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By John Shmuel

Biz & Tech Editor

I’m going to admit it. While trying to write this, I tabbed back to Facebook twice to check if I had any messages in my inbox.

You’re probably thinking: so what?

It’s an addiction. As Charles Zamaria and Fred Fletcher’s recent study on Canadian Internet use has shown, people are increasingly becoming dependant on the Internet. They use it to socialize. To entertain themselves. To get their news.

Which is great. It’s instant information after all.

But it’s an overload of information, and more and more people don’t know when to turn it off. The evidence is everywhere.

Take for instance a class you have in a computer lab. Look around. At any given time, a quarter of the people there will be chatting on Windows Messenger or checking their Facebook profile. All while a lecture they paid $500 for is going on in the background.

Zamaria and Fletcher’s study also made another interesting point: a lot of people go onto the internet without a reason. It’s no longer about getting information — people will just hop on because they’re bored.

The internet’s found all sorts of ways to stop us from doing what we need to do. Our jobs are no exception. About 12 of my friends are online on my instant messenger right now – three of them are at work.

But all that can probably be listed under recreational use.

Let’s not fool ourselves though. Because there are lots of people out there who invest an unsettling amount of time on the web.

These are the people who check their Blackberrys when they wake up and before they go to bed. The same people who will wear out the F5 button on their keyboard to refresh some thread on a forum waiting for responses.

I won’t even bother mentioning video games, porn and the hundreds of other addictions the internet has blown out of proportion.

I think we can all admit we spend needless hours on the internet when we should be doing something productive instead. It’s not neccesatily a harmful thing.

At the same time, it’s not exactly clear where the line between recreational use and addiction are drawn. Plenty of people toss around the term “internet addict”. But more and more, I’m starting to sense it’s an issue we should take seriously.

I’ll say it right now: if you’re going to sleep three hours late sitting at your computer, browsing webpages, and you have no idea why, you’re probably addicted. Same goes for the people who’ll get out of bed just to check one last e-mail or post a really witty response they just though of in a comment box.

I’m not saying the internet is on par with alcohol or gambling addiction (unless you gamble on the internet). But if you’re waking up tired or leaving to work late because you’re constantly on the internet, then there’s a problem.

Zamaria and Fletchers next study is coming out in 2010. It’ll be interesting to see how many more hours we’re spending on the net by then. In the meantime, let’s practice moderation.

So the next time you’re online at 3 a.m. doing nothing, with class in a few hours: shut off the computer. And go to bed. Waiting for someone’s twitter update isn’t worth it.

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