Digital Crack

Article by Miles Raymer

Internet addiction is a real thing, and it’s only getting worse. The question now is, what are we going to do about it?

Try it. You’ll like it. …

There was a long chunk of time in the late 1800s where it was perfectly acceptable in polite society to do as much cocaine as you could handle. Thomas Edison, Ulysses S. Grant, Sigmund Freud, and William Halsted, the father of modern medicine, all sang the praises of cocaine in the heady early days after its discovery. Back then, mass-market brands sold wine fortified with cocaine, cocaine tea, even cocaine-laced margarine. Rich capitalists consumed it for pleasure, then handed it out to their employees to increase production.

Since nobody had any idea how cocaine toxicity works, and barely any conception of addiction other than as a spiritual failure, no one thought this could possibly be a bad thing until habitual users like Halsted and Freud started developing debilitating addictions, by which time cocaine abuse was epidemic within poor American communities. When Congress passed America’s first drug laws in 1914, cocaine had done enough damage that its effects are still being felt a century later.

Since the mid-1990s, we’ve been acting just like those naive Belle Epoque cokeheads with another enthralling miracle: the internet. We’ve been gorging on it, seeking out even more places–phones, cars, kitchen appliances–where we can cram it in, like the crazed addicts we are, refusing to believe that a tomorrow will ever come.

Only it’s becoming hard not to notice dawn starting to rise on our digital binge. Looking up from our phones, we’re realizing we’re more strung out than we’d like to admit. Internet addiction has made it into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of mental illness, and digital rehab clinics are popping up around the country. Like those Americans a hundred years ago, we are waking up to the fact that this problem isn’t going to simply fix itself, and are finally taking steps to address it.

But it’s worth noting that as bad as America’s first cocaine epidemic was, it doesn’t compare to how bad things got on the other end of the twentieth century, when crack unleashed in America’s cities an unstoppable tsunami of desperate addiction and militarized violence that no one was prepared for. So what’s going to happen when somebody eventually invents something that makes our current internet binge seem tame by comparison– something capable of causing major mental, Internet addiction is a real thing, and it’s only getting worse. The question now is, what are we going to do about it? DIGITAL CRACK emotional, financial, or even physical damage to millions of people at a time?

What’s going to happen when someone figures out how to make digital crack?

I spent the fall of 2017 completely engrossed in the dumbest videogame I’ve ever played. AdVenture Capitalist has only the barest minimum of story line and mechanics to qualify as a game. Graphically, there’s not much more than a bunch of rapidly moving progress bars, and there’s zero attempt at emotional connection. The point of the game is to earn virtual money by buying and operating virtual businesses, all of which you do by pressing a few buttons. Then you spend your loot via buttons that push themselves, and from there all you have to do is enjoy the feeling of watching your dollars multiply from mere billions and trillions to ridiculous, cosmological denominations such as novemdecillions and vigintillions.

It may seem unsophisticated and straightup stupid, but AdVenture Capitalist is incredibly well-designed for what it’s meant to do, which is to create and then satisfy a compulsion to make “money,” and then use your undivided attention to sell you ads. It’s not fun, but it’s still pleasurable: the joy of smoothly functioning routine, the warm fuzzy feeling of acquisition.

I was in desperate need of a habit like that. I was in the midst of a brutal divorce, alone and isolated and suddenly without my usual coping mechanisms, since I’d just made the decision to get sober after admitting that my relationships with booze, benzos, and coke weren’t as healthy as I’d insisted. AdCap, as it calls itself, wasn’t as good as Xanax, but it was better than nothing. I’d check in on my mounting digital wealth a few times an hour, in between Netflix binges and compulsive Tinderswiping.