Volume 20, Number 5 -- February 7, 2011

As I See It: The Six Step Solution

Published: February 7, 2011

by Victor Rozek

Like poker players, addicts also have a tell that betrays their addiction. The red nose and veined cheeks of the alcoholic; the yellow teeth of the smoker; and the soft, rotting teeth of the meth user. But technology addiction is a little different. Being a higher-order addiction (far superior to substance abuse), it has certain unique attributes. For one thing, it has spawned its own sub-species: Nerdus Americanus.

Pasty and lacking muscle tone, but chock full of brains and inventiveness, the image of the self-directed, slightly odd, programming virtuoso has become a cliché popularized by the media. Nerds have risen to cultural icon status. Men like Bill Gates, Julian Assange, and Mark Zuckerberg, a guy so deliciously nerdy that they made a movie about him before the deeds and misdeeds of his senior colleagues could be grooved onto DVDs. But if technology were a drug, guys like Gates, Assange, and Zuckerberg are not users, they're dealers.

As technology has become as mainstream and as pervasive as pizza, addicts become harder to identify. Looks alone could be deceiving. The burly construction worker might be addicted to Internet porn; the night nurse might be in the supply closet checking Facebook activity. Behavior, rather than appearance, is the addict's tell.

With that in mind, if any of these behaviors sound familiar, you may want to start rehabbing.

You attend church services, and while everyone has their head bowed in prayer, your head is bowed over that little munchkin keyboard and you're texting. Or, you refuse to vacation in places without WiFi. Or, you regularly stay up until 3 a.m. playing Warcraft or doing the virtual nasty on Second Life. Don't wait until your wife gets so tired of being ignored that when she divorces you she cites your laptop as "the other woman" because you spent more time in bed with it than her. Then there are physical symptoms when addicts are unable to get their technology fix. The irritability and sullenness, the restless thumbs, the darting eyes in search of a screen, any screen. Unconsciously reaching for your cell phone any time someone else's rings. If that's you, you've got the silicon monkey on your back.

And, you're not alone. The use of personal computing devices has become compulsive according to AOL, and 59 percent of PDA users immediately check every single email that arrives; and 83 percent can't help but check their email every day while on vacation. Everyone is walking around with a prosthetic brain, and becoming more reliant on it with each passing day. But as J.K. Rowling said: "Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain." Fear not, fellow user, help is at hand.

Traditionally, 12-step programs have been the model for combating addictions, but I've been forced to pare them down to six because tech addicts have notoriously short attention spans.

1. Admit you are powerless over technology and that your life had become unmanageable.

I mean come on, take a look at yourself. Last night, you ate dinner with a laptop on the table, and this morning you're sitting on the toilet with a PDA in your lap, and you're thinking this would make an interesting addition to your Facebook page. On so many levels, this can't be healthy.

You probably have more fulfilling relationships with avatars than actual people. Maybe you already realized you had a problem and joined Tech Users Anonymous, but now you're tweeting under an assumed name. If your vibrating phone is the closest thing you've had to a relationship in months, it's time to embrace step 2.

2. Believe that a Power greater than you could restore your sanity.

OK, that could be a problem. Each night, high-tech devices of every size and description are plugged into every spare electrical outlet in your home, recharging for tomorrow's assault on your sanity. To believe that a greater power could restore your good sense, that Power would have to have first strike capability potent enough to take out the electrical grid, communication satellites, and cell phone towers. And the Pentagon is busy, so good luck with that. On the other hand, finding a power greater than you may not be all that difficult.

3. Make a decision to turn your life over to the care of that Higher Power.

I know this can be challenging for you atheists, agnostics, left-wing tofu-eating commie humanists, and generic skeptics. But if you're shopping around for a higher power, look no further than Steve Jobs. He didn't just take the bite out of the apple, he was the Apple. And after several failed attempts, he recently announced that he's kicking his legendary addiction for good. OK, so it took pancreatic cancer for him to walk away, but when the quintessential Gadget God discovers there may be something more important in life than the next gadget, mere mortals take note. Let Jobs be your inspiration. Call 1-800-Get-Well. For three easy payments of $6 million, Steve will send you his secrets for kicking the digital life. Liver transplant not included. Be like Steve, but don't wait for the diagnosis.

4. Make a searching and fearless product inventory.

TVs, laptops, servers, cell phones, Blueteeth, iPods, PDAs. Admit to yourself and to another human being the exact nature of your addiction. And no, you can't text the admission. You have to, you know, actually speak to another human in person. Which may be difficult if you can only communicate in less than 140-character bursts. But think of it this way: The truth may not set you free, but your partner will if you don't start interacting soon.

5. Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and make amends.

OK, you don't have that kind of time. There are too many. This one time only, post your apology on Facebook. Then promise your partner that the next time you go hiking you'll actually get your nose out of the GPS and look around once in a while. Ask her to forgive you for that night the condo caught fire and you ran past her carrying your PC to safety.

6. Have a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, and carry this message to tech addicted colleagues everywhere.

Unfortunately, it's going to be hard to do both simultaneously. Having a spiritual awakening may require doing the unthinkable: going outdoors, getting quiet, making contact with creation. You won't find tech addicts there. They are hiding their pale, wizened bodies indoors. Search them out in their ergonomic cubicles and windowless offices. Confront them in coffee shops or while riding the subway. Spread the good tidings. Just because drug addicts and computer enthusiasts are both called users doesn't mean their fates must intertwine.

The tech addict's last line of defense will be to justify his addiction because his job depends on it. But if you take tech addiction to its logical conclusion, you arrive at Warren Bennis' observation. "The workplace of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment." So keep your hands off the equipment. Don't make that dog bite you.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Victor Rozek,
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