E-diction: Because You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing

by: W. Walker Peacock, Psy.D.

I love technology. There’s so much   information out there and it’s so easily  accessible. With it, I can find information in a minute that used to require an afternoon at the library. I’ve always had a horrible sense of direction, but I never get lost anymore because my GPS tells me where to go. I can play video games and crack jokes with my buddies in California and Colorado as if they’re sitting on the couch next to me. I’m always connected to a network of friends, family, and professionals through email, Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter.

I hate technology. There’s too much information out there and it’s too easily accessible. A routine Google search for “internet addiction” can easily become a 2-hour rabbit hole that ends up with me looking for vintage Star Wars movie posters on eBay. Er… so I’ve heard…I’ve become so dependent on my GPS that I’ve lost whatever navigation skills I used to have. I’ve lived in Houston for two-thirds of my life, and I still don’t trust myself to find my way to the airport. When my friends and I do manage to hook up and play online, we get our butts kicked by hordes of teens who haven’t been to class in two weeks and have never been on a date (at least that’s what we tell ourselves). The “always on” connectivity of smart phones has robbed me of my ability to just be. I check my email and Facebook while I’m in the drive-thru at Starbucks. And forget about patience! If my phone takes more than ten seconds to live-stream the Rockets game, it’s as if the world has ended.

I remember when all we had was rotary phones that were attached to the wall, and leaving a message required pen and paper. It was perfectly acceptable for someone to be “busy” or “not available” and to get back to you later in the week. Now that we have immediate access to everyone, the acceptable response time is counted in minutes, not days. Back in Colorado, I had a client who broke up with his girlfriend (in session, mind you) via text message because she hadn’t yet answered a question he had texted her earlier that afternoon. So what has happened to us?

The truth is - we’ve always been this way. Our brains are hard-wired to want. In a 1954 experiment, scientists accidentally discovered what they thought was the “pleasure center” of the brain. When a probe was placed in the hypothalamus of a rat’s brain, and the rat was allowed to stimulate its own electrodes by pressing on a lever, the rat would press the lever, ignoring food or water, until it collapsed.  Similar experiments have been conducted on humans, where human subjects were allowed to press a button to stimulate the same region of their brains. The human subjects chose this “buzz” over everything else, including family, food, sleep, and hygiene.

But it turns out that what these rats and humans were stimulating was the brain’s “seeking center” rather than the “pleasure center.” The difference is that seeking is tied to searching and wanting, while    pleasure is tied to getting. Guess which one is more stimulating to your brain? Have you ever wondered why you experience buyer’s remorse after making a significant purchase? The excitement of anticipation far outweighs the satisfaction of obtaining. So, we experience a let-down of sorts, in that we’re left wondering, “What do I want to want next?” What’s interesting is that the same searching circuits are fired when we’re searching for meaning or making intellectual connections. That’s why it’s so easy to get lost in the Google-verse or Facebook for hours on end.

So, back to the question: What has happened to us? The answer, simply, is technology. Technology has gotten really, really good at activating that searching center in your brain. That little buzz or ding on your phone that signals a text, a tweet, or a status update has you unconsciously digging your phone out of your pocket or purse to see what new nuggets of information it contains.

But it’s not just Facebook and Twitter that have us glued to our screens. Video games like World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and Starcraft (basically, any game with the word “craft” in it) have all mastered the art of tapping into that searching center. World of Warcraft (W.O.W.) and Starcraft are widely considered to be the most addictive video games on the market because they have no end. Read that again. In W.O.W., reaching the “end-game” (point at which a player can no longer level up) only serves to unlock more challenges and better loot. The evil genius of games like W.O.W. is how they feed on the desire for more. The next big thing – the next thing you’ll want to want – is just around the corner. No matter what sword, shield, or tunic you’ve just unlocked, there’s a better one out there. All you have to do is keep playing.

This brings me to Minecraft. I first heard about this game two years ago from one of my college clients. It sounded innocent enough. It’s a seemingly mild and creative game that tasks players with mining for elements and building different structures. There is no foul language, no adult-rated content, and I’ve seen more violence in an episode of “Scooby Doo.” So why does a G-rated video game about looking for materials and building stuff worry me so much?

  • The name: Minecraft. A game about mining. Mining is digging. Digging is searching. So… yeah.
  • The story: Simply put, there is none. You dig, you create, repeat. If you don’t have a story, you can’t have an end.
  • The freedom: Minecraft is an open source game, meaning that it encourages hackers to go in and create their own modifications to the game. These mods allow users to completely  redefine the gameplay, like giving someone everything in the game, or creating an entirely different game altogether. For example, there’s an available mod that turns Minecraft (nonviolent) into Doom, a violent first-person shooter.
  • The players: These guys are good. They can create some ridiculous things. How do I know? Because they love to show you. Search for “Minecraft” on Youtube sometime, and you’ll see what I mean. There are currently 6,880,000 videos about Minecraft on Youtube (There were 6,400,000 when I started this article two weeks ago, which means that just over 34,000 videos are uploaded each day). To put this in perspective: Minecraft gets more love on Youtube than The Great Wall of China, Katy Perry, Bacon, Nascar, Cats, World War II, President Obama, and Mitt Romney (in an election year) combined.

The long and short of it is this: no matter how cool your creation is, somebody out there has done it bigger and better than you. And there’s always something more you can build. You just have to keep playing…

Before my teen Minecrafters start sending me death threats, let me clarify that I’m not opposed to Minecraft. In fact, I think that it’s a far better game than any of the first person shooters that have players frantically running around and shooting each other in the face. But the key is moderation. In   moderation, a lot of things can be good for you. For example:

  • Eating a little chocolate every day has shown to reduce cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and reduce stress. But a lot of chocolate leads to weight gain, dental problems, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • A glass of red wine every day (over 21 only, thank you) can reduce “bad” cholesterol, increase “good” cholesterol, and reduce risk of heart disease. But a lot of red wine every day causes hangovers, high blood pressure, obesity, liver damage, and generally makes you look silly.
  • A little Minecraft can serve as a nice break from school, help you unwind and relax, and stimulate the creativity of your brain. But a lot of Minecraft can reduce grades, reduce sleep, and greatly increase conversations about somebody named “Notch.”


Moderation is especially important when dealing with online addictive behaviors, because it’s not like you can just go cold turkey and stop using the internet. The hard fact is – love it or hate it - we need technology. Many schools are replacing text books with Kindles or iPads, and teachers are posting daily assignments to online portals. Even outside of school, it’s not like the impact of social media is going anywhere. In fact, all indications are that more businesses, schools, and colleges are using social media as their primary networking tool. If we simply cut the [modem] cord instead of teaching kids how to use internet and technology responsibly, we’re missing an opportunity to teach a valuable lesson.

How do you know it’s a problem?

It can often seem like there is a fine line between casual and worrisome internet use. Like I said, there are social and creative benefits to casual use. If your kids are able to log on and off for small periods at a time, and still keep up with academics, extracurriculars, family, and friends, I wouldn’t worry about it. But if you notice any of the following, you may be dealing with problematic or addictive internet behavior.

  • Irritability and/or aggression when asked to power off
  • Preoccupation with a game: constantly talking about or researching the game when not playing
  • Noticeable drop-off in grades, athletics, or social events
  • Prefers online friends and activities to live activities with live friends
  • Dishonesty related to internet use: lying about amount of homework to be done, sneaking extra time in when he/she should be sleeping or studying.


So…what do we do?

If you’re noticing problematic internet use, I suggest that you implement these guidelines, in order of 1 – 4. I always recommend starting with the least restrictive plan, seeing how the children do, and   adjusting to higher levels if needed. If you don’t give them the opportunity to make a mistake, then they’re not really learning how to make good decisions.

  • Come up with guidelines for family internet use. How much time does each person get to spend online? How often (weekdays or weekends only)? What must be done to earn that time (homework, chores, etc.)? What can be played or viewed in that time?
  • If set limits aren't followed, or honesty regarding use comes into question, then move all computers to a central, open location of the house. If trust is an issue, then all time spent online needs to be spent in public.
  • Set clear limits for time spent online. Start with a five minute warning when time is almost up. this is a "wind it down, save whatever progress you've made" warning. When those five minutes are up, inform the child. If they are able to get off without an argument, without so much as a "just one second", they earn extra time the following day. If they resist, they earn less time the following day.
  • If compliance with time limits continues to be a problem, then that's a sign that your children aren't yet able to handle the responsibility on their own. There are several tools you can use to help your kids learn responsible internet use. For example, online parental controls and software programs allow you to regulate and monitor what sites are visited, when, and for how long.


This is a rough draft of a plan to use in helping your children regulate their internet use. But each family and each child requires a different approach in the details. I’m happy to meet with you to discuss your concerns regarding your child’s internet use and/or gaming. Together, we can come up with a specific routine to teach your kids how to be independently responsible for their time. Call 713-621-9515 or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we can discuss how to get you started.