Google the 12-Step Program (Part 1)

Technology was smooth, you have to admit. Somewhere in all the sweet talk it got to second base and we were so charmed (“It’s so worldly, so mysterious!”) we never saw it coming. Besides, all those cautionary tales we were fed growing up didn’t prepare us for how this would really feel.

Robert Plowman, “I Was an Internet Addict”

Technology, Don Juan for the 21st century. What if we tried stepping on the brakes and cooling the romance? “You’re getting a little too handsy for me.” How would we handle it? How would technology handle it? (Casanova’s probably got millions of flames that burn like LED lights in the middle of the night)

That’s what Robert Plowman tried to do. He said, “You’re a player, and I don’t want in on your dirty little games. We need a break.”

If this is a love affair we’re having with technology, the internet is where things stopped being casual. Is it just me, or is this really real? Sometimes you don’t know how deep you’re in until you spend some time apart.

30 days, cold turkey. Nip this web addiction in the bud. Web addiction? What doctors are calling the MOUSE screening tool will help determine whether or not YOU might be suffering from this debilitating disorder:

More than intended time spent online.

Other responsibilities neglected.

Unsuccessful attempts to cut down.

Significant relationship discord.

Excessive thoughts or anxiety when not online.

Or you could take the Internet Addiction Test (IAT). But the acronym isn’t as apropos.

Since the twentieth century invented the addict, as a person suffering from a disease, this diagnosis has become a touchstone of our culture. We’ve distinguished ourselves by the dizzying range of things we addict to. The pharmacological ingenuity of the nineteenth century—which gave us morphine, cocaine, barbiturates, heroin—has only accelerated, spinning out new chemical cocktails to tempt us, enslave us. Then there are the socially sanctioned scourges of alcohol and cigarettes. And there is gambling, overeating, pornography, shopping, television, exercise, work. There are the drugs our culture needs to get through the day: oil and electricity, sugar and caffeine and red meat. And if Doctor Phil tells me I’m addicted to loving dumb, who I am to say no?

The power of the idea of addiction exceeds its medical truth. The line between clinical diagnosis (hooked on crack) and metaphor (hooked on Deadwood) has blurred. In Nova Scotia, the bulk of addiction treatment resources are dedicated to the big three: alcohol, drugs and gambling. Beyond that, there’s a lot of gray area.

And then there’s the internet.

So what is this relationship? Love or addiction? Have we become co-dependant? Is there a solution, a 12-step program, support groups…or to hell with it, wire me up, plug me in, log me on. right. now.

It’s interesting that, in this posthuman age, not only does the line blur between clinical diagnosis and metaphor for addiction but also between love and addiction; it is symptomatic of a greater confusion that’s taking place, that is, locating the difference between the real and the unreal, what’s human and authentic and what’s artificial, constructed, simulated, fake– ersatz, a word Philip K. Dick was especially fond of using. Both symptom and disease hold a place of primacy in the representations of contemporary literature.

In the introduction to Storming the Reality Studio, Larry McCaffery discusses the “desert of the real” in contemporary postmodern literature (of which, I might suggest, most if not all the texts I’ve been discussing belong to). First he describes how “postmodernism” is best understood by examining what is unique about the contemporary condition, and how this ties the “evolution of postmodern culture to technological developments” (notably, the Internet) (3). He then shows how the “routine introduction of high-tech artifacts” gives us (not only a “host of stimulating possibilities, but an equal number of”) troubling psychological, moral, and epistemological quandaries (5)– what is “real”/”fake”, what is “alive”/”dead”, etc. And within this depiction of the modern condition and its cultural products, he borrows this quotation from Greil Marcus about the “culture industry” (advertising, information, the media– again, a category within which we could include the Internet as exemplar):

[It has] turned upon individual men and women, seized their subjective emotions and experiences, changed those once evanescent phenomena into objective, replicatable commodities, placed them on the market, set their prices, and sold them back to those who had, once, brought emotions and experiences out of themselves– to people who, as prisoners of the spectacle, could now find such things only on the market. (Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century, 101)

We are, perhaps– at least some of us– internet “addicts” like Plowman, but we are all of us “culture” addicts, without exception. North America in the 21st century is populated by a society of junkies, and our drug of choice is “the spectacle”, as Marcus uses it here and as Guy Debord first theorized it in “Society of the Spectacle”. We have our historical analogues, the 60’s and 80’s as periods in time when drug culture flourished (and, ironically or perhaps merely fitting, when there was the greatest awareness of and rebellion against the social control of our cultural addiction), and these are represented in the literature of those periods. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly and Gibson’s Neuromancer are demonstrable of this fact.

The “murk” of Substance D that descends upon Bob Arctor’s consciousness(es) can be read as a metaphor for the murkiness of our present condition, our difficulty determining which of our sheep are real and which are belonging to the electric, ersatz persuasion. Reality no longer means what (and how) it used to mean, it is no longer easily identifiable (assuming, naturally, that it ever was). Bob Arctor’s breakdown, the violent splitting of his personality and the subsequent confusion of sensory inputs, how his interpretations of reality are brought starkly into question, and finally his inability to break his Substance D (D for Death, he tells us) habit despite knowing fully the consequences of using, are read as the spiraling state of complete entropy our society as a whole is exponentially accelerating towards. Arctor’s character arc is the hyperbolic curve of our (posthuman) civilization.

Case, in Neuromancer, has three addictions. Only one of these can be clinically diagnosed, and it happens to be the most harmless of the three– his addiction to uppers. His second addiction is death, or at least, the danger of courting it. If technology is Don Juan, death is a seducer of god-like proportions, a primordial Eros. Both of these addictions are merely symptomatic of a far more insidious disease, the result of what is commonly called the “death of affect” (in Do Androids Dream…, this disease is what makes a human being indistinguishable from an android). It is caused by, or at least tied to, Case’s third and ultimate addiction to the single thing that ever mattered in his life (and that made his life matter).

Case is addicted to Cyberspace.

How is this final, critical addiction, clinical or not, related to the “death of affect” (or apathy)? Is it indeed a cause, is apathy a side-effect? This would appear to be the case if we consider cyberspace as a part of the “culture industry” that sells our memories and emotions back to us, imprisoning and enslaving us as Marcus suggests. In order for us to become “prisoners” of the spectacle, that is, of this market of simulated experiences and other abstractions-made-real, we have to lose our ability to manufacture such things ourselves– our affect must “die”.

If affect is dead, what happens to love? Is this feeling we feel in this romance with technology, is it simulated? Simulated or not, we’ve got it bad. At midnight on the 30th day of his cold turkey internet addiction experiment, hands shaking, Plowman reconnects his wireless router and with a sigh watches the green lights of the flashing modem as he finally gets his fix. He asks his understanding readers, “How could I be addicted to something that’s as big as everything?”

One final thought:

They sleep like Count Dracula, he thought, junkies do. Staring straight up until all of a sudden they sit up, like a machine cranked from position A to position B. “It– must– be– day,” the junkie says, or anyhow the tape in his head says. Plays him his instructions, the mind of a junkie being like the music you hear on a clock radio… it sometimes sounds pretty, but it is only there to make you do something. The music from the clock radio is to wake you up; the music from the junkie is to get you to become a means for him to obtain more junk, in whatever way you can serve. He, a machine, will turn you into his machine.

Every junkie, he thought, is a recording. (Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly, 159)

If we are all culture junkies in a society of junk– of addiction to a drug called feeling— according to this, Bob Arctor’s sparking thought process or Philip Dick’s insight into the mind and universe of the addict, are we already cyborgs? Is this a case of evolution…or devolution?

  1. Hi,
    I agree with the post saying that … ” It’s interesting that, in this posthuman age, not only does the line blur between clinical diagnosis and metaphor for addiction but also between love and addiction; it is symptomatic of a greater confusion that’s taking place, that is, locating the difference between the real and the unreal…” – to some extend. It might be true that the 21st century has brought up formerly completely “unknown” or unrealized issues like a true difference between love and love-addiction. However, interesting enough, the root causes for many addiction are nowadays deemed to be fairly similar. I am trying to summarize useful information and helpful products / links on the topic of facing love addiction and love or addiction on my web-page, and one of the points I found during my research is that often early childhood sexual traumata or a failed relationship or unhealthy infatuation during early adolescence are the roots for sex addiction. In my opinion, the addict is not to blame for these roots. However. these roots are often also cited for the “internet addiction” – phaenomen.

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