Being strung along

Unheard of less than a decade ago, social networking has changed the landscape of Internet communication.

More than just a new way to keep in touch, sites like Facebook and Twitter have created new jobs but, unfortunately for some, it has also created new addictions.

Ilias Kotsireas, associate professor and undergraduate advisor in the physics and computer science department at Laurier, is amazed at the life-changing impact social networking and gaming sites have had on such a large population of individuals.

“It’s quite a phenomenon. When you’re hooked up for nine or ten hours, it’s bound to affect your life,” he said, referring to Mobile applications have made accessing these sites easier, but also harder to get away from.

Daniel Rzondzinski, therapeutic counsellor at KW Counselling Services, specializes in treating Internet addictions and said he is seeing an increasing number of patients every year. “We don’t have statistics because it is quite secretive,” he said.

Rzondzinski said these addictions start because the internet is easy to access and feels safe to the user.

He said if the user’s daily activities are being interrupted by using sites like Facebook or Internet gambling and gaming that determines whether there is an addiction.

“If you’re doing this at work [or school], how much time could you spend being more productive on something else?” he said. “The addiction is affecting your normal life, so you’re spending more and more hours with your addiction.”
Both Kotsireas and Rzondzinski believe students in particular spend too much time online. With laptops becoming an ever-growing staple on university campuses, as much a temptation as a tool, many students can’t help being virtually social when they are supposed to be studying.

“They are on Facebook during class,” Kotsireas sighs when answering the inevitable question.

Unlike some professors, he doesn’t call his students out on the activity, even though he knows they are doing it. When we get to university we are supposed to be adults, he reasoned.

To Kotsireas, the gaming seems worse. “I see cards on the screen,” he said. Unsure whether it is just a Windows program or online poker, Kotsireas thinks this is a hindrance for students.

“The Internet can be a big, big problem. It’s a fantastic machine, but it can be terrible at the same time,” said Rzondzinski.

As someone all too familiar with being on Facebook while I should be doing other things, I decided to try an experiment. I gave up social networking — all text, Facebook and Twitter — for an entire week.

Tools of my daily life, I couldn’t imagine what my life was like before them, just five years ago.

Applications on mobile devices have made using social networking so easy, we barely even think about it. It was hard at the beginning of my week away to resist the urge to check my phone first thing in the morning and every few minutes throughout the day.

These applications have provided more than just ease of use. For the first time, in the 2009-10 school year, WLU offered an iPhone programming course.
The course focused on designing and programming apps for the popular device.

With no final exam, the students in the fourth-year course were graded on a single, three-minute final presentation and demonstration of their app to the computer science department and representatives from Apple.
Students were given prizes and the opportunity to be noticed by prospective employers.

“Facebook does offer programming jobs,” said Kotsireas, whose graduates have had interviews with the California-based company.
He said these programming positions with companies like Google, Twitter and Apple are heavily sought after. When Kotsireas goes to conferences he said he gets handed cards by all these companies and more, who are seeking fresh graduates to add to their employee roster.

Rzondzinski said the key to using the new wealth social networking provides and maintaining a healthy relationship with these tools is balance firmly rooted in reality.

“Like any kind of addiction, people
are suffering from what we call
impaired thinking. There is a
distortion in their thinking process,
a denial of reality and
rationalization,” he said.

Rzondzinski maintains the behaviour becomes an issue when the user is spending three, four or more hours a day online looking at the same websites.
“One thing that we see with students is failing courses,” said Rzondzinski, who suggests students who find themselves skipping classes frequently or failing courses due to extensive time spent online should seek help. “It’s very difficult to solve the problem by themselves,” he said.

Rzondzinski said part of the difficulty of addressing an internet addiction is the ease of deniability. The Internet is a good tool and is widely used, giving the addict the ability to be ambivalent about the issue. “They say, ‘I have a problem, but I don’t have a problem’,” he said.

As my week without social networking progressed, I barely noticed the absence, but when the week was over I was glad to have it back just the same. I have realized I can live without virtual social networking, but I find myself asking why I would want to, as long as its presence in my life remains healthy.
“We do a lot of things today that we couldn’t imagine a few years ago,” said Kotsireas.

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