Duke’s Diary - January 28, 2012

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Just walk away from the screen

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Internet addiction can damage your health.

We’ve known for a long time that it can damage your eyesight – it can’t be good staring at a screen all night as well as so many of us having to do it all day as well.

Having always worn glasses (I wasn’t born with them on but coming off second to a wooden chair arm as a toddler meant I succumbed) my eyes were fairly shot before the advent of Screen Life. But several of my colleagues are constantly claiming they are as blind as bats these days – and the less vain ones now hide behind frames.

I’m actually way overdue for an eye test but until I see the right the right frames there doesn’t seem much point. I know what I want. Round ones. And can I find them? No.

And we know that tapping away at a keyboard all day and night can result in RSI – which is less like a rock band than it sounds (that’s REM) – though convincing employers that repetitive strain injury isn’t a figment of our imagination doesn’t get any easier.

Anyway internet addiction has now for the first time been linked with changes in the brain similar to those seen in people addicted to alcohol, cocain and cannabis. Makes you feel sorry for any alcoholic drug takers who are also tied to a computer screen doesn’t it?

MRI scanners have revealed abnormalities in the brains of adolescents who spent many hours on the internet to the detriment of their social and personal lives.

It seems an estimated five to 10 per cent of internet users are thought to be addicted – defined as being unable to control their use. I can’t actually control my use but not in quite the same way. I usually give up in a state of confusion when I can’t get things on the internet to work.

The majority of internet addicts are games players who become so absorbed in the activity they go without food or drink for long periods and their education, work and relationships suffer.

I’m not being self righteous about this but I don’t play computer games. I used to join in with the Only One but it was in simpler days – stacking coloured shapes up until the screen was full, or unstacking them until it was empty. Simple. These days it’s more a case of stacking bodies up or becoming the world’s best football manager. No wonder internet addicts don’t make real friends.

Addicts come from any social group – and they crop up all over the world. But they are usually loners.

Needless to say employers have been quick out of the traps to point out that whilst it’s clearly a bad thing to be glued to a screen all night, it’s not a problem being glued to one all day at work when you could be getting exercise or grabbing a cigarette outside.

“It does tend to be the gaming that catches people out,” says Henrietta Bowden Jones, consultant psychiatrist at Imperial College London.

That’s ok then. We’ll forgive everyone who we can’t entice into conversation because they are glued to little hand held versions of their bigger distractions. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.