To call the plethora of addiction-themed popular psychology books a cottage industry would be an error of scale. It’s more like a factory operation.
One feature of this literature is a mutually congenial tendency to medicalise eccentric behaviour: the lustre of science lends moral authority to the quack author and a plaintive urgency to the reader’s perceived woes, driving each into the arms of the other.
But supposing the malady under discussion is so widespread that almost everybody has it? This is the dilemma highlighted in Irresistible: Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching.
The online world is so intimately bound up in our daily lives that it can be hard to tell where the internet ends and the real world begins. Whereas junkies or winos wear their condition visibly, and invariably succumb to it in some calamitous life-affecting way, internet addicts are often inconspicuous, their habit humdrum and their social existence high functioning. As a patient at an internet-addiction clinic in Beijing tells Adam Alter, “It’s not a real disease. It’s a social phenomenon.”
According to some surveys about 40 per cent of Americans suffer from a form of internet addiction. If you’ve ever felt a Pavlovian glow at the “ding” of your inbox filling up, or if you happen to compulsively check your messages late at night, when you should be sleeping, you too might be hooked.
We have a problem, then, of definition: either the world is in the grip of a silent and dangerous epidemic or the parameters of normality, and of how we understand consciousness in general, are shifting ineluctably and forever...