Internet as hard to give up as cigarettes, liquor, study says

Losing 'Net access even for a day described as 'nightmare'

How would you handle giving up your Internet connection -- your Facebook friends, Twitter, online news and shopping -- for just a single day?

If you think being disconnected for even a day might drive you nuts, you're not alone. A survey of 1,000 people between the ages of 18 and 65 in the U.K. showed that many Britons are as emotionally connected to the Internet and all of their devices as smokers are to their cigarettes.

Some said giving up their Internet access, even for just a day, was as hard as quitting smoking or drinking, according to Intersperience, a consumer research firm based in England. One person surveyed described it as "like having my hand chopped off." Another called it "my biggest nightmare."

This latest survey echoes other reports that have found that people have become addicted to their devices and to social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter.

In March 2010, Retrevo Inc., a consumer electronics shopping and review site, reported that many people admitted to being obsessed with social media, such as exchanging information about family and friends, posting photos and getting updates.

The Retrevo study noted that 48% of those polled say they update Facebook or Twitter during the night or as soon as they wake up, and nearly a fifth of people younger than 25 say they update Facebook or Twitter anytime they happen to wake up during the night.

About a year ago, the Oxygen Media Insights Group, reported that a majority of women who use social networking sites say they are addicted to them. Nearly 60% of the women polled said they are more likely to connect with people online than they are to talk with them face to face. And nearly 40% called themselves "Facebook addicts."

In the recent Intersperience study, 40% of those surveyed said they feel "lonely" when they aren't able to email or text.

However, not everyone reported being so tied to their digital lives. The survey showed that 23% of respondents said they would feel "free" if they were disconnected from online activities.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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