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Caught in the Web

Experts disagree about calling them “addicts” but compulsive gamers and social media obsessives have a lot in common with people who can’t stop drinking, taking drugs or gambling

ADDICTION

SWIPE LEFT Smartphones provide constant distraction from real-world interaction—resulting in dissatisfaction with unvarnished life itself.
GETTY; TOP RIGHT: JSOLIE/GETTY

“Conservative Christians have felt increasingly culturally ostracized.”

ONE SUMMER DAY IN 2010, A SWEDISH GRADUATE student named Daniel Berg approached me after a talk I gave at Christ’s College, Cambridge. During the talk, I had casually mentioned internet addiction. Berg told me that I had spoken a truth larger than I knew. Many of his male friends at Stockholm University had dropped out of school and were living in crash pads, compulsively playing World of Warcraft. They spoke an argot more English than Swedish. It was all raiding, all the time.

“How do they feel about their situation?” I asked.

“They feel angst,” Berg said.

“But they keep playing?”

“They keep playing.”

This sort of behavior does seem like an addiction, in the sense of a compulsive, regret-illed pursuit of transient pleasures that are harmful to both the individual and society. For gaming, the personal cost was highest for Swedish men. “I am,” Berg reported, “now the only male in my graduate program in economic history.”

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