Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (3)

Email-Free Fridays: Do You Have An Internet Addiction?

Have you ever been singled out in a lecture and picked on? Or maybe at a comedy club? It’s somehow awkward when everyone is looking at you, and you can’t really defend yourself. That happened to me yesterday in a lecture about how email can transform medical practices. My friend Joe Scherger was talking about the beauty of asynchronous communication, and how much time it saves – when out of the blue, he said that Blackberries defeated the whole purpose of emailing, and that people who used them lead unbalanced lives. He then pointed at me and said, “See my friend Val Jones, there? She uses a Blackberry all the time!”

All eyes fixed on me with a sort of half pity, half “tisk, tisk” expression.

“She answers all her emails within minutes… She never unplugs.”

I shrugged and smiled sheepishly. Soon the conversation turned to other subjects, and I resisted the urge to pull my Blackberry out of my bag to check my emails.

Today I heard that Intel instituted email-free Fridays as a means to force their engineers to talk to others face-to-face. Apparently, the company was worried that interpersonal skills were being lost, and that people were not developing normal working relationships because of the artificial distance created by email-only communication.

“Well, at least I’m not alone,” I thought as I read the news story. “This is a serious problem across the country.”

There has been recent debate in the psychiatric community about whether or not video games could be considered an addiction (just as drugs and alcohol can be). Some have proposed that it be added to the DSM-V due out in 2012, others have said that compulsive video game playing is a sign of other underlying pathology (such as depression or social anxiety) but not a true addiction.

But the bottom line is that overuse of the Internet can disrupt a person’s time available for meaningful interpersonal relationships, be they with a spouse, a parent, a relative, or a friend. When your husband is sitting in the same room with you and has to get your attention by IM-ing or emailing you, you know there’s a problem.

And there doesn’t seem to be much of a break in sight – with Facebook, MySpace, Linked-In, YouTube, Pownce, Twitter, GTalk, blogs, podcasts, discussion boards, chat rooms, forums, etc. available as 24-7 forms of entertainment and communication, and companies like Intel trying to forbid this kind of stuff at least 1 day per week, Blackberries are the least of our worries. I wonder if these programs are like junk food for the brain? Will we soon suffer from cerebral obesity?

I’m afraid that I recognize that there is a problem, but I’m not sure what the solution is. “Just say no” to email doesn’t work for me… I like the fast-paced interactivity and connection I get from these activities. Maybe there’s a positive feedback loop at work, though – we spend a lot of time involved in online activities and become more isolated and lonely in our personal lives. In the end we become more and more engaged with the Internet to fill the emotional gap that we’re actually creating by overusing it.

I’ll ask my husband what he thinks… perhaps I’ll send him an email about it tonight.

What do you think?This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

You may also like these posts

    None Found

Read comments »

3 Responses to “Email-Free Fridays: Do You Have An Internet Addiction?”

  1. RH Host Melissa says:

    I am one who is addicted to email and internet as well.? I’m terrible about it really.? My family teases me about it all the time.?

    So did your husband also reply with an email 😉

  2. ValJonesMD says:

    My husband is not addicted to the Internet – strange man.  He replies in person (but I usually can’t hear him because I’m focused on a blog/email/IM).  Poor thing as resorted to tapping me on the shoulder.  I’ll try to do better!

  3. Doug says:

    More and more email is becoming irrelevant in my life. I have turned to other forms of communication during the day. I find that in this world email is too slow if I really need something. I turn to old fashioned means of communicating in person, or I turn toward Instant Messaging/Twitter/Jaiku/Pownce to get my questions answered.

    I do think we are becoming more and more reliant on the internet and its various technologies it brings to the table. It becomes very apparent when a persons cell phone goes off in the most inappropriate of places. It becomes about them and their importance and not the courtesy of others.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »

Commented - Most Popular Articles