I am going to address this in two parts. One is my observation based on having disabled friends. The other is as a parent of a child who is disabled yes, I believe I use the internet too much. I work on the internet. I play on the internet. I connect with people on the internet. I keep up with friends and family on the internet.

Like it or not, the internet has become an important part of the lives of many of us out there. However, I know if I cannot be on the internet, I am okay. If our power goes out I’m more pissed off that I have no lights than I am about the internet being down. That is, of course, unless I have a huge project due that requires the internet to edit said project (I’m a film student).

Some of my friends would be lost without the internet. To them, the internet is more than just a tool they use for communication and entertainment. To some it is a lifeline to the outside world. This is especially true of people with disabilities. The internet allows us to connect with people in ways we may not be able to in our own lives. It doesn’t matter that we’re the kid who didn’t go to our prom because our peers picked on us. We have friends from all over the world online who respect us for who we are.

The internet also speaks to a new generation that has little comprehension of going outside to play all day in the summer, using their imagination to travel to far away lands or be heroes, villains or some other special person, or immersing themselves for hours in the world created by a good book. These kids cannot just stop and smell the roses, literally. They have to be doing, be going, be busy every second of their day or they are unfulfilled. The internet does this for these kids. The more isolated the child, the more they seem to crave the internet, and the more they want to reach out to total strangers for support and encouragement.

There are obvious problems with this. Strangers is the operative word. Strangers can lie. We do not know anything about strangers and yet sometimes the nice words of a stranger can compel someone to want to spend more time with these strangers. Children do not have the filters adults should have. Not all adults have these filters, either, but children, especially those with disabilities are even more vulnerable to want to find acceptance wherever it is given. The most dangerous stranger always seems to know the right thing to say, anyway.

I do not speak much about this, but our son has a terrible net addiction. It is so bad, he is banned from using any kind of technology without someone sitting next to him. This means he has no computer, cell phone, iPod with internet access, or other gadgets of his own. He couldn’t function with access. He’d become angry and violent when told to put them down to do school work or even to go with us and leave the house.

He has said he’d rather have net friends than meet someone in person to be his friend. He has been hurt by his peers in person for being weird and different. He is autistic and has Bi Polar, so he feels out of place in the world, and the net sucks him in to a place where he believes everything others say. He would do anything to talk to a stranger, even if it appears to be harmful to him.

We tried monitoring him. He would sneak into our room and steal our cell phones, check our computers in case we forgot to lock them. Every device we have has to be password protected. We realized we could not stop living our lives because he cannot handle this addiction. At the same time, we do not use these things in front of him either. He doesn’t need to be taunted or reminded, but we need cell phones in cases of an emergency. We need computers to do work and school work. We cannot stop living because of his addiction.

I have seen friends post about how they too have net addictions. Many of them have some sort of disability. I am beginning to wonder if it is a trend, but it seems more serious than a passing fad. Until I met my girlfriend, I spent a significant amount of time online. When she and I lived apart, any waking moment was spent on the phone or net connecting with her. Now that we live together I have no need to be online all the time. I can understand how the need to connect can lead to wanting to be online all the time.

Online, people cannot see you. Their first impression of you is based on what you say. It is not based on how you look. For those of us with more physically visible disabilities, we want to be seen as a person first, with our disability secondary. With the net, the disability becomes inconsequential unless it affects our ability to type. Even then, there is software that can help. For some of us, we do not even have to reveal our disability. Yet, this comes with a price. It leads us to isolation. We have trouble going out into the real world and interacting and for some of us we prefer interacting online.

When the computer shuts off, we are alone. This kind of isolation is not good. The addiction keeps us logged in as long as possible and then when it is time to disconnect we are lost. All we can think of is getting back on. As much as being on disrupts our lives, making us neglect work, school, family, and even friends, it also creates more problems for us when we are off.

All we obsess over is returning to the computer. It entertains us, and provides us with happiness and satisfaction. It becomes our sole reason for being and being without it makes us angry. I understand that this is what drives my son and why he is angry about not having the internet, but he has done careless things online, because he is so trusting of others. He is so trusting because he is so desperate for acceptance. If someone says they accept him, he will believe everything they say.

Sadly, we live in a world that perpetuates this environment for disabled people. We live in a world where we are viewed as less. Our peers go out and have fun together. We are not invited. Perhaps it is because the fun is at a house with no wheelchair access, so to save us the pain of finding it out we’re just not included. Still, that hurts just as much as being invited and not being able to go.

At least if you are invited, you know they want to include you, they just do not know how. With no invitation you are an outcast. Thus, you turn to the internet, where you can find acceptance. For the person with a disability like my son, you may not be invited because people think you act weird. The internet can partially hide your weirdness, and as such you want to go where you can be someone else. For him, he attempts to take on new personas and be something he is not.

The internet/real world dilemma for those of us with disabilities is a vicious cycle that repeats itself, and yet it is doing more harm than good. Ultimately, we as human beings need to find a way to include everyone regardless of ability. Technology should not be taking over our lives and isolating us from one another. It should be bringing us together, online and off. Please, try to reach out to those you think may be addicted to the internet. You will most likely discover they are in a much lower place than anyone thought.

As for my son, we try to integrate him in real life activities and hope he will find those who accept him, as he is. He needs that, so he can see there is so much more to life than the internet. Maybe then he can find a place where offline and online are both places he can go to find happiness without being outcast and without letting either take over his life.

[tags]Disability, addiction, net, problem, online, autism, acceptance, obsession[/tags]

Categorized in: