The first residential internet addiction clinic has opened in the US recently (there are already plenty in China, South Korea, and Taiwan). The case study presented in this article is Ben Alexander, the 19-year-old who was spending up to 17 hours a day lost in the World of Warcraft online role-play game. Now he is learning how to cook and make conversation.
Ben is on the extreme end of the scale, but there are millions of others for whom a harmless pleasure, a late night distraction, has become a compulsion. It’s not just pornography and gambling, but online chat, gaming, and a host of other virtual worlds. If you are wondering whether you class as an addict – 2 hours a day of non-work internet time is meant to be a warning sign.
Most of us struggle with minor addictions. In terms of Christian spirituality it’s when the heart is not free. In our everyday relationships and pleasures, when things are healthy, we choose who to spend our time with and what to give our attention to. But in the experience of addiction, and even in the less serious compulsions, our attention is taken rather than given, and it is as if we have no choice at all about what we are doing. This, of course, is part of the allure: the passivity, the lack of responsibility, and the sense that our own life is defined by something outside ourselves. Addiction gives a strange kind of meaning when life is empty or unendurable.
There’s a connection here with the film I saw last week: Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. It follows a US bomb disposal team in contemporary Baghdad. But it’s not really about Iraq, or even about war. The film focusses so closely (and brilliantly) on the ticking-bomb set-pieces that the political or social context hardly features.
It’s really about ‘men on a mission’; and it could be any kind of mission that required courage, teamwork, and resilience. The connecting theme, however, without giving the whole plot away, is really obsession. How one man can become so defined by his work that he is unable to function or even understand who he is outside it. It’s a particularly brutal background, and there are one or two insights into the wider issues of war and counter-insurgency; but really this is a study in workaholism – in addiction. One that is well worth seeing…