March 28, 2008

Air, Water, Food, RSS, Twitter, FriendFeed. Maybe Sleep.

Addictions are real. Whether it's the caffeine in your Starbucks or Diet Coke, the nicotine in your Marlboros or your recreational drug of choice, certain substances can be habit-forming. But it's becoming faddish to label those things we do every day, even multiple times a day, as addictions, rather than simply part of life's landscape. And with the Internet becoming more and more embedded into each facet of how we communicate, learn and do business, it's inevitable that the word "addiction" is being misused. You could say people are addicted to saying others are addicted.

There are some necessities in life that nobody can be without for too long - air, water, food, and sleep, for instance. Also, most would like to have something resembling shelter or companionship. But needing oxygen every minute of every day doesn't make me an addict to oxygen, does it? Thinking I need to eat at least once or twice a day doesn't make me sign up to "Eater's Anonymous". Using my car every day doesn't make me addicted to my car, and wearing pants doesn't make me a pants addict.

So why then the silliness around addictions in tech?

Over time, as I find new services and tools or gadgets, they become part of my life. I've been told I'm addicted to my BlackBerry or I'm addicted to reading RSS feeds, or addicted to FriendFeed. Others have said they're addicted to Twitter or Facebook.

But think about the difference between what happens when a true addict is separated from their drug of choice versus what happens when I'm away from what it is I find to be my best tools to learn and communicate. A drug addict can have a violent physical reaction. Vomiting. Headaches. Shakes. Fever. A nicotine addict might try to quit over and over again and never make it, even when they know they could get cancer.

While I'm certainly annoyed by outages, or curious what I'm missing when away from RSS, TechMeme or FriendFeed for a serious amount of time, I'll live, and I certainly won't get physically ill. I can go to a baseball game without a laptop. If Twitter or FriendFeed went down for days, I'd grumble, and then move on to something else. And if, God Forbid, we lost all Internet, eventually we could rediscover the Nintendo Wii, the television, the telephone or actual human contact.

There is no question that technology is part of our lives today. I often tell my wife to plan on having wireless Internet on trips just like you plan on eating on trips because the Web has become such an intertwined part of everything we do. That some services and sites have risen to the top for me doesn't mean I've acquired an addiction, but instead, a preference. Now, I'd prefer people stop calling their newfound digital lifestyle an addiction. It's silly.

See Also: Measuring One's Technology Addictions
Deep Jive Interests: What “Techno Addiction” Really Means
YuviSense: Addicted to Twitter, and lovin it
ValleyWag: Drudge and Kos readers are addicted
ValleyWag: Now we're even more addicted to the Internet
Engadget: Compulsive e-mailing, texting could be classified as bona fide illness