Around the world, Internet-addiction treatment centers are setting up shop. But so far, it's not clear they can do anything to help.
The Internet's addictive quality is obvious enough that ever since Americans first heard the singing tone of a dial-up modem, people have worried that their sons, daughters, husbands, and wives were at risk of becoming Internet addicts.
In December of 1995, Newsweek ran a story called "They Log On but They Can't Log Off" (Nexis subscription required). It began ominously:
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ABOUT someone who spent 18 hours a day online? Not a research scientist, mind you, but a stay-at-home mom from Texas. What if she lied to her husband about the monthly phone bills, as high as $8400, she was racking up in her marathon chat sessions -- then enlisted a computer hacker to wangle her free access when money ran low? What if you heard that her marriage dissolved and she became estranged from her children as she obsessively tapped away, chewing the fiber-optic fat with her online pals? You might have a few choice words, but Glenda, 43, calls herself an addict. She worries about what's going to happen as more Americans encounter the Internet. "I believe it could be really bad and really dangerous for this country."
But not everyone was so convinced. "Give me a break," said John Robards of the Boston Computer Society. "We're not talking about alcohol or drug abuse. I understand people are mentally weak and can form a so-called addiction, but at the same time, people are making an excuse for not having a life."