The Internet is a powerful tool with countless applications. However, like any technology, it has the potential to be misused. Preliminary studies suggest that about 6% of online users are “addicted,” meaning that they continue to log on despite negative consequences to their work or relationships. Other signs of problem use include feelings of guilt or shame, attempts to conceal online activity, and replacing in-person interactions with “virtual” relationships.
Four of the most common types of online habits that can be problematic are:
- Shopping. While online shopping can be extremely convenient, customers can rack up debt in virtual stores even faster than they can in shopping malls.
- Gambling and risky investing. Whether it’s online casinos or fast-paced “day trading” of stocks, the high stakes can be alluring–and sometimes financially devastating.
- Online sexual activity. Viewing pornography and visiting adult chat rooms often leads to conflicts with one’s spouse or partner. Also, those who pursue this habit at work risk disciplinary action.
- Distraction from work. Even “harmless” Internet browsing–scanning the news, reading movie reviews–can sap productivity at work if it is not kept in check.
Those who are bored, depressed, lonely, or already coping with addictions may be especially vulnerable to the temptations of these activities. If you are concerned about your online habits, there are a number of strategies that you may wish to try.
- Identify the emotions or situations that seem to trigger your use.
- Locate your monitor where others can see it.
- Install a software filter to block certain types of websites.
- Set goals for reducing your online time. Consider setting a timer or alarm clock to remind you of a stopping time.
- Talk with a counselor or find a self-help group.