Why The Internet Is So Addictive

When we escape reality we are left in a virtual abyss.

Posted Mar 02, 2015

Young man sits hopelessly in front of lap top.

The Internet can be one enormous escape hatch. When life becomes too hard and stressful, when relationships become too unfulfilling or unsatisfactory, it’s compelling to jump down into the rabbit hole of the Internet into a world of virtual reality. Do you understand it isn’t totally real? Yes. But compared to how bad real life feels at the moment, you’ll take virtual life anyway, thank you very much. Considering the amount of personal control you have over this virtual world compared to the lack of control felt in the real world, it’s tempting to consider virtual an acceptable trade-off.

Escape hatches can be important things. If your way is blocked out of a dangerous situation, an escape hatch can save your life. Escape hatches, though, are meant to be used sparingly and only at great need. Generally they’re not the ideal way to make an exit.

If the Internet has become your personal escape hatch from life as you know it, I’d encourage you to think about why that is. When you use the hatch, what are you escaping from? How effective is it, if you have to keep using it again and again? When you use it, where do you end up? Are you more interested in running away from something than you are in arriving somewhere else?

Using an online escape hatch doesn’t only mean immersing yourself in games, although that’s certainly a compelling avenue to take. Creating an alternative reality isn’t just for those with avatars in a virtual world. Living a virtual life is possible while going about your day job. Living a virtual life happens when you start to put more value in the experiences you create online than the ones encountered in real life. Living a virtual life happens when you step out of the truth of your life and begin to create a false life online. 

In childhood, flights and diversions into a fantasy world have a great deal of meaning and value. That fantasy world of the imagination is all about learning the joy of stretching one’s mind beyond what you can see and touch. It’s all about learning how to think beyond where you are right now and learning how you might react in a given situation. It is learning simply how to play and create out of nothing more than the contents of your own imagination.

For adults, fantasy can become less about learning how to prepare for reality and more about how to escape from it. Children create fantasy to practice who they will be; adults create fantasy to hide from who they are. This is the potent snare that the Internet and online activities represent. It is not merely the diversion provided through the sheer amount of time online and away from having to deal with your real life. It is also about the content of the illusion you seek to create and maintain online, from the carefully constructed “you” on Facebook to the avatars you incarnate on gaming sites. The more stressful your life is, the more enticing virtual diversions become.

In a virtual world, you choose to deal only with the challenges that don’t matter, because they’re not really real. It’s why virtual reality is more of a game than real life. As I mentioned earlier, having an escape hatch for occasional use is fine. Often, however, we over-use the Internet as an escape hatch, which can eventually develop into a tech addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with technology addiction or is stuck in a “virtual reality,” it may be time for a tech detox and a real-life reality check! 

Gregory L. Jantz, PhD is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and an internationally recognized best selling author of over 26 books related to mental wellness and holistic recovery treatment. This article features excerpts from Dr. Jantz's book Hooked.