Sat, Dec 11, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Wired in America

Americans are addicted to the Internet, burgers and drugs. A nation in decline or a glimpse of the future?

By John Sutherland  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

America is the world's first connected nation. Some 70 percent

of households are now wired. Universal connectivity is predicted by 2010. Only the homeless and the jobless will be Webless.

Poor them. A recent "Internet Deprivation Study" of 1,000 households by Yahoo! explored the horrors of Weblessness in modern America. It was significant that Yahoo! found it "incredibly difficult to recruit participants for this study, as people weren't willing to be without the Internet for two weeks."

Those brave souls who enrolled for a fortnight's abstinence suffered classic withdrawal symptoms: sleep disturbance, anxiety, mood swings, and "phantom computer syndrome." Some found life "impossible, because the Internet was so firmly ingrained in their daily lives." It was, they reported, the "disconnectedness" which upset them most. The net wasn't a utility -- like electricity, or water -- it was their life-support system. Some would say their drug of choice.

According to Dr Kimberley Young, the country's leading cyberpsychologist, an epidemic

of Internet addiction is sweeping America. Not to worry. Her Center for Online Addiction (www.netaddiction.com) offers, for a fee, "comprehensive information and recovery resources including online counselling for those who suffer from cyber-triggered problems such as online sexual addiction, virtual adultery, compulsive e-auctioning, and obsessive day trading."

How long before computers, like liquor bottles, carry a health warning?

Healthy or unhealthy, this national dependence on the Web has happened in the 10 short years since IBM targeted the domestic consumer with PCs powerful enough to connect with the Web. The automobile took three times as long to become a necessity of American life. More significantly, children don't drive the family car. Young people are the heaviest users of the home computer.

By the time they get to college, America's young people are net veterans. Campuses are 24/7 online communities. Connection costs nothing, every student dorm is hard wired, there is no parental snooping, and the university supplies state of the art equipment. According to some pessimists, Web-addiction is up there with binge drinking as a campus problem. Young is currently touring universities lecturing (for the usual fee) on the evils of the Demon Web.

America, from kindergarten to old folks home, is caught in the net. It's likewise hooked on pills. A new survey revealed that 44 percent of the population take at least one prescription drug on a long-term basis. One-in-six pops three or more. We're not talking baby aspirin but cholesterol-lowering, diabetes-controlling, and mood-stabilizing chemicals. Powerful stuff. There's probably a medication for Internet addiction somewhere in the national pharmacopeia.

It's great news for the manufacturers. National expenditure on prescription drugs has risen 15 percent a year for the past decade, as has the gross national dosage. A quarter of Americans under 18 are on long-term medication. Most started in childhood. Universities, if they are honest, will testify to the terrifying intake of anti-depressants among the student community. They walk up to collect their scrolls on chemical crutches. The lifelong prescription drug user will, on present trends, soon make up half or more of the American nation.

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