The internet has been a wonderful thing, enabling information sharing and a host of other activities to effortlessly take place. However, like all good things, the internet has a downside -- one that can ruin lives and destroy families. It's called Internet Addiction.
As a Hollywood therapist to celebrities and actors, I see all forms of addiction. And I know from client experiences that internet addiction is real. There have been some recent and fascinating studies conducted on this in our field. For example, a nationwide study conducted by a team from Stanford University's School of Medicine estimated that nearly one in eight Americans suffer from at least one sign of problematic Internet use. And The Center for Internet Addiction reports that internet addiction is now recognized as a serious disorder and is being considered for inclusion in the upcoming revision of the DSM-V.
Since the term Internet Addiction is broad, some psychologists have identified and classified sub-categories of internet addiction -- one of which is Facebook Addiction Disorder. According to the research firm Nielsen, the average American spends about four and one-half hours on Facebook each month. However, some people are spending much more precious time on this social networking site -- to the tune of 20 or more hours per week.
What we find, though, is that it's not the computer, per se, that is the source of the addiction. Rather, it's the void inside the sufferer that is crying out through addictive or compulsive behaviors. So the same compulsions that drive the drug, sex, or alcohol addict can do the same to users of social media.
One of the problems with social media sites like Facebook is that people feel they have a reason to be addicted because they claim they're doing business. Some are self-employed professionals looking for clients, some are job seekers trying to network for a new job, and some are corporate employees trying to extend their company's message and brand online. All that is fine, but let's look at reality: For most people, their time on Facebook is escapism disguised as working.
We're seeing an incredible retreat into virtual worlds these days. People are hiding behind their monitors more than ever before, and their time spent online continues to climb. What this means is less human interaction, less touch, less accountability, and less human connection. That can be a sure sign of loneliness. In fact, the use of social media sites, when gone unchecked, can actually exacerbate feelings of loneliness, because they remind the user of how little interaction they truly have with others.
Are You an Addict?
Realize that just because you love Facebook or Twitter doesn't mean you're lonely or an internet addict. But you have to ask yourself what impulse drives your interest in these electronic tools. If it's a desire for connection, you're better off putting down the mouse and going to visit a friend -- or going out and making a new one.
Many people, however, are simply addicted to their past. They're using Facebook to reconnect with old classmates, former lovers, and other people they haven't talked to in years. They want to know what ever happened to "so and so," who ended up marrying who, and what that person they once loved ended up doing in life. There's something comforting and soothing about it. However, if you're spending an inordinate amount of time doing these activities, you may need some help.
So how much time is too much on Facebook? If you're on for more than an hour a day, you may want to look into your situation. You may indeed have a problem. Whatever you're trying to do, you can definitely do it in an hour, whether it's reconnecting with people or getting business leads. In fact, if you're focused, anyone can do their Facebook updates in less than 30 minutes. Yes, Facebook is definitely helpful for business and personal matters, but do what you have to do and then sign off.
Of course, when you're lonely, you get depressed and you don't have the energy to spend your time wisely. You don't have a focus, because things aren't really happening in your life. Without focus, your goals are not in alignment and you don't know where you're going. You feel a sense of emptiness in yourself or in your relationships, and you live on Facebook in an attempt to fill some void of your life.
At first it's exhilarating, because you get to be an actor and live in your own temporary reality. But the more time you spend on Facebook, the more depressed and lonely you become, and you have to spend even more time online to eliminate those negative feelings. Eventually it's a vicious cycle that seems to have no way out.
Break Free of Your Facebook Addiction
To get clear on your relationship with Facebook, look at what you're really doing during your time online. Chances are you'll find that you're wasting more time than you are being productive. If that's the case for you, look deep within yourself to find out what's missing from your life that makes you want to be on Facebook so much.
Now, if you're spending five hours a day on Facebook and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of the connections you're making, then go for it. But let's face reality: Most people aren't doing that. The majority of the time is wasted. Even if you do those one or two business social networking emails, you spend more time browsing. You'd be better off spending your time going to real face-to-face networking events and business meetings.
If your Facebook addiction is too big for you to deal with alone, you can get help from professional therapists, psychologists, and counselors. It is a treatable condition. With the proper support and guidance, you can finally turn off the computer and start living your real life again.
So while the internet, Facebook, email, text messages, and IMs have made connecting with both friends and strangers easier, these tools have also taken away the human interaction we all need to live a happy and healthy life. Therefore, the goal is not to eliminate technology from your life, as that would be impossible in today's era. However, you can limit your internet use and use the technological communication tools in a healthy way - one that contributes to real human connection rather than impedes on it.