McCULLOUGH: Hooked on tech: managing addiction

Will McCullough

Recently my roommate and I lost the Internet in our apartment; we may as well have been relegated to using messenger pigeons or sending smoke signals. It probably would not be necessary to say that we live well within the age of the Internet. Everything that we do, from games to mortgage payments, has become based on or around the Internet. In an essay titled “I Was a Chinese Internet Addict,” published in the March issue of Harper’s Magazine, McKenzie Funk outlines the parallels between the possible clinicalization of Internet addiction, and society’s use of the Internet as a whole (partly suggesting that society suffers from an addiction). This was perfectly illustrated by both my recent loss and, more universally, by Villanova’s e-mail crisis; there was much consternation regarding our inability to perform basic functions such as e-mailing or printing papers. More than 75 percent of the Villanova community was anywhere from annoyed to enraged because of a societal addiction that may not be all that negative.

As all of you know, several genres of copyrighted material are illegally available for free, most notoriously music and movies. With the rise and fall of commonly known programs like Napster and Kazaa, we have communally grown a sense of entitlement when it comes to the possession of music. We became outraged when one of these programs was deemed illegal or changed to a pay program. Our outrage was not because we had a belief in some greater information-sharing age; we just did not want to pay the money. I’m not making a judgment; I am simply asserting that because we as a community really have not experienced a long period in which music has not been available for free, there exists a base hatred of paying for music at all. Recently Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, released an essay which argued against the music industry’s implementation of software encryption designed to thwart the unpaid obtaining of music. His thoughts were based on a fact that “there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music.” Despite whatever bias he may have because his company is based on mostly free digital music, he has a point.

This battle has not really been contested recently, but it can be compared to a similar one that may be soon taking place: the large-scale scanning of entire books which would make them completely searchable and available online. Jeffrey Toobin’s Feb. 5 article in The New Yorker, “Google’s Moon Shot: The quest for the universal library,” examines the company’s attempts to scan and make available every book ever printed. Of course, publishers have been taking their protests to court. These protests and subsequent court procedures are based on the assumption that people will react similarly to books as they have with the other media that have been made available for free. While this may become a reality in the distant future, a comparable reaction cannot be expected in either the short term or foreseeable long run. However obtained, the enjoyment of other media is fleeting when compared to reading; once a moment in a song or movie has passed, it is gone, while you can stare at words as long as you like. There is an extreme difference between reading a text on the screen and holding a text in your hands – a difference that cannot be replicated by watching a movie or listening to music.

It seems unlikely that a vast wave of readers (which currently does not exist) will begin to read through a screen. However, the development is not to be written off; it will surely make research easier. The uprising of Wikipedia, Wikitionary and similar Web sites has caused much stir concerning the sharing of knowledge. Since the dawn of music trading, communal sharing has been a constant symptom of the societal Internet addiction. In a society that continues to become increasingly digital, an addiction to information has become increasingly apparent. Free media and the sharing of information can never be divorced from each other, but hopefully, the greed of some will not starve the rest of us.

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Will McCullough is a senior English major and economics minor from Plymouth Meeting, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]