Internet to Sex: Defining Addiction
Addiction is used to describe everything from the Internet to shopping to sex. So how do you tell when something really becomes an addiction?
Fifteen-year-old Lily has finally found Kevin, the man of her
dreams, on the Internet. He has a gift of knowing what to say to make her feel
good, despite the disappointments she's had with a broken family and a recent
move to a new city with her mom.
So she spends hours chatting with her online companion,
alienating herself from family and friends. Soon after a face-to-face meeting
with the 20-something-year-old, she gives in to his aggressive sexual demands
and contracts chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease. When Lily's friends
try to intervene in the relationship, Kevin becomes angry and tries to kill one
Sound too far-fetched to be true? Maybe. Maybe not. While this
is a current storyline on The Young and the Restless, a daily soap opera
on CBS, there are viewers who can attest that elements of the plot are a bit
too realistic for comfort, according to Jack Smith, executive producer and
co-head writer of the daytime drama.
He says many parents have responded to the fictional situation,
writing letters about their own concerns and experiences of their children's
extensive use of the Web. According to him, they say things like, "You're
telling our story."
Dangerous Online Habit
The possibility that kids will meet sketchy people online
during their extended use of the Net surely strikes deep into the fears of
parents. Smith himself has a 14-year-old daughter who has dozens of virtual
buddies, a number of them strangers. It was his worries about the number of
hours she was logged on that inspired the cyber abuse tale.
Although he says he does not regard his daughter as an Internet
addict like the character Lily and he does not think that she has had a risky
online encounter, the Y&R exec still finds disturbing the idea that
people could take on anonymous personalities on the Web and not be held
accountable for their actions.
"The Internet could be a real environment for
predators," says Smith. His remarks mirror the words of some mental health
professionals who say that particular features of the Web not only promote
compulsive behavior, but danger, too.
David Greenfield, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Connecticut,
says other characteristics of the Net encouraging addiction include easy
access, sense of timelessness, the hypnotic quality of the screen, and the
unfinished, intermittent nature of information.
What's even worse, he says, is the "synergistic effect"
that these characteristics have when combined with stimulating Web content
that, in themselves, could be habit-forming. Such content could be found in
gambling, shopping, stock trading, video gaming, and porn sites, and cybersex
For instance, "You may have a predilection for liking
pornography," explains Greenfield, "but when the pornography is in your
face, is easily accessible, affordable, and is available at any time and any
place in an anonymous way, that lowers the threshold in regard to acting out
with that behavior."