Internet Addiction (and How to Stop It)

What is Internet addiction?

It's not entirely clear whether Internet addiction is a phenomenon in and of itself, or rather that activities we did in the past that we are now able to do online are made (more) addictive by the near-instantaneous access afforded by the Internet.  This distinction is blurred further by the fact that the Internet is continually becoming more and more integrated with our everyday lives (see our The Internet of Things article for some examples).  What is clear, however, is that there are certain activities which involve the Internet in some way that can cause people to develop addiction-like behaviours.  These include:

  • Gambling online, or playing online simulators of casino games

  • Visiting adult websites or adult chat rooms

  • Playing online games, especially with multiple people

  • Posting or browsing content on social network websites

  • Shopping online, especially when it involves participating in online auctions

  • Frequenting dating websites, even if one is married

  • Browsing the World Wide Web for entertainment or trivial information

What causes Internet addiction?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, addiction to certain activities on the Internet is caused by many of the same factors that cause these addictions in real life.  Addiction may be caused by doing things on the Internet too often for the following reasons:

  • Distracting oneself from worries, fears, or stress

  • Relieving feelings of depression, boredom, or helplessness

  • Compensating for a lack of social skills or social identity

  • Dealing with other pre-existing addictions

  • Coping with a loss of physical mobility and/or social availability

What does Internet addiction look or feel like?

As we mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Internet continues to be made a part of more and more things that we do every day.  This means that it can be especially difficult to tell the difference between normal Internet use and addiction that may actually be harmful.  Fortunately, there are several emotional and behavioural signs exhibited by people who are addicted to activities online that are similar to those from people who have addictions to real-life activities.  These include:

  • Losing track of time while using the Internet

  • A lack of energy or time needed to do one's job, schoolwork, or household chores

  • A need to be on the Internet in order to feel happy or excited

  • Preferring to talk to online friends as opposed to friends or family in real life

  • Preferring online fantasies as opposed to being intimate with one's partner or spouse

  • Lying or becoming defensive when questioned or confronted about one's Internet use

  • Attempts to cut back on Internet use that don't work or don't last

There are also physical symptoms that those who are addicted to Internet activities may feel, exhibit, or complain about unusually frequently, including:

  • Dry or irritated eyes, including blurry or strained vision

  • Excessive tiredness, or difficulty sleeping

  • An unusually large loss or gain of weight

  • Sore or numb hands or wrists (likely Carpal Tunnel Syndrome)

  • Back or neck pain

  • Headaches or migraines

How to stop Internet addiction

1.  Realize that you have a problem, and think about what might be causing it.

If you notice any of the signs of Internet addiction (or someone else notices them about you), think about why you might be using the Internet too much.  Are you bored, depressed, or stressed?  Are you worried about or afraid of something?  Are you too shy or otherwise unable to talk to friends and family in real life?  Are you turning to the Internet as a way to cope with another addiction?

Remember that addiction to Internet activities often causes many of the same behaviours and symptoms associated with other types of addiction.  So, if you've had an addiction in the past, think about what caused it, and how it made you feel when compared to your current Internet addiction.  You may find that you've become addicted to the Internet for the same reasons that you became addicted to something else.

2. Try to find alternative methods of coping with the root causes of the addiction.

Once you've figured out the cause or causes of your Internet addiction, you can find ways of addressing them in ways that don't involve using the Internet.  You can still use the Internet once in a while, but try to monitor your use by keeping track of when and how long you use it, and/or setting a timer for yourself.  In the meantime, try to find activities that you can enjoy that will replace the Internet in targeting the root causes of your addiction. 

For example, if you're depressed, worried, or stressed, consider taking up an exercise or meditation class.  If your problem lies with your social skills or availability, consider making a point of setting aside time to get out and see someone.  This could be as simple as having a friend over to hang out and talk with, or inviting a co-worker or family member out for lunch.  Or, if you're comfortable with it, find some sort of interest group to join, such as a book club at your local library or a recreational sports team.

Above all, remind yourself that the Internet is merely a tool.  It helps us do a lot of things faster and more efficiently, but that's not always a good thing.  Sometimes, it pays to slow down and do things in life at a more reasonable pace, like read a novel, watch a live theatre performance, or do some simple relaxation exercises.

3.  If all else fails, seek professional help.

Certain forms of therapy or group counselling may be useful in helping you break an Internet addiction.  Unfortunately, there are relatively few organizations and programs available right now that deal with Internet addiction as a unique disorder (for the reasons we stated at the beginning of this article).  However, this might not be so much of a problem if you know the root causes of your Internet addiction, or that your addiction revolves around a specific issue.

For example, if your addiction is caused by anxiety, depression, boredom, or stress, a cognitive-behavioural therapist may be able to help you work through these underlying emotions, to the point where you don't need the Internet to cope with them.  Similarly, if your addiction revolves around online gaming or gambling, then groups like Gamblers Anonymous may be able to give you the general kind of help that you need.  Or, if your addiction has to do with cybersex and/or compulsive online dating, perhaps a marriage counsellor would be an option for working through your problems.

 

The Internet and its qualities may change what people become addicted to, as well as the natures of the addictions themselves.  However, the root causes of addiction are often unchanged, which means that there are proven strategies that you can use to identify and stop Internet addictions.  If you know someone who might suffer from an Internet addiction, talk to them about the information in this article.  Explain to them that there is a line between healthy Internet use and harmful addiction, and discuss some of the warning signs of an addiction that you see in them.  Above all, though, let them know that you are bringing this all up out of concern and a desire to support, and that you can help them find strategies for ending the addiction.


Wireless Internet Safety

What is wireless Internet?

New Internet networking technologies have made it possible to connect to the Internet via short-range radio waves.  This is extremely convenient, in that it allows you to connect a laptop or other mobile device to the Internet at home without the need for plugging in a messy tangle of cables.  It also means that you can connect to the Internet in other places that have wireless modems, so you can take the Internet pretty much anywhere you go!

Is wireless Internet safe?

However, wireless Internet comes with its own set of dangers.  Some troublemakers may piggyback off of the wireless networks of others, using them to freely do things on the Internet that take up lots of data (such as watching several long videos or downloading numerous large computer files).  Then the unfortunate victim gets stuck with a big monthly Internet bill for going over their data limit.  Others can use this trick to monitor what other people do on the Internet, or even do this by setting up their own fake wireless networks and tricking people into connecting to them.

Fortunately, there are precautions that you can take to keep your wireless Internet secure at home, as well as to stay safe when using public wireless Internet when on the go.  Here are some suggestions for how to stay safe while using wireless Internet, or "Wi-Fi" as it is sometimes called.

4 wireless Internet safety tips

1.  Take regular precautions for protecting your computer or mobile device.

The number one tip we can give you for staying safe while using wireless Internet is to remember that many of its security threats are the same as when using the Internet in general.  This means that you should have good antivirus software installed on your computer or mobile device, and maybe also have your computer files backed up someplace safe (like an external hard drive or a cloud storage system).  In addition, if you have set up your computer to be able to share access to files or printers over a local network (which you probably haven't, but still), then you should probably disable these features (ask a trusted friend or family member who knows how to do this if you need help).

2.  If you use a wireless modem at home, take steps to secure it.

There are certain things that you can do to keep troublemakers from using your wireless Internet at home.  One of the most basic is to use a password to lock access to your connection.  This means that only people who know the password will be able to connect to your wireless network and/or see what you do over it.  Two of the most common types of passwords are called Wired Equivalent Protection (W.E.P.) or Wi-Fi Protected Access (W.P.A. or W.P.A.2).  You should use a WEP password at the very least, but if you can, use a WPA/WPA2 password; the latter is more secure because it's more difficult to crack.

There are also some advanced things that you can do to keep your home wireless Internet safe.  For example, you may be able to keep your wireless network from showing up as an option on other people's computers by purposely lowering its signal strength, or hiding or changing its service set identifier (S.S.I.D.).  This means that only people close enough to your home and who already know the name of your wireless Internet network can connect to it.  You may also be able to filter out the media access control (M.A.C.) addresses of certain computers, so that they will be denied access to your wireless Internet.

Some of these solutions are a bit technical and may vary in how to implement them, depending on what brand of modem you use and what company provides your Internet connection.  Therefore, you might want to contact your Internet service provider — or at least a tech-savvy friend or family member whom you can trust — and ask them to walk you through setting some of these things up.

3.  When connecting to public Wi-Fi, make sure that you connect to the right network.

There are two ways to make sure that you connect to the right public wireless Internet network when you're away from home with your laptop or mobile device.  The first is to disable your computer's ability to automatically connect to available open wireless networks (if you need help, ask a friend or someone from your family whom you trust and who knows about these kinds of things).  This feature is sometimes useful, in that it allows you to connect to certain wireless networks that you use all the time without having to enter a password every single time.  However, it can also cause you to accidentally connect to fake wireless networks that criminals can use to spy on and/or manipulate your Internet activity.

The second is to ask the owner of the establishment you're at which wireless network is the correct one to connect to (if there are multiple available options at a certain place).  This can prevent you from accidentally connect to a fake wireless network set up by a cyber-criminal.  Certain establishments, such as hotels, may protect their wireless Internet with a password, and even charge money for it.  Usually, these measures will make it more trouble than it's worth for cyber-criminals to spy on or do other nasty things to people over these types of wireless Internet networks.  This can allow you to conduct more sensitive Internet activities over these networks, such as banking, shopping, or other confidential business work.

4.  Don't conduct overly-private activities when using public Wi-Fi.

One thing to remember while using public wireless Internet connections is that, in the interest of serving as many people as possible, they are almost always less secure than your wireless Internet connection at home might be.  For this reason, it's probably not a good idea to do banking or other administrative work over public Wi-Fi.  You never know who might be connected to an open wireless network for the sole purpose of eavesdropping on what other people on the network are doing.  And, of course, they could simply be discreetly looking over your shoulder instead.  So save that kind of stuff for the privacy of your own home, or use a more secure wireless network (see above tip).

 

Wireless Internet is convenient, and is becoming the norm as more powerful Internet-capable mobile devices are seeing widespread use in everyday life.  But there are additional risks involved with using it, due to the fact that it's significantly easier to hijack a broadcast radio signal (or use it as a hijacking tool) than a signal coming through a point-to-point cable connection.  By following these tips, though, you'll be able to keep your computer and home wireless Internet network safe, and not risk your personal information when you're using wireless Internet out in public.


Computer Safety Tips

Regardless of how much you use the Internet, there are still a few general precautions that you should take to make sure that you and your computer are ready to deal with any problems that come your way.  After all, not all threats to your computer come from the Internet; others are simply accidents or oversights in how the programs on your computer work.  Here are a few other ways that you can keep your computer safe that we haven't discussed already.

4 tips on how to keep your computer safe

1.  Update programs on your computer when possible.

Sometimes, after a program on your computer comes out, the people who made it will find a way to improve it.  This may add new features to the program or make it perform better, but more importantly, it will usually fix things with the program that weren't quite right before.  These could include parts of the program that could make it do something that it shouldn't, or could be used by someone to hijack your computer and control or cause damage to (part of) it.  It is almost always a good idea to install these updates to programs whenever you are notified that one becomes available.

2. Shut down (or at least restart) your computer somewhat frequently.

Sometimes, when people are done using their computers, they like to leave them on and run them in "sleep mode".  This lets them quickly start using their computers again without waiting for them to boot up.  While this is okay to do once in a while, it's generally a good idea to completely shut down your computer when you're not using it, or at least restart it occasionally. 

The main reason that you want to do this is because part of the boot process of your computer involves running self-tests to find and fix minor problems.  If you don't shut down or restart your computer somewhat frequently, your computer can't perform this maintenance.  This means that errors can pile up and slow your computer down, or otherwise cause it to not run properly.

Another reason that you want to do this is because helps you save on your electricity bill, since you're not powering a device that you're not using!

3.  If you run into a problem, try to use a system restore point.

A security feature that many modern computer operating systems have is that they will occasionally take "snapshots" of what all of the information inside your computer looks like at a certain point in time.  These are known as "system restore points".  If you notice that your computer is working fine one day and then doesn't work properly the next, and you can't find a solution, you may be able to use this feature to fix your computer. 

When you use a system restore point, your computer will revert all information on itself back to the way it was at the moment in time that you chose.  Unfortunately, this may delete certain files or programs that you have created or installed since the system restore point.  However, it may also remove files or programs that were causing your computer to work incorrectly.

You may be able to use a system restore point from your main control panel. Other times, however, you must use one from the setup menu that can only be accessed when your computer boots up.  Ask a trusted friend or family member who knows how to use computers if you need help figuring out how to use a system restore point.

4.  Back up your computer files on an external device or service.

There are some cases in which files will become lost, damaged, or stolen, and not even using a system restore point will help you get them back.  That's why, as an additional precaution, you can create copies of your important computer files and store them in a place that's external to your computer.  The two most common options are external hard drives and cloud-based storage services.

  • External hard drives can be bought at your local computer and electronics store, and are relatively inexpensive (usually costing somewhere between $45 and $80, depending on the memory capacity).  You are usually able to just plug the hard drive in and move your files onto it, much like you would copy or move files to other places on your computer.  Then, you can just copy them back onto your computer if it ever gets broken, or if you get a new computer.

    Note, however, that external hard drives can be lost, damaged, or stolen, just like your computer can.  So if you use one, be sure to store it in a safe place.  Also, be aware that some external hard drives require their own power source (as opposed to just running off the power of your computer), so you might want to have a spare wall socket available if you use one.

  • Cloud storage services are websites and Internet-based applications that allow you to store your computer files inside server computers on the Internet.  (See our What is The Cloud article for more information on how this works).  The advantage of these services over external hard drives is that they often have free options (if you don't need that much memory space), they allow you to access (and sometimes share) your files from any computer, and you don't have to run the risk of them getting broken.

    However, cloud storage services are somewhat reliant on the Internet to work (whereas external hard drives are not), so your ability to use them may be limited if you can't access the Internet.  Also, when compared to external hard drives, their memory capacities are rather small (for free services), and are usually rather expensive to upgrade.

    An example of a popular cloud storage service is Dropbox.  If you'd like to learn how to use it, visit our Dropbox Course.

Whichever method you use, know that copying your computer files over for the first time will usually take a little while, since the device or service has to accept a whole bunch of new incoming data.  Therefore, you should usually plan to do this at a time when you're not going to be using your computer much (such as overnight), since the operation will probably slow down your computer a bit, and you won't be able to do anything with the files that you're copying over.  Future copy jobs, however, usually won't take very long, because the device or service just has to copy any files that are new or have changed.

 

Anyway, there you go!  You now know that rebooting your computer and updating its programs are ways to identify and fix minor problems with it before they become major ones.  You also now know that you can use a system restore point to reset the information on your computer to an earlier point in time, which may delete or otherwise fix problematic files or programs.  And you know that you can prepare for the worst by storing copies of your computer files somewhere other than your computer's hard drive, in order to keep them safe.  We hope these tips are useful in helping you avoid or manage any problems that you encounter with your computer!