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Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V, I’m Addicted to Facebook

Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V, I’m Addicted to Facebook

Venus Nicolino holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships.

Dear Dr V,

Help! I think I’m addicted to Facebook! At work I’m on it constantly, and on the drive home I find myself looking forward to getting on Facebook again. I thought about it the other day, and I realized I was basically looking forward to sitting alone in my kitchen all night on my computer. I feel like more and more, and not just for myself but all of my friends, our social lives are going completely “on-line.” I’m also a single person and don’t like the idea of meeting someone on Facebook, rather than in real life first. What do you think?


Dear Jessica,

Welcome to the Brave New World. As kids, I think many of us thought the year 2010 would have us tooling around in flying cars, taking vacations on the moon and living in houses like the Jetsons did. Oddly enough, 2010 doesn’t look that much different than the past few decades. We still drive earthbound gas-guzzlers, the moon is just as empty as it ever was and some of us may live in a house that predates the Jetsons.

The big technological advance nobody could have predicted, nor the tumultuous domino effect that followed it, is of course the Internet, and by extension the phenomena of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and the now-all-but-forgotten Friendster. I would also venture that new social neuroses and dysfunctions have no doubt developed as a result of the artificial way of relating to each other so many of us have become so comfortable with, even dependent upon.

Please don’t get me wrong; I think technology and the Internet especially can be wonderful, useful and even educational things. It all depends on the motive and manner in which they are employed. This being said, let’s take a look at your situation and what we can do to lift you out of your “Tech Blues.”

First, as I often point out to people who write in, the fact that you are self-aware enough to recognize that there is a potential issue here makes me feel already that you have nothing really to worry about, you simply need to shift your perception and adjust your habits. From your letter, I get the impression you feel you are online too much.

Here’s the solution: unplug, disengage, disconnect. The irony here is that by removing yourself a bit from the online world, you will be plugging into, engaging and reconnecting with the real world. I think if you made some solid plans for yourself after work, be it social outings with friends, regular trips to the gym, even just making sure to take a good, leisurely (and hopefully enjoyable) stroll around the neighborhood before or after dinner, you’ll already be providing yourself with things to look forward to, aside from sitting down in front of the computer.

I would advise against trying to pull out completely though, as for one, I rarely think an extreme solution to a problem is the best course to take, and also because, like it or not, email, social networking, texting and cell phones have all become vital mediums for communication.

In the early to mid ’90s, cell phones may still have been viewed by many as impractical status symbols (remember those monsters that were the size of a World War II army radio?). Today, to be without a cell phone is to be left behind. Not because of any kind of silly social perception, but for the simple fact that the advent of the mobile phone sped up communication between people. If you’re not, for lack of a better phrase, up to the speed of everyone else’s communication, you will get left out and miss out.

I think the same can be said of the social networking sites. It has introduced a new facet to how we relate to each other. More and more this is becoming a major point for the exchange of information, ideas and even feelings. I myself was dragged kicking and screaming onto Facebook right before the Holidays. And though I certainly have my issues with it and the behaviors I see this kind of communication brings out in people, I have to say I do find it to be fun and interesting … in limited doses.

And I think this is the other half of the puzzle here, not just for you and me, but really everyone. Along with unplugging from time to time, I think it’s important not to let ourselves backslide into old habits when we do get back on. It’s a question of balance and self-discipline. Of course, you should want to stay up to date on what’s going on in your social circle, even those corners of pop culture that interest you. However, I don’t think you want to go back to that place inside yourself that compelled you to write me in the first place.

My suggestion is to use an egg timer or something similar to allot yourself however much time you want to spend online, be it thirty minutes, an hour or six months (I kid). Set the timer right when you sit down. When the bell rings, that’s it for the night. Simple but effective, so long as you really want to get up and do something else.

This is really the rub of the whole thing. I find online socializing to be analogous to many other addictive behaviors, particularly cigarette smoking. It wasn’t anything I really thought I’d like but everyone else was doing it so I jumped in. And much like cigarettes, my first experiences with it were quite unpleasant, but despite myself I found myself hooked and needed to step back. But so long as you really want to step back and take a break, you will be able to. It’s this desire to escape the dysfunction, a desire that I can see manifest in you already just from the tone of your letter, that gives you the strength to do so. The tools you will use are merely helpful accessories. The solution comes from within. It comes from you.

With Empathy,

Dr. V

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