How to treat internet addiction

Tiffers van Tien

Obey the rules of shopping and make your favorite lady happy

We talk to Ethan, 48, who is a self-confessed internet addict. During the week he works for an insurance company, but all his evenings, lunch breaks, and weekends are spent online.

Question: Ethan, you are aware you have a problem?

Ethan: Absolutely, I'm a cyber junkie. My wife has left me, I don't go out. On Saturday, I wake up, have breakfast at the computer and I'm still there 12 hours later.

Question: When did this start?

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Ethan: I got into the internet more than 10 years ago, when it was dial-up, real slow. I felt like a pioneer back then. I got into chat rooms. My phone bills were so high I couldn't pay them some months.

Question: Did you consider yourself addicted back then?

Ethan: No way. I thought of myself as a pioneer getting into this totally new technology. It was exciting. It was a great way to to meet people. I met more people online in the first month than I did offline in five years.

Question: Were you married at the time?

Ethan: No, but I was living with a woman. She wasn't into the internet at all.

Question: What was the thrill of chat rooms back then?

Ethan: In the early days, it didn't occur to me you could invent characters, make up a new persona for yourself. I was just myself. I didn't care about security, I don't think anyone did. You put all your personal details out there. I became close online friends with a of different people from all over the word.

Question: Did you meet any of these people in real life?

Ethan: Yes. I met this woman, Sassy. She lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We agreed to meet near Vanderbilt University Campus in Nashville, Tennessee, where I was a student.

Question: What happened next?

Ethan: We didn't get along at all. We had lunch, then that was that. I haven't heard from her or seen her since. She was more interesting online. And I guess I am too.

Question: When did the internet begin to take up most of your non-working life?

Ethan: It was when broadband became really fast and affordable.

Question: Did you meet your wife online?

Ethan: No. I was pretty suspicious of the internet for meeting a woman to marry. That's changed of course. It's normal now to meet online. When I met my wife, I still thought of the internet as a place with lots of weirdos and wackos. I met my wife at a banking conference.

Question: Did your wife-to-be know about your interest in the internet?

Ethan: It's easy to fool people who don't know a lot about computers. In the early days it was even easier. I said I was a freelance progammer. When you were writing html longhand, it looked like programming to someone who didn't know.

Question: Did you spend a lot of time online in the early years of your marriage? Did marriage change your internet habits?

Ethan: I spent just as much time online, maybe more, but I disguised it as freelance work. I said I was building up a web design business but I was chatting most of the time.

Question: Did your wife complain to you about the time you spent online?

Ethan: Frequently. She'd want to go to the movies or go grocery shopping with me, and I'd go along sometimes but I'd start to feel really restless. I'd need to get back home to see if I had any new messages.

Question: Did your wife ever use the word addiction?

Ethan: Yes. She said I was an addict, dysfunctional. She thought I was having online affairs, which I guess I was but it was.

Question: Was your physical relationship with your wife adversely affected by your internet addiction?

Ethan: It was like all marriages, I think. It's great in the beginning, then it gets routine, then you don't bother. My wife was always on my case, so I had to sneak around and use the internet when she wasn't watching.

Question: How did your marriage end?

Ethan: I was meeting too many women online and I liked them better than I liked my wife. When my wife saw some photos I had been emailed, she told me I had to quit immediately or she'd leave me and take our two kids with her.

Question: Did you quit?

Ethan: I did for a week. I really tried. I went into counseling because my wife insisted on it, but it was humiliating so I skipped out on that. I went back online, tried to be secretive about it. Then I discovered blogging, which was fantastic for me. I could spend hours and hours online, write about that was happening to me, and make money doing it.

Question: Blogging became a job, a source of income?

Ethan: Yeah, these days I make about a thousand bucks a month blogging. At first it was like $20, $30 a month. But when you get it right, you can earn a lot.

Question: But your wife walked out on you?

Ethan: No, she kicked me out. She had the kids, so she stayed in the house. I got a small apartment. She divorced me. I see my kids as much as I want, I don't have much to do with my wife anymore.

Question: What is it that you especially like about online life compared to the world out there, offline?

Ethan: Online life is more immediate, spontaneous, not so inhibited. You can relax online, be whoever you want to be. You don't need to be so guarded.

Question: Being yourself often takes the form of being a character, doesn't it?

Ethan: That's done to protect yourself from conmen, scammers and sociopaths. You have to be careful with personal details. When I'm online, I'm not taller or more handsome, if that's what you mean. I'm a more open, more confident version of myself that uses a handle to protect my personal information. But you are right, plenty of people invent a totally new persona for themselves, maybe they invent lots. That's cool, too. It shouldn't worry us.

Question: How do you see your internet addiction changing or developing in the future?

Ethan: I miss married life, having someone in the house, someone actually there in my space. I want to have that again. I want my children to be proud of me. I'd like to imagine I could limit my use to four, five hours a day. I want to see if I can develop an interest and friendships outside the outside, away from the computer. But I also want to be so successful at blogging, rake in so much money, I can tell my critics, I told you so. I knew it would pay off one day.

By Tiffers van Tien