The curse of the modern Medusa

The scourge of internet addiction

By Jodi Rawson

Reader Contributor

Medusa was a Gorgon—a monster with snakes for hair— but there is debate about what her face looked like. Some think she was hideous. Others claim that her beauty was used to draw people into her gaze. Her fame stems from her superpower: eye contact with Medusa would turn you to stone.

Today, on the streets, there are people turned to stone. They are looking down at mini internet devices, unaware of surroundings, addicted to the modern Medusa. By “turned to stone,” I mean that a person no longer appears to be vibrant and growing. They have been halted into sedentary living, unaware of the present, appearing depressed.

In a study conducted by Andrew Lepp and his colleagues upon college students, “ heavy users of the internet had lower levels of cardio-respiratory fitness and were more inclined toward sedentary behavior”… they were turned to stone.

The majority of people affected by IAD (internet addiction) are males in their teens, twenties and thirties.   Usually addicts are mindlessly surfing the internet for entertainment rather than utilizing the information stream.

With its range of distractions from compulsive spending and gambling, extensive research on celebrity gossip and negative political news, the ability to collect “likes” and look at “eye candy” including porn,  the internet has it all. It is normal for people to cradle their devices while walking down the street or driving in their car (distractions are the leading cause of car accidents.)

A 2012 article in Current Psychiatry Reviews notes that Internet Addiction “ruins lives by causing neurological complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems.”

Recently, 1,041 teenage students in China were evaluated for the effects of pathological or uncontrolled internet usage.  None of the students had any mental health problems at the beginning of the study, but after nine months, 87 of the students were diagnosed with depression and eight had significant anxiety.  As a result of this study, researchers hypothesize that people addicted to the internet are “2.5 times more likely to develop depression than teens who are not addicted to the internet.”  In China there are rehabilitation camps designed to wean addicts from the internet.   According to a 2012 report in China Daily, there are 1,500 counselors licensed to treat internet addiction.

According to the internet blog Gawker in the article “How the Internet Causes Depression,” it is often a vicious cycle of people looking to the internet in their depression, and given more fuel for their depression as a result.  “Social media presents us with the kind of collective-action problem you see in authoritarian systems, and the powerlessness, the small narcissism of being alone and being right, are all classic manifestations of depression.”  Social media accounts for more than 70 percent of internet usage.

I tried Facebook for a couple years, but I disabled my account a year ago.  I was using Facebook to be encouraging to “friends” and to share inspiration. With my limited internet usage it was no addiction, but it still made me feel depressed.  My last day on Facebook was at the library for just 15 minutes, and it altered my good day to a crappy day, but I couldn’t explain why.

Later, I learned the origins of Facebook. As a Harvard undergraduate in 2003, Mark Zuckerberg was rejected and frustrated by a girl, and wrote  “Jessica A—- is a bitch.  I need to think of something to take my mind off of her,” on his blog.   Hours later he hacked into the Harvard’s online directory and posted pictures of classmates next to pictures of farm animals on his new site called “Facemash.” Students could rate which picture was better looking. Not very much has changed since Facebook’s frat boy origins, and maybe that is why, despite my limited use and vows to be positive, I eventually felt slimy for participating.

People tell me that I may have to surrender and have the internet in my house some day, that I may need a gadget with internet capabilities, but I know the power of the internet.  I feel that inviting the internet into my life/home would be like inviting Medusa to be my roommate, and I would be paralyzed into a sedentary life as a result.  I don’t have a TV either.

I actually love the internet, similar to how I loved morphine when I had surgery: Some things are better in limited doses.   The internet is my tool about three hours a week, and most of this is at our awesome local library. I can search the fast connection for free (without having to fret about any computer issues), print information and images (or paste them onto my thumb drive) and check and write e-mails in under the allotted 90 minutes per day. After that, I can get busy living.

Some people need to do a lot more research than me. Some people can be on social media for hours each day and still focus on the posts that bring them joy. Other people are on the internet for their work. Obviously the internet doesn’t operate just like Medusa. The modern Medusa is not as instantaneous or predictable to all of its victims.  Everyone has to evaluate their own internet usage.

With each click, we need to ask ourselves “Am I growing?”  If the answer is “no,” then Medusa may pop out, like a cookie virus, disabling us into stone.

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