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I wake up slowly, but once my eyes are open, the first thing I do is roll over, pick up my iPhone (which serves as my alarm clock) and check my email. Then I check my Facebook page, then the most recent and most emailed New York Times stories. It’s a cozy time, wrapped as I am in various layers of down comforter and three cats with enough fur for six. And my iPhone.

Then I finally get out of bed to answer my bladder’s insistent call.

As a blogger, being online is my life, and I’m lucky enough to say that I love my work. The art and craft of writing feeds my creative needs, the immediacy of instant publishing rewards my New York family’s legacy of impatience, and the myriad form and freedom of expression of digital mediums satisfies my inner anarchist (she hates rules even more than getting to bed early).

But ferreting about in the back of my mind is a concern, one shared by most of the people I know who spend their days tied to the hive mind of the Internet; Am I addicted to the Web? It’s not the physical tech that I’m attached to; my phone is just a hunk of plastic and metal; this I know. No, the thing that has crept on digital feet into my life from just-waking until I doze again is Information.

I’m not alone. In some families, limits must be set concerning laptop/phone/game use. How is that not an invasion? I relate to the NYTimes reflection: “Technology has shaken up plenty of life’s routines, but for many people it has completely altered the once predictable rituals at the start of the day,” you’ve got to take a second look at what substance could possibly be so appealing that it would change ingrained habits and concerns. It’s certainly changed mine, and in just under a year. Fast-acting, addictive, and (arguably) isolating- sounds like a drug to me.

Has the desire for ever new Information invaded our lives?

For some of us, undoubtedly. When one friend actually cancelled his Internet service so he could get some real writing done (and I threatened to never visit him again), when my good friends who are living on dial-up in Vermont elicit genuine irritation at their lack of connectivity, and when a crummy signal (two bars instead of a full cohort on my Mac) brings my mood down a few notches, I have to believe that I’m suffering from some kind of beyond-healthy attachment to the Internet.

I’ve sourced my irritation to attachment, my attachment to fear. I am afraid of not knowing. Of missing something. Something important.

Some would say (like any addiction), the choices I make about how much time I spend online are my own. Nobody is forcing me to sit in front of the computer for hours a day, or half the night. This is true, but at least in the case of drugs and alcohol, the attachment is recognized and documented, and even the afflicted can see in the stories of thousands of others their own struggle. Internet addiction disorder is in the vein of sex addiction or compulsive eating; one needs to eat, to have sex, to work, so the addiction and the legitimate needs overlap.

Which brings me to why humans could be addicted to the Internet (or really, instantaneous or a consistent flow of information). Like sex or food attachments, our need for info is rooted in ancient beneficial adaptations. Our brain reward systems are set up to respond to fats and sugars, or sexual encounters, because over millennia, consumption (or indulgence) over abstinence in these areas resulted in the proliferation of our species. Simple.

Similarly, information gathering and dissemination has a (behavioural) evolutionary advantage; the people who knew the most had two advantages over the rest of the community. The first is straightforward: Logistical knowledge. Whatever the specific protection that was brought by knowing how far off the warring tribe was, or when the storm was coming resulted in keeping life and/or resources and continued health.

But the second, and I would argue more important way that information benefited those who sought it out was through pure power over less knowledgeable members of the community. Because being the person who is ‘in the know’ confers an almost magical ability to know what will happen next. And precognition has always been a highly valued ability, one which confers god-like status.

Knowledge is (still) power.

Fast forward and this is why trend forecasters (a most interesting, eclectic and intelligent bunch) are paid so well, and why heads of business and advertising (who are thought to know everything already) rely on these folks to plot next moves.

And so we have evolved as a species to crave information. But not just random facts, and not just specifically relevant information to our local weather patterns or coming events, though that can be useful. The most valuable information (that which we crave the most) is data about our community and the people in it. Once you understand that, you have figured out why Facebook is so damn successful. And why so many of us are attached to it. In an almost obsessive way. International news, political updates, and what comes in as news reporting is valuable in and of itself, but what we really crave is information about other people.

And why do we care so much about the minutae of other’s lives? Because human beings are social creatures, and are the incredibly successful species that we are because (despite wars at home and abroad) we work together. And the more we know about each other, the more successful we are, both as individuals and family groups (pure genetic selfishness) and also as a species.

So it makes sense that our brains are wired to be always focused on what those around us are doing and crave that information. It is inherent to our humanness. And if the Web helps us to do that, maybe all this information makes us MORE human (or helps us understand each other better, or communicate more effectively, as we have more information), which is why it’s so satisfying. And answers the questions of why our iPhones and other persuasive technologies have the power to alter our routines, and pull us in even when we need a good night’s rest. Or a morning’s snuggle with the kitties.

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