Addicted to the Internet?

-By Shawn L. Holahan

Holahan is the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Practice Management Counsel, a position that she assumed four years ago after a career litigating labor and employment matters in New Orleans. She is also a member of this year’s ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board.

This post is excerpted and adapted from materials she prepared for her TECHSHOW 2015 session “How to Balance Tech and Re-establish Eye Contact.”

So, what is this 24/7, always available, online stuff doing to us? Is it truly making us better lawyers? Maybe not so much, if unfettered. A little balance and willpower is needed to reign in the deleterious effects that tech can have on our abilities – particularly, on our greatest asset – our ability to think and reason. Read on for a little science behind our brains on tech and what we can do about it.

Internet Use Changes Brain Structure

The brain is a dynamic organ, capable of responding to input imposed on it. So it should not be surprising that compulsive internet use produces morphological changes in the structure of the brain, according to one study analyzing Chinese college students who were classified as computer addicts (defined as those using a computer around 10 hours/day, 6 days/week). The “Internet addicted” college students had reductions in the sizes of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, rostral anterior cingulate cortex, supplementary motor area and parts of the cerebellum compared to students deemed not addicted by the experiment designers.

What does that all that mean? The authors of this study concluded that these changes reflected an ability to use computers more efficiently, but at a cost – the students also had impaired short-term memory and decision-making abilities, including diminished goal orientation.

Do I have a Problem? Self-Assessment Test

So do you have a problem? Kimberly Young, Psy. D. and professor at St. Bonaventure University, developed the first outpatient treatment plan for internet addiction at the Bradford Regional Medical Center. Dr. Young claims that cognitive behavior therapy is effective in curing various forms of internet related issues. She has created a self assessment test (meeting five of the following symptoms “were considered necessary to be diagnosed”). As follows:

  • Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet? (Think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)
  • Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  • Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
  • Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  • Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  • Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  • Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
  • Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?