On Computer Addiction

I plan to do the second part of The Case for Competition some other time. This post will be something different than that.

Cat pictures and selfies. Political and grammar/spelling arguments. Spam emails and memes. Is this what the internet is meant for? Is this what computers are meant for? I heard recently that lots of things have increased because of personal computers except for productivity. Regardless of if that’s true or not, it made me think about why that might be.

I’m sure lots of people would say video games are at least partly to blame, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say they have very little (if any) causal relationship to it. Of course that’s in part because I’m always defending games as a medium and as an industry. After all, lots of people said (probably as a joke, I don’t truly know) that Doom was the leading cause of loss in productivity over the year after it came out. Still, I can’t help but feel that video games are not really to blame for the loss of productivity that is such an overarching theme for stigma surrounding different forms of computing.

While computers were originally created out of the desire to calculate things more efficiently (and curiosity I suppose, to some extent), it seems computers mostly have come to promote the opposite of efficiency; at least in the human form of it. Too often I hear about certain companies’ internet bandwidth being used mostly by YouTube, or about someone who quit their job to play an MMO during all that time instead. The overarching theme in articles about this is how bad the internet is or how bad games are for people, but I think this is a problematic way to look at it.

I love games. I work in games. I defend games and their developers at every turn. Still, how could I possibly defend game addiction and internet addiction? Well, that’s not exactly what I’m doing.

The addiction, while sometimes aimed for by developers that I disagree with, is from the use of the technology, not the technology itself. I once read a book about habit-forming products, and there was a clear distinction made about products that are addictive vs  those that are simply habit-forming.

Now, one may argue that the use of a particular technology is the purpose of that technology and therefore must mean that computers are inherently addictive, but I just politely disagree (surprise!).

I don’t know many people now that aren’t addicted to computers, or some form of technology. It’s sad to say, but I’m probably addicted to computers myself.

You can’t necessarily tell until you examine yourself for a break/detox of computers. Not too long ago, I took just a 24 hour break/detox and could feel some strange things regarding the draw to go to my phone and/or turn on my computer. Also, it was honestly weird to feel somehow disconnected from some people, but unlike many people in an internet detox, it was not a negative feeling for me.

So how does all this come together? Well, try to think of it this way: computers don’t make you addicted, it’s the human side of the equation that is addictive. Computers, while giving feelings of withdrawal to some when they are away from their desk or phone, are not inherently addictive, but the modern common uses of them are ironically strongly habit-forming, which in many people can eventually manifest into addiction.

One of my main defenses here, though, is that there is a distinct difference between something addictive and something only habit-forming, but that the two are not mutually exclusive. Something can be both habit-forming and addictive (obviously), but there are many things that are designed to be habit-forming that are not addictive by themselves.

Many humans to some extent yearn for habitual living day-to-day in my opinion. I see it powerfully in just about every person I know. Some prefer sleep, some prefer the news on television, or games, or even reading magazines.

Then there are those on their phones seemingly all the time, which is becoming increasingly common. “I’ve never seen people so emotionally attached to a product than with smartphones,” I remember one psychologist saying in an interview (which was actually years ago, when smartphones were just relatively beginning in market share).

It does seem though that there is a bit of warfare over people’s time these days in separate industries. Reggie Fils-Aime of Nintendo said quite a number of years ago that they (he and his colleagues) were now in the business of competing for people’s time and attention. Sure, video games to some extent have always been in that field, but I feel never more than now.

I personally have said for a long time that I hope video games will overtake television and movies in terms of people’s attention and time. Mostly that is because I feel that video games are the last of media not practically fully controlled by external agendas with almost no turning back, and also because I see so much potential in games as a medium for progressing humanity.

While I know it (games overtaking attention) has happened for certain demographics, there’s still stigma surrounding games in the general media, somehow as if the media isn’t in the same competition for time and attention along with their pushing of propaganda.

“But my grandson Leonard plays his darn Nine Ten X Station Thing™ all the time! The news is real and I need to know what’s going on. He’s just addicted and they make them that way!”

Either way, I’ll continue to talk on this blog from time to time about game addiction and computer addiction. For now, I’m off to get some work done.

Until next time,

~David Klingler