William Gibson's novel Neuromancer chronicles the adventures of Case, a "cyber-cowboy" who, when the story opens, can't get online because the employers he double-crossed on his last hacking job damaged his nervous system with a Russian mycotoxin as punishment.
No longer able to "jack into the matrix," Case has lost both his livelihood and his raison d'etre, and spends the first few chapters floating around seedy Tokyo bars with a death wish the size of a mid-century Pontiac. Published in 1984, Neuromancer quickly gained a massive following, and proved Gibson's prescience about the culture that would grow up around the Internet in subsequent decades.
This past Tuesday, professor Norman Nie, director of Stanford University's Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society (IQSS), released the results of an internet-usage study conducted by IQSS. 4113 people were surveyed by phone on the topic, and the resulting statistics have given rise to alarming headlines about the possibility of "Internet Addiction" in journals around the world.
Obviously, if you're reading this, you have access to the Net, but do you see yourself as someone who may be standing up in a church basement sometime soon, confessing your destructive passion for e-mail and chat rooms and, okay, blogs, to a roomful of sympathetic strangers with whom you're bonding over styrofoam cups of bad coffee?
I admit that that image has crossed my mind more than once. I spend a lot of time online, and the relationships I've forged there, especially in the mystery community, have come to mean a great deal to me. So this morning I took an online Internet Addiction Test quiz to gauge the level of my own dependence (which should probably in and of itself be a red flag).
I got a score of 45, which the survey's authors tell me means, "You are an average on-line user. You may surf the Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage."
I think if I'd been a bit more honest I would've scored in the Fifties--on the low end of the mid-range profile--"You are experiencing occasional or frequent problems because of the Internet. You should consider the full impact on your life." My friends and family might rate me somewhat higher, however. Especially when they're wondering whether dinner is forthcoming.
If you have time, please take the quiz and tell us how you scored in the comment section. Is the Net a problem or a boon for you? Would you say it allows you to be more or less productive? Do you feel you get significant returns from your time spent online, or are you trying to wean yourself off late-night jags playing Mah Jong Solitaire at Gamehouse.com, in between checking your Amazon ranking and Technorati hits?
In the meantime, I'm just hoping I don't run into that guy Case, the next time my DSL goes down and I feel the urge to cruise seedy Tokyo bars....