Do you seem to be spending more and more time online, getting less work done, becoming more involved with cyberfriends than flesh-and-blood ones? You may be getting "caught in the 'Net."
Many people find it hard to believe that using the computer can be a problem for them. It helps you be productive, it's entertaining, it's interesting; but addictive? Studies have shown that an increasing number of students go beyond functional use of computers and the 'Net to the point of failing courses, losing jobs, damaging relationships, and even flunking out of school altogether. And these are not just "marginal" students; high-achieving students are just as susceptible, perhaps more susceptible.
Using the internet is like other potentially compulsive activities, such as gambling, exercise, eating, etc.. Most people who become involved in these behaviors derive pleasure and benefit from them, and can engage in the activity without much of a problem. There is a small percentage, however, for whom the behavior takes over their life; instead of being an enjoyable addition to their routine, it becomes a way to manage the anxiety, loneliness, and depression they may feel offline.
College is a time of transition, especially for traditional-age (18-23) undergraduates. Along with getting an education and preparing for the world of work, students are also working to both "find themselves" and to "find someone else," tricky tasks at any age. But late adolescence and early adulthood is a time when the task of "finding oneself" comes to a head. You need to declare a major and decide, at least in a preliminary way, on a career path. You also want to understand what makes you unique and different, not only from you friends, but from your parents, family, classmates, roommates. Spending too much time online prevents you from getting more involved with peer groups, allowing you to find out where you fit, and, sometimes painfully (but importantly), where you don't.
You also need to begin creating significant relationships with other people, both romantic and platonic. You learn the need to share yourself with another person to feel complete, and you begin to understand the emptiness of not having such relationships. Relationships in cyberspace are fine to a point, and they may even help ease feelings of loneliness and self-doubt. However, the more time spent online, the less time and energy available to spend in face-to-face relationships. Through lack of use, you may even begin to lose the interpersonal skills you've developed, making face-to-face interactions more awkward and online interactions, where you have more control and anonymity, more tempting.
It is no wonder, then, that students feel under a great deal of stress and find ways of dealing with their anxieties. It has been frequently noted that this time of life often produces many types of addictive and compulsive behaviors. Without placing a bet, without smoking a joint, without running or doing aerobics, without getting online, you may feel irritable, empty, depressed, and lonely. The behavior becomes less "fun" and more a way of "feeling normal" again. Getting back online begins to occupy your thoughts more and more; other interests, other responsibilities, and other people begin to fade into the background.
Although you may feel like your internet use is getting out of hand, there are ways to get out of the trap.
1. Break the Pattern - You must understand your use of the 'Net and alter your routine. Find something else to do when you first get home rather than turning on the computer; use an alarm clock to force you off after an hour, do something else, then get back on if you want.
2. Find Other Uses for Time - Join a club, start an exercise program, get involved with friends. Look for ways to spend your time offline.
3. Find Other People to Talk to - Many people get sucked in to the 'Net through talking with others online. Find people in "real life" who you can talk to, even if you start out with small things.
4. Examine the Underlying Issues - Frequently internet overuse is a symptom of a deeper issue. Surfing the Web and chat rooms become a coping mechanism for dealing with emptiness, self-doubt, and other problems. You need to figure out what you're avoiding and begin to deal with root causes.
5. Seek Professional Help - If all else fails, or if you want help in the process, seek assistance from a mental health professional. Through individual or group work, your dependence on the internet can be reduced.