Has the coronavirus turned us all into Internet addicts?

You could abstain from using any digital technology during the first and last hour of the day to prevent Internet addiction. — Bloomberg

It's digital media's shining hour. During the coronavirus crisis, the Internet is a source of essential information and connects people working from home to their offices.

Streaming services provide welcome diversion from the tedium of being stuck at home while computer games rein in stir-crazy kids champing at the bit.

But does this added reliance on digital media pose an addiction risk?

Perhaps, but the benefits outweigh the risk, according to Dr Bert te Wildt, chief physician at Diessen Convent Psychosomatic Hospital in Germany.

"Professionally, I mostly deal with the adverse effects of the Internet," te Wildt says. "But I think the Internet will see a high point in these times, hopefully in a positive way for the most part."

The pluses, he points out, range from online video calls — which let you see your loved ones while you practice social distancing — to online continuing education courses and YouTube cooking classes.

"Hopefully we'll be able to say someday that the digital media were a true blessing during the crisis," he says.

Intensive use of these media in the current, extraordinary circumstances can, however, have negative consequences, te Wildt warns: "I worry that the number of Internet addicts could soar."

Among those at particular risk are adults who live alone, he says, adding that men could become addicted to online pornography, and adolescents with too much time on their hands to computer games or social media.

Are there ways to protect yourself against possible addiction?

"Now, more than ever, it's important to exercise self-discipline and not completely let yourself go," says te Wildt — not only with respect to digital media use, but also to behaviours such as alcohol and tobacco consumption.

"If you start to fall into negative habits and routines now, you probably won't slough them off in the coming weeks and months," he remarks.

To prevent this, te Wildt recommends establishing positive — and analogue — routines. For example, you could abstain from using any digital technology during the first and last hour of the day. Or families could dust off their board games. And you might be able to agree on a fixed reading hour or screen-free family meal.

"It comes down to asking yourself what it is you want, and what does you good." — dpa

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