Internet addicts may be damaging their health

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The Independent Online
"Information addiction" won't make you thin or fat; but it will eat into your free time, leaving you fretting on holiday and perhaps even surfing in bed. Are you at risk? Charles Arthur, Science Editor, investigates.

Alexander, aged 13, spent three weeks in the US on holiday this year. He wasn't altogether happy - it was the longest time he had been cut off from the Internet in ages. "It was quite frustrating," he said yesterday. "I've got friends around the world and I couldn't get messages to or from them."

Couldn't he send postcards to say he was in America? "Postcards would have taken a week to arrive, whereas e-mail just takes one or two minutes," he said dismissively. "An e-mail says what time it is and where you are."

Alexander, who lives in west London, may be one of a new breed: the information addict. A survey released yesterday showed that the growth of the Internet, and the enormous amounts of data it can provide, is creating a class of people who get a high from finding the data they want and feel itchy when they can't get connected.

A survey of 1,000 businesspeople in the UK, US, Ireland, Germany, Singapore and Hong Kong found that 80 per cent feel driven to gather as much information as possible to keep up with their business needs, and 43 per cent said they looked for work-related material when on holiday. Just over half said they "craved" information and the same proportion said finding what they wanted gave them a "high".

Mark Griffiths, a psychologist at Nottingham-Trent University who specialises in addictive behaviour, said: "Cravings, changes of mood, and conflict with other activities suggests that information can be addictive, though it needs more research to be definite.

Mike Foster, of Reuters Business Information, which carried out the survey, offered three tips for spotting someone who is addicted to information.

"First, they come in to the office and the first thing they do is sit down at their desk and check their e-mail - they don't interact with other people there. Second are the cyber-versions of `road warriors', with mobile phones connected to earpieces, and everything plugged in to their laptop. Third, if they surf the Net in bed."

Is there a cure? Actually, we may not need one, suggests Mr Foster. "The good thing is, children will be better placed than the current generation to deal with this, because they're growing up with this network. Parents should just watch out for their spending excessive time online."

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