said they get on the net to escape negative feelings existing in their lives. They spoke about the fact that they feel uninhibited while online, which is something that all of us would like to feel in our daily lives. From the same survey, researchers found that 6% of those surveyed met the criteria to be considered addicts. Clinical research shows that the mean age of men addicted to the Internet is 29, and for women it's 43. As for their vocational backgrounds, 42% come from no background at all, 39% come from a non-tech white collar, 11% from blue collar and 8% from white collar. The most addictive online applications have proven to be 35% chat, 28% MUD's, 15% news groups, 13% e-mails, 7% the world wide web, and 2% just for information. It was found that the most respondents came from the United States and Canada, including other English speaking countries. Studies have found that accelerated intimacy, ease and availability of access, anonymity, disinhibition, loss of boundaries, and potency (stimulation) of content make the online experience an addicting one. Data that has been found from various researches seem to conclude that, "for some people the Net does possess an addictive potential". Researchers at the Center for Online Addiction say that there are five types of Internet addiction; Cyber-Relational Addiction, Net Gaming, Information Overload Computer Addiction, and Cybersexual Addiction. Individuals may have one or more of these addictions, but the bottom line remains that it has become a habit and can have great physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.

Cyber-Relational Addiction is when someone is addicted to chat rooms and is over involved in online relationships. Addicts who are married usually end up committing adultery and it is often seen that families break up because of the very fact that someone cannot let go of the virtual life they have online and deal with the real life issues and people at hand. This is not very different from cybersex addiction, in that it too involved the particular connection between people on the Internet and may lead to such acts as cybersex or even possibly physical meetings between to partners.

Net-gaming is also a very serious addiction. People who are net-gaming addicts cannot stop playing games on the Internet, but not only that, it also includes those who excessively gamble online. These people invest or gamble thousands of dollars on the Internet, which in the end not only disrupts their job-related duties, but also become bothersome to loved ones around them. Net-gaming addicts can seek help in various places, and are recommended to do so before their Internet addiction takes over their lives. Because often times this addiction involves money, it is almost always detected by spouses or partners, thus making it among the addictions that are mostly treated.

The wealth of data found on the Internet can also lead people to addiction. Information Overload Addicts are addicted to the unlimited information that can be found on the Internet. They spend countless hours reading and organizing data they find, often times developing obsessive-compulsive tendencies. These people want to find out everything they can from the Internet, not realizing that they could be spending their entire lives in front of their computers researching about various subjects, while their lives pass. The information they find is not necessarily useful to them, but they feel the need to know it and to organize it. Information Overload addicts will work less productively in their careers and especially in their personal lives.

Well, what about when someone is simply addicted to her or his computer? This is also considered one of the Internet addictions. Although this has necessarily nothing to do with the Internet, it can bring those addicted to their computers to the Internet, thus bringing with them their compulsive tendencies of being endlessly on the computer. Engaging in cybersex with individuals online leads to developing relationships with them. People, who have Cybersexual Addiction, are most likely addicted for because of the anonymity the Internet offers, the convenience, and also the escape. Gender also plays a role in Cybersexual Addiction. It is impossible to tell whether males or females are more commonly addicted to cybersex, but the Center for Online Addiction states the following: "Gender significantly influences the way men and women view cybersex. Women prefer cybersex because it hides their physical appearance, removes the social stigma that women shouldn't enjoy sex, and allows them a safe means to concentrate on their sexuality in new, uninhibited ways. Men prefer cybersex because it removes performance anxiety that may be underlying problems with premature ejaculation or impotence and it also hide their physical appearance for men who feel insecure about hair loss, penis size, or weight gain." The reasons why both genders engage in cybersex are apparent in the above explanation. Recovery from this particular form of Internet addiction is very hopeful. There are various Internet sources and online virtual clinics that help people deal with this addiction, aside from which cyberpsychologists like, Dr. Kimberly Young have written books helping those who need to conquer this addiction in order to get a hold on their lives, especially marriages.

This particular form of Internet addiction can go unnoticed, until it is too late. It brings about various controversial debates, such as "Is having cybersex while you're married or involved with someone, considered cheating on your spouse or significant other?" Some say that in order for an action to be considered cheating, there must be physical contact involved, and so cybersex is definitely not a form of cheating. Yet others believe that if your spouse or partner found out about your cybersex experiences and felt betrayed, then it is indeed cheating. They argue, that cybersex is not masturbation or pornography - there is another person involved. While others say, that only makes it a more interactive form of pornography. No matter how long one debates this issue, the fact that someone would feel betrayed if their loved one is engaging in Cybersexual activities does not change. The emotional bond that is created even on the Internet is quite real. The possibility of loving someone you write to and speak to on a daily basis is definitely there. One cybersex addict writes, "I've never been quite sure exactly what it is you fall in love with, the other person or the very notion of being in love, but I'm not sure that it matters, either". When cybersex leads to the formation of a relationship involving love, then the issue of cheating cannot be debated any longer. Wanting to spend more time online with someone, rather than with a person who is actually physically there with you is not only addiction, but most certainly deceitful.

Being addicted to the Internet can be a dangerous and life-changing state. Addiction happens gradually, but often times people are so intrigued with the limitless possibilities available to them on the Internet, they forget about the real life implications these virtual actions can have. People would often prefer to use their imaginations, and because being on the internet is not a concrete thing, meaning the person you are speaking to could be exactly the opposite of what you think they are, only because your imagination has chosen to make them that way, thus making them as perfect for you as possible. This is extremely problematic, as married individuals who engage in online relationships find themselves more interested in their online "friends" rather than their spouses. Also, because they have created that person in their own heads, not having the imperfect facts physically in front of them, it is highly possible that the imperfections of their partners will be amplified, because it is not in their imagination, altered by their minds to quite their own fantasies. That person is really actually there. This can cause the spouse who is addicted to the Internet to ignore her/his partner, creating distance and a real life problem.

To say that anyone who meets others online will develop relationships with them, later taking it to another level and adding sexual content to their relationship, is not applicable. There may be various individuals, for whom being virtually sexual is out of the question, thus keeping all relationships or bonds made with people from the Internet at a friendly level. Yes, it is possible to interact with people online without having it lead to sexual experiences.

Over the years I have met a lot of friends through the Internet. Some of these friends, I knew from before and am able to keep in contact with (making our friendship stronger) on a regular basis because of the Internet. Others, I met online in chat rooms and such. Regardless of where I've met them, they have become part of my life. Yes, it is true that they are not real individuals in my every day physical life, but as an Internet Addict myself, if I were to not speak to them, I'd feel as though I was missing something. I don't really see that as a compulsive addiction, but rather the need to be in contact with friends. I believe that people perceive particular things about you, but only because you are providing them with reasons to think of you in that particular way. Often times I've been approached online by random people, asking if I was interested in cybersex, and it is quite easy for me to say, "get lost!" My point being, unless you are someone who is actually looking for that, you would not be participating. The issue at hand is, is cybersex or the formation of Internet relationships an addicting "substance" much like cigarettes, alcohol and gambling? As the years progress, more and more cyberpsychologists such as Dr. John Suler of Rider University will come up with conclusions which will help us understand the dynamics of this new addiction and its cures and treatments.

Dr. Suler has created a hypertext book about cyberpsychology. In this hypertext book, he has included his deductions about various issues Internet Addicts deal with as addicts and also the people surrounding them and how their lives are affected. It is interesting to read Dr. Suler's ideas about identity management in cyberspace. Dr. Suler says, "The multiple aspects of one's identity may be dissociated, enhanced, or integrated online." Dr. Suler explains how easy it is for people to get addicted to creating selves (within themselves) on the Internet to satisfy different curiosities or fantasies. Creating someone different from yourself not only allows you to be something you are not, but also to dissociate yourself with the acts that the person you've created might perform. This can also be problematic, because addicts can develop more than a few online personas and at what point do those personas affect their real lives?

According to Dr. Suler, when people develop cyberspace romances, it may be purely for the excitement factor. Yet, some people can find genuine "true" relationships in cyberspace. In the end, these couples that have found something genuine and real, must meet to see if the qualities they each thought the other possessed are really there.

I know several people who are romantically involved through cyberspace. In fact, a month ago one of my close friends flew halfway across the world to meet someone she would marry. They met though a voice chat site, and soon exchanged ICQ numbers. After months and months of speaking to one another, they had fallen in love. In March, she flew to the thousands of miles to meet this person she wanted to spend the rest of her life there. When people hear about relationships like the one I just described, their first initial reaction is usually disbelief at the fact that someone would go all that way to meet someone they met over the Internet. Other people argue, saying how is meeting on the Internet different from meeting at a corner bar. In fact, they say that it is much safer, because you are not openly exposed, as you would be at a bar or a club. Last semester, there was a girl in my Art class who met her husband on the 405 freeway as they both sat in traffic. It makes you ask yourself if the venue of where you meet someone is really very important. If you get to know someone well enough where the only thing left to do is establish that real life physical contact, then that is what you have to do.

One of the online success stories I read about Internet relationships explained that it is not always the case that love exists for you in the World Wide Web, but "if he's not just down the street, it'll make him a hell of a lot easier to find!" I think this individual is correct, because the Internet is really an added means of meeting people and getting to know them without the inhibitions that might exist when meeting someone face to face. First impressions often times restrain people from getting to know someone for who they really are. Meeting people on the Internet and developing relationships with them, before those initial first impressions our minds make of someone because the standards societies have forced upon us, is in my opinion a step forward rather than a step backward. It encourages platonic relationships, which are proven last longer. Of course, there are those who have compulsive tendencies and whom become addicted to the Internet and such things as cybersex rather than using this tool for their own benefit and for the benefit of all those they love and surround themselves with.