OP-EDS

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February 17, 2006

The U of C has a dangerous addiction

From our primeval ancestors’ first ruminative munching on cacao leaves to the latest cocktails of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, people have been subject to an ever-expanding set of psychological and chemical addictions for millennia. In fact, the range of addictions on campus is almost as diverse as the student body itself. There are the usual suspects: caffeine, Adderall, and Dance Dance “My-Goodness-You-Look-Ridiculous” Revolution. Then there are some forms of addiction unique to our own be-gargoyled quads, such as obnoxiously quoting the latest “in” philosopher from Sosc class, or upping the Scav Hunt ante until people are so desperate to win that they end up eating their own pickled umbilical cords—proof that, at the U of C, truth makes fiction look like a suburban nine-to-fiver who drives a minivan to pick the kids up from soccer practice every afternoon.

Yet one source of addiction seems to be shared by the overwhelming majority of the student body. We indulge it automatically every 5 or 10 minutes. Regardless of whether there’s anything else we really ought to be doing, feeding this addiction comes first. In fact, I’ve done it about six times since starting this column.

I am, of course, talking about e-mail.

It first occurred to me that I was heavily addicted to checking my e-mail during my second year, when I mysteriously collapsed in the Reg and had to be given an adrenaline shot as I started foaming at the mouth. Although the collapse itself was actually triggered when I accidentally ate some peanuts (and not, as might understandably be supposed, for lack of having checked my e-mail within half-an-hour) as I tried to piece together the episode afterwards, I realized that I had indeed clicked back to webmail every time I finished a sentence in my paper.

Casual observation reveals that such e-mail obsession pervades campus. My friends complain constantly about getting pounding headaches when an internet kiosk is not in sight, and it’s common knowledge that writing a paper simply isn’t possible without a handy internet window at the ready.

Nor is the scope of this mass-addiction confined to mere e-mail checking. E-mail just happens to be the most common manifestation of a far more insidious infatuation with cyberspace in general. Stroll around any floor of the library, casually glance at what people are doing on their computers, and you will find that not more than 1 in 20 will actually be accomplishing anything. The rest will be playing online poker, watching clips from the previous night’s Daily Show, or reading about utterly useless crap, like ducks with 17-inch penises (for the shamelessly curious: news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/10/1023_corkscrewduck.html).

And it’s not just us students who live life wandering from screen to screen in a junkie trance. This need to incessantly suckle at the great cyber teat afflicts all of society. Some gadget featuring a new method of connecting to internet-land gets released daily: cell phones that do e-mail and check stock quotes, wi-fi implants for your eyes that enable you to pull down a browser window every time you blink. People are obsessed with being connected 24-7.

As I pondered this mass migration to the farthest shores of the internet, I began to wonder about its source and came to an immediately obvious conclusion. This flocking to cyberspace is not a rush towards something so much as it is an escape from something: a flight from reality.

Let’s face it: Ever since Adam said to Eve, “Damn, that’s a tasty apple!” and subsequently got ejected from Chateau God to scratch at the dusty ground, things have gone downhill. Reality is harsh: The real world is where 15-pagers lurk, where catastrophe and war cuddle up to create havoc-wreaking bastard children, and where we still have three years of Dubya left. Confronted with a world like this, it’s hardly surprising that the moment an alternate reality presents itself in the form of the internet, everyone’s going to crowd in. Cyberspace is vast, soothing, and offers an almost cosmic global connection unavailable anywhere else. Think how amazingly nice it is to pause while grinding out a paper, check your e-mail, and see a shiny new little personal-message icon. It’s like getting a present! Even if it does just turn out to be from spamson@hotmail.com and he’s trying to sell you Viagra alternatives. Spamson, if you’re reading this, for the last time I don’t want any of your damn MiraRect.