Internet = Immediacy of Intimacy [Not]

In the Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, Didelot et al. correctly point out that the Internet has an immediate and powerful impact on our relationships, specifically in the way we communicate and the way we socialize. Virtually everybody I see in counseling uses both smartphones and computers to communicate. Patients’ ever present cell phones ring, sing, or ping in my office almost every day. This access is easily available, affordable, and seems anonymous (if you don’t count government’s gateways into personal information). We can have a virtual connection with a person, a photo, a video, a group in a chatroom, players in cyber games, cyberpersonalities, or avatars. While there are many advantages to our cyber enhanced lives, our harried cyberlifestyles plus our inherent need to be in relationship create virtual relationships that may offer empty support. The late Mother Teresa said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of not belonging” (Brach, 2003). Relationships built on cyber connections can be pathological if they become a substitute for flesh and blood acquaintances, friendships and lovers.

Our virtual world provides a seemingly quick fix in our search for relationship bonds. When we feel alone, we can text or search for connection and get immediate feedback. We can imagine the effect of our sent messages on the recipient and, for the short-term we are satisfied by our cyber connection. In contrast to the ease of connection via Internet, our face-to-face, voice-to-ear, skin-to-skin communication takes much more effort to achieve, can be deeply satisfying, but scary and difficult in actual pursuit.

For about 50% of us who experience some shyness, the Internet allows us to avoid eye contact with others while waiting our turn or sitting in a public place, part of the very exposure we need in order to reduce social anxiety. Through the Internet, we can ease into a chat room, sit in a virtual church, become a virtual supporter of a world changing cause, and have an “intimate” relationship with a beautiful person with an agreeable personality. Rather than using the Internet to ease into social connections as a first step, the time spent in virtual relationships can become a way of avoiding the actual contact we really need for a fulfilling life. This tipping point can lead to addiction for some.

Watson (2005) identified five subtypes of Internet Addiction:

  1. Information overload or the compulsive web and database searches
  2. Online gambling addiction that includes role playing
  3. Net compulsion that is demonstrated as shopping, trading, and possibly a gambling component
  4. Cyber-relationships
  5. Cyber-sexual addiction through relationships, websites, materials, and pictures

Balance and boundaries in our lives can allow us to use the Internet wisely as a great research tool, a way of staying in touch with people who are important to us without taking the place of deep personal relationships.

Please feel free to share this article with others.

David L. Barnhart, EdD

Didelot, Mary J., Hollingsworth, Lisa, Buckenmeyer, Janet A. Internet Addiction: A Logotherapeutic Approach. Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, 33, 1.

Brach, T. (2003). Radical acceptance: Embracing your life with heart of Buddha. New York, NY : Bantam Books.

Watson, J. C. (2005). Internet addiction diagnosis and assessment: Implications for counselors. Journal of Professional Counseling: Practice, Theory, & Research, 33, 17–30.