Studies show Facebook,Twitter more addictive than anything but sleep and sex, but do less good

Compulsion for social networking fed by 'low cost' of updates that collectively steal huge swathes of time

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Neither study bridges the gap between the medical definition of chemical addiction and what psychiatrists often refer to as "soft" definitions of psychological disorders that may be real maladies, or may just be habits so deeply ingrained or so satisfying it's almost as difficult for "addicts" to give up as chemical addictions.

Neither really has to. What they document is a phenomenon the heavily wired noticed before Facebook existed, anyone had heard the term "CrackBerry" and the web was just a bunch of pretty colors on a BBS login page.

Feeling a sense of connection to other people, a sense that you're able to say what you want to say and have strangers pay attention, even if only to jeer has drawn geeks to bulletin-boards, lunatics to speech-making streetcorners and the relatively well adjusted to town meetings and managing committees of a million charities, clubs and non-profit groups.

No easy answer for Facebook addiction

It doesn't really matter if it's a physical addiction that drives people online or if the compulsion is only a deep need to be heard, be connected, be plugged in to the flow of life that might otherwise pass you by.

The result is the same: constant posting of updates, checking of mail, scanning of headlines.

Taken to extremes it can steal time from real-life activities and relationships, according to Hofmann.

In that all online activity is like any form of escapist behavior.

Unfortunately for those to whom the Internet is ruinous to relationships, jobs and families, the Internet as a temptation is not like alcohol, caffeine or nicotine, the cure for which is to avoid the temptation completely.

The Internet – and, to a lesser extent, social networking – is more like food for someone with an eating disorder: a source of torment and temptation, but not one it's possible to give up completely.

The Internet has replaced, enhanced or connected so many other media and information sources it would be difficult to function in American society without using it.

If some aspects of it are also addictive, we're going to have to do something more specific and more supportive than just telling addicts the only thing they can do is turn off, tune out and drop off.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

Photo Credit: 

Reuters/Jinan Yu

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