This is the first article in a three-part series about internet addiction.
The digital age has brought unparalleled access to educational content, business development and scientific research, along with nearly infinite opportunities for social connections across the globe. Along with the expansive, positive opportunities the internet has brought to us, has also come a flood of moral, social, and personal challenges, to people of every background.
As Dr. Michael Craig Miller, senior editor for Mental Health Publishing at Harvard Health Publishing, notes: “No matter what we call it, any activity that pulls a person away from important relationships and work responsibilities can cause conflict, distress, and loss. People who describe themselves as ‘addicted’ to the internet report that they lose sleep because they can’t log off. Some experience a distortion of time. They can run into financial difficulty, relationship problems, academic failure, or job losses.”
In the era of the internet the world has become extremely external. Dr. Fish stresses the importance of knowing how to navigate around the internet, so as to maintain mental and emotional health. in his book “The Internet Challenge” Dr. Fish guides his audience through different techniques, which he has developed, for maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle in the era of internet.
From easy-to-grasp meditation techniques to step by step templates for individualized goal-setting, as well as parenting tips, “The Internet Challenge” helps its readers learn to differentiate between positive vs. negative pleasure satisfaction, and provides the necessary tools for healthy relationship development.
Dr. Naftali Fish is a licensed clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist, with over thirty years of clinical experience. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva University, and is on the psychology faculty at Touro College in Israel.
In his groundbreaking first book “Nachas Ruach”, Dr. Fish integrates psychotherapy with Torah-based tools for growth and healing. Dr. Fish gives seminars and workshops around the world.
When did you treat your first internet challenge case?
Twenty years ago, an accomplished medical doctor in Switzerland came to me. During the day, he was using the internet to write up improved diagnostic evaluations. At night, while still in his office, he was watching porn excessively. He described himself as losing control and addicted.
This addiction was going on for a number of years until his wife discovered this very heartbreaking reality. It set off a huge crisis in their marriage. Despite their marital counseling with me, and although my patient did make progress, the damage that was done to their relationship was never able to be completely healed from his wife’s perspective. The basic trust she had had for her husband had been shattered.
What is the internet challenge?
It is the challenge of every person in the contemporary world to be able to gain the benefits of the internet, without its downsides. Achieving this goal requires a strong personal motivation, based on a clear underlying worldview, grounded in a value system that provides a compelling higher purpose, or reason, to consciously ‘sort out’ what is constructive and life-enhancing versus destructive.
Ideally, only a person who is able to consciously do this ‘sorting out’ in their life should be allowed access to the internet, no matter their age. Just as no one should drive a car without passing a test, or jump into the deep end of a swimming pool without knowing how to swim, likewise, everyone needs to be able to jump into the digital ocean without drowning.
The internet challenge is universal. Whether you’re religious or secular, conservative or liberal, all people desiring to live a healthy balanced life are faced with this challenge.
Is there a connection between western culture and higher levels of internet addiction?
Absolutely. Ever since the seventies, western society has increasingly adopted an instant-pleasure-seeking culture. This culture of instant gratification and pleasure often leads to the development of addictions. This sort of culture, paired with the internet, was like pairing a dry field with a lit match.
The ever developing technology of internet and social media now provides ‘the ultimate possibility’ to experience instant and endless stimuli. Without much more than a light click of a mouse, one can experience instant and intense sexual pleasure, in complete privacy and without guilt. In this virtual reality a person never has to be bored, a state of mind which modern man has been conditioned to feel is terrible.
In many ways the contemporary secular worldview is being challenged to define its boundaries and to define its “red lines”.
How is internet usage connected to one’s value system?
The way that a person deals with different challenges is directly connected to his value system.
If we bring it down to pornography on the internet, a person who has a strong commitment to a set of values that advocates for building healthy relationships will react differently when exposed to porn than a person who has weak, or no value system whatsoever, regarding relationships.
How is your book “The Internet Challenge” relevant to people of all cultures and religions?
I want to stress that this book is also for people who define themselves as secular. The challenge for the secular world in my opinion is to define if there are still any boundaries left in relation to sexuality and aggression. For example, in the past, there were guidelines by which to rank movies in relation to its content. Today, this system seems antiquated and irrelevant.
At the same time, the religious communities throughout the world have also been severely challenged in the internet era. The traditional boundaries of religious communities are changing. The balance of fearing God and fearing public opinion is put to a new test when people can go online privately.
As a licensed clinical psychologist, how can we understand this new challenge in light of psychology and the teachings of Sigmund Freud?
A hundred years ago Freud was in Vienna, where the message was that pleasure was sinful, and therefore sexuality was repressed. When Freud came out and declared that the main principle in humans is pleasure, and that the main pleasure is sexual, it was shocking. This was breaking all the taboos!
Could you explain his theory in more detail?
Freud, in his theory, taught that there are three conflicting forces within every person. We each have an “id”, an “ego”, and a “super-ego”. The id is the pleasure principle, seeking immediate gratification all the time, without any boundaries.
The super-ego is the self-critical social conscience, which Freud believed was too strict in his day in restricting pleasure. His principle was that the super-ego was the underlying cause of some psychological problems of his time. An overly strict super-ego causes extreme and repressed anxiety, which leads to many different neurological and emotional disorders.
To remedy this, Freud held that the pleasure principle, the id, needs to be released more.
How did Freud suggest people find balance?
Healthy pleasure is not bad, per say, including sexual pleasure. Now, the ego was supposed to be the balance; the sound mind would be able to guide a person to balancing pleasure and self control.
Did Freud believe that society needed boundaries?
Freud, despite his liberalism, still understood that there had to be boundaries that society and family determined and taught. Freud’s ideas strongly influenced the twentieth century western culture.
How are Freud’s ideas still affecting our world today?
Before the 60’s, the traditional WASP culture that stressed self-control and future orientation, was still very influential in defining and influencing the social norms in the general American culture. In the post-60’s and 70’s, during the ‘hippie era’, there was an attack on the traditional WASP culture. The expression ‘If it feels good, do it’ was the motto. This was taking Frued’s theory to an extreme level, completely disregarding the super-ego and ego.
By the 90’s the influence of the societal super-ego had been significantly diminished, or even knocked out. There was now a fast rising in the popularity of a ‘fun’ culture, seeking immediate gratification, rather than a ‘work’ culture, which valued delayed gratification.
The final stage was the beginning of the era of the internet, which now provided the ultimate framework for instant gratification, way beyond what would have been imagined to be possible before.
What would Freud say if he came back today?
I think Freud would say that our society is governed by the id, the immediate pleasure seeking principle, and that in many ways the 21st century is a culture of addictions. These addictions come in all the forms of behavior which we are accustomed to seeing in ourselves, and in others, on a daily basis. It could be shopping, movies, news, gambling, having thousands of friends on Facebook, and going into one’s smartphone hundreds of time a day, often within the first moments of waking up.
Coming Up Next
For our next article in the Internet Challenge series we will be discussing with Dr. Fish how to detect if you have an internet addiction, and tools for managing such behavior, as well as prevention, by practicing his unique meditation technique.
Miller, Michael. (2007). Questions & Answers. Is “Internet addiction” a distinct mental disorder?. The Harvard Mental Health Letter / from Harvard Medical School. 24. 8.