'Facebook Addiction' author Nnamdi Osuagwu discusses a tragic phenomenon [Interview]

Nnamdi Osuagwu

While it's far from official, you've probably already figured out from this year's headlines that Facebook gaming addiction could be very real. This type of 'addiction' is extremely recent and while 19 percent of Facebook gamers admit to being addicted, it's not exactly being treated like one.

We turn to Nnamdi Osuagwu, IT consultant and author of "Facebook Addiction: The Life and Times of Social Networking Addicts," (a novel that explores our rampant digital culture and incessant need to update our status and check in on our friends by melding fact with fiction) to see if he can give us any answers.

Facebook AddictionWith cases emerging of violent and negligent crimes as a result of Facebook gaming, the threat seems very real. However, Facebook addiction, like gaming addiction has yet to be classified as an official disease or disorder by the American Medical Association. Why do you think this is?
[Experts in] medicine, generally, are late adapters to technology. Not in terms of medical devices or things of that nature, but online technology. Maybe this is just the outside looking in because some doctors are now getting on Twitter and health services are now figuring out ways to integrate social media into their organizations.

So, if they're late adapters on that scale, you can assume on another scale of looking at online issues like gaming addictions and things like that they'll be late adapters in terms of recognizing that as a threat. In order for them to recognize it as an issue, unfortunately more cases have to surface. That's the nature of the beast when you're dealing with medicine.

Dr. Hilarie Cash, who runs an Internet addiction program called reSTART, says Facebook games are designed to be addictive. Would you agree with that?
Being on the development side, I wouldn't say they're designed to be addictive. They're designed to keep people on as long as possible. That helps you advertise, that helps you track your analytics, increases in usage, stuff like that. Saying that they're specifically designed to be addictive sounds somewhat malicious; like, they have malicious intent when they build these systems. That's like saying Facebook or Twitter is designed to be addictive when we see different people using it in various ways.

It's technology, and I think online technology is designed to keep people using it for as long as possible. That's why we build it. She's obviously looking at it from the mental side; that's her background. I could understand her feelings about them being designed to be addictive, but I don't think we're building these systems that way. There are a lot of different things in projects that I may build, but I never think about it with malicious intent nor am I trying to harm somebody. I just think about how we keep people using it, how we can be of the best service. To say whether that's designed to be addictive, I don't know.

In your opinion, how do we go about stopping or treating Facebook gaming addiction? Is it even treatable?
I'm a firm believer in a person finding what they want to do in life and going towards that. With anything that you spend a lot of time doing, I think it should be geared towards the dream you have. So, if you're spending the majority of your time on Facebook, and you're not trying understand it or if you want to build your own game some day, you're just sucking up time. In terms of treating it, it's a tough call. A lot of times in medicine, they treat the symptoms of something.

To bring it back to gaming addiction, it is an issue. Not just in Facebook games, but games in general-games where either you have to spend a lot of time in or games in which you can become someone else-what's the underlying issue? That might be a way of trying to solve the problem. I'm no psychiatrist, but I would want to find out why you feel the need to spend 10 to 12 hours a day on this particular game. What about the other things that are going on in your life?

What exactly drove you to write a novel on Facebook addiction?
I wrote the book because I have a background in computer science.The idea hit me one day when I was online watching my friends interact. Twitter was out, but it wasn't as popular when I started to think about the idea of writing a book about people who update their status continuously throughout the day-similar to how you send a tweet.

I started to think of the comparisons between Facebook addiction and alcohol or drugs and that's how I came up with "Facebook Addiction." The goal was to write a fictional book based on that, but I wanted the reader to really feel it, to essentially identify with some of the characters. So, I just wrote it like it was real, like these people are really suffering.

Your novel characterizes traits of Facebook addicts. What are some signs of Facebook addiction?
I think when it starts to negatively impact your life. I'm not an addiction expert, but from other projects like my first novel, "Ice Cream Melts," where the goal was get real-life 'ice cream melts' stories, which are the transitions from a high point to a low point. So, I did interviews with people that had addictions. And one of the things they always say is, 'It started off small, and I really noticed it when it started to negatively impact my life.'

So, I think when Facebook starts to seriously cause issues in your life, whether you're having issues at work or neglecting your current responsibilities or that you just have to be on it. When you just see it impacting relationships with other people, I think you might want to question your Facebook usage.

What are your thoughts now on Facebook gaming addiction after reading what Nnamdi had to say? Let us know in the comments. Add Comment.
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