I used to be obsessed with Bejeweled.
Like, obsessed. I played when I woke up. I played at work. I played at night, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, unable to resist the tantalizing, just-one-more-minute lure of Bejeweled Blitz, going to sleep only to dream up more boards, ones that never ran out of combinations.
I played until I made myself sick. Not horribly sick, not hospitalized or institutionalized, but nauseous, unable to look at the sparkly screen without feeling an overwhelming sense of revulsion. At that point, as you can imagine, I stopped playing.
The same thing happened to me with Scramble, and with Bloons Tower Defense. I’m grateful I never got into epic games like World of Warcraft; my friend John lost a year to that one.
I played these to the exclusion of real-world social encounters; I thought of little else; I felt depressed if I couldn’t play. I’m not the first to suggest that these behaviors could rightly qualify as addictions. . Last November, Mashable published an excellent summary and infographic of Internet Addiction, referencing the fact that China, Taiwan and South Korea already accept the disorder as a psychological diagnosis.
But there was at least one big difference between my Bejeweled experience and a physical addiction, a difference easily spotted by using myself as a highly scientific, non-controlled, anecdotal sample size of one. Consider, please, Exhibit A: Back in the day, I used to smoke. I smoked in high school and all through college, and for the first couple of years thereafter. I was lucky enough to quit in my early twenties. But despite the fact that I now routinely stare at smokers with amazement at the idea the activity could ever have seemed desirable, quitting took effort.
I didn’t quit because I was disgusted by smoking; I quit because I knew forcing myself to would be good for me.
But when I quit Scramble, I was disgusted by it. It was as if I had a finite amount of desire for the game and once I had used it all up, I was done.
And so I wonder. I wonder if there is a fundamental difference between physical addiction and digital addiction. I wonder whether relying on continuous activation of the brain’s reward center is an optimal long-term strategy. Zynga’s held onto some success with Farmville 2 (despite its other sequels tanking), but tending crops sure ain’t as hip as it used to be.
The poster child for Internet addiction, Facebook, doesn’t seem to be slowing down any, at least not according to the stats the company released earlier this month: 1.11 billion users, 665 million daily actives. But there are murmurs of dissatisfaction: a Facebook Detox page, a post suggesting the experiment has failed, a stock with continually lackluster performance.
This year marks 20 years since the advent of the World Wide Web, too soon to see any companies that fit the criteria of Collins and Porras in their wonderful book ”Built to Last.” But I wonder if the very nature of our Internet use renders it highly unlikely for a website to ever get the kind of longevity the authors chronicle.
And if the only way to achieve that goal is through a longer-lasting addiction, is that really something we want?