Internet addiction exerts its grip

Addiction to the internet, social media and gadgets is becoming a serious social issue, analysts have concluded. Although surfing addiction has long been recognised as a source of concern, the issue has now broadened out into a pathological reliance on gadgetry like mobile phones, laptops and iPads.

In the Far East, addiction to the internet has become a common affliction for teenagers and young adults. Special treatment centres have been set up for addicts who sit in front of a screen for 20 hour stretches, unable to drag themselves away.

In the West there is increasing awareness of the issue. It will be a key subject at the 2013 Wisdom 2:0 conference in San Francisco, where the biggest players in the social media sphere gather to talk about the main concerns in their industry.

The question of "balance" is the hot topic. Richard Fernandez, the development director at Google, feels it is crucial for internet users to keep a reality check on their online use. "Consumers need to have an internal compass," he said, "where they're able to balance the capabilities that technology offers them for work with the qualities of the lives they live offline."

The implications are that, for many, the distinction between real life and their online presence, particularly on social media, is becoming blurred. Facebook is a particular example of an activity that can quickly become obsessive. "Checking Facebook to see what the ex is doing becomes a drug," psychologist Seth Meyers says. Curiosity becomes a gateway drug to compulsion and obsession.

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