The world is at our fingertips with just a few keystrokes, thanks to the internet.
According to a Pew Research study, 85% of Americans say they go online every day, from banking to researching to scrolling on social media. Statistics show the number of internet users has skyrocketed by 1,000% since 2001.
But how much is too much? When does using the internet become an addiction?
"When we talk about what internet addiction is, it is an inability to step away from our devices in a way that begins to impair our daily functioning," T2S Enterprises Owner and Clinical Director Spirit said.
No one is immune when it comes to internet addiction.
Stats from the Global Web Index show that worldwide, the average person uses the internet for about six hours a day. However, research from the Pew Research Center points out that nearly 1 in 3 Americans say they're almost constantly online.
"This is something that we all need to be aware of because if we're not careful, it has the potential to get away from us in ways that we don't even realize," Spirit said. "If you are tied to a device all day, every day — from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep at night — understand you may have an addiction and not even realize it."
Instant gratification from likes, retweets and memes can give us little boosts of dopamine, making us want to come back for more and more.
"We need that dopamine over and over and over to feel good," Spirit continued. "And so we know where we can go. We find those places online. There are always people out there available to us, who are willing to communicate to give us those dopamine feel-goods that we need. And if we're not careful, we may be lost for hours at a time."
And the desire for more of that feel-good hormone can impact how we present ourselves online.
"The internet gives us the opportunity to decide and create for ourselves who we want to be," Spirit said.
The hard part is, if we create these personalities out of a place due to lower self-esteem, then it makes it very difficult to step back into the person that we actually are, especially if we're living life online that's more gratifying to us."
But, what we see isn't always what we get. The chase for instant gratification online can have a dark side in real life.
"If we're not careful, internet addiction has a way of distorting our actual reality," Spirit said. "For so many people, they experience 'FOMO' — that fear of missing out — or even the idea that their life is in constant competition with the world that they see. But what they don't recognize is that everything on the internet has filters. Everything that they see is edited. Nothing is in its raw, pure form."
So why does the internet have so much power to draw us in? It's simple.
"It is hardwired to give you everything you need and to keep you plugged in," Spirit said. "The goal here is to curate your sites, curate your life based upon what it is that you need but recognize that you have to control a machine. Otherwise, that machine has the potential to control you. And that is by design. ... While the internet has the potential to do really good things, we also have to be aware of the harm."
If you're worried and want to avoid internet addiction, here are a few easy tips: Set time limits on apps; recognize when you're having trouble disconnecting; and take a step back. If you can't and it's affecting your everyday life, seek help from a professional.
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