addicted?

Posted on October 13, 2009
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An interesting personal account of internet addiction, though not from yours truly, but Winston Ross at Newsweek

Last Friday I walked into the most recent inpatient Internet addiction treatment center to open in the United States and asked a really dumb question. “Do you have Wi-Fi here?” I bumbled, prompting an awkward smile from the man who opened the door at the Fall City, Wash.-based ReSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program. It was the equivalent of walking into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and asking for a single-malt Scotch.

It was also revealing. I hadn’t checked my e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter accounts for nearly 14 hours by the time I showed up at the wooded five-acre retreat, situated with some irony less than 15 miles from Microsoft Corp.’s Redmond headquarters. That drought had begun to eat away at me enough that by the time I walked through the door I was so fixated on plugging back in that my brain was able to push past the blatant insensitivity it took to ask such a question.

Most of my friends smirked when I told them I was heading up to Washington to write a story about the newly opened center, which sits on a wooded parcel of property adorned with a 3,500-square-foot craftsman house, Western red cedar treehouses, chicken coops, and goat pens. We all kid about being hooked on Facebook, but it doesn’t really seem like the kind of thing anybody would need to drop $14,000 (the cost of a 45-day stay at ReSTART) on to quit cold turkey. The fact is, though, I have believed for some time now that Internet addiction is a very real phenomenon. And not

just because I’ve read stories about the well-established and at-capacity treatment centers in China and South Korea, or because I know antisocial kids who routinely put in 14-hour shifts playing World of Warcraft. Internet addiction is the reason my 36-year-old brother has been homeless for most of his adult life.

I hadn’t really understood this until recently, because having a homeless brother always terrified me too much to make any real effort to understand why Andrew could never get his life together. A couple of years ago I decided I’d protected myself from this depressing truth long enough. I contacted my brother and said I wanted to spend a day with him, from the moment he awoke to the time he went to sleep, to see what his life was like. I approached the trip with a journalist’s curiosity and method—a pen and steno pad—but it was obviously going to be a personal expedition.

Andrew, who is four years older than I am, sleeps in a roomy tent, atop three mattresses he’s acquired from one place or another, between a set of railroad tracks and Oregon State Highway 99, in a clearing ringed by blackberry bushes. He lives most days the same way. He gets up when he feels like it, walks to the local Grocery Outlet, and uses food stamps to buy a microwaveable meal. Then he treks over to the local soup kitchen and enjoys a free lunch, answering the greetings of his other homeless pals, who speak to me highly of the obese, bearded man they call “Ace.” When the rest of his buddies head off to the park to suck down malt liquor or puff weed, Andrew eyes a different fix at the Oregon State University computer lab, which is open to the public. He’ll spend the next 10 hours or so there, eyes focused on a computer screen, pausing only to heat up that microwaved meal. He plays role-playing videogames such as World of Warcraft, but he’s also got a page of RSS feeds that makes my head spin, filled with blogs he’s interested in, news Web sites, and other tentacles into cyberspace. He goes “home” only when the lab closes. He’s recently acquired a laptop, after much fundraising from sympathetic relatives, so he can now stay connected day and night, if he can find an open Wi-Fi hot spot.

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