Last evening while channel surfing, I ended up on Dr Phil just at the point where he was talking to a guest who clearly has a problem. An addiction. One that has the potential of destroying her relationship with her children, with others, possibly affecting her health and which was clearly a sign of an underlying problem.

She was addicted to Farmville.

I watched on in amazement as her daughter's spy cam chronicled a typical day at home, where her mother woke up and from early morning to after midnight, she sat in her jammies, planted crops and lived her life as a virtual farmer on Facebook. She rarely goes out, her kids mostly are forced to eat cereal or tv dinners after school, she does not do the laundry, or pack away the groceries, hygiene is affected. Her daughter wanted her to get help. Help indeed.

I have never played the game cause I am not much of a gamer generally, save word games or games like Jeopardy (love it) but I know friends play it cause I see the annoying notifications about it, and games like Mafia Wars and what else exists and there are many I know. Farmville, among other is very popular among millions of people.

It shows though that as much as social networks can help build relationships, they can also adversely affect them if one does not have a grip on reality or if one does not use the tools to an healthy advantage.

The power and reach of social media has increased fanastically over recent times, and has totally revolutionised how we interact with each other. But there is also growing concern that our heavy reliance on these media will hinder the way in which we interact with each other in real life, i.e. social media may adversely affect our "people skills". Some people literally LIVE on the internet and like this woman, do not form friendships outside of their pc time, nor do they take the friendships they make online to the other level - the real world level.

The concern is also quite real among the very young. In many an after work discussion, friends and I have reflected on the childhood we all shared as compared to what some children experience today. I am not sure if little girls know about the games we played - hopscotch, tag, moral, "pea-say mash line" etc. In a world ever changing, children are more computer literate than we were at their age. They have access to so many things that we did not, and with the plethora of media and games out there, are they really getting out and living in the real world and learning the complexities of real life human interaction? In those instances where parents are busy and children are left to their own devices, the computer is the new television, the virtual babysitter.

Dr Phil asked the woman why she spent so much time online playing Farmville and she responded that she just had "nothing better to do with her life." I find that pretty sad, cause she was an attractive woman, with grown children, who should probably be out dating, going to yoga, going to dinners and plays. Dr Phil advised her to go out, do something - "plant REAL crops", start a garden...something. She said it was hard and thought of the whole thing as a joke but I found it rather alarming. Then when the next guest came on to talk about Four Square, she got excited - replacing one addiction with another, perhaps??

Her entire life is tethered to virtual crops and animals. And while she does meet other people through her addiction to Farmville, she does not take these relationships from the pc to the coffee shop and I think this is the problem. Not bashing the phenomenon, but it cannot be a replacement for real life. It can healthily facilitate real life interaction but goodness, it is up to us to take it there.

Social media is not meant to replace social life!


Dein said...

"social media is not meant to replace social life!" AMEN!!! I was once working with someone who would take breaks (mind you, break = no pay) so he could tend to his virtual fish and farm. Like, seriously? seriously!

Kevin said...

i have never got into farmville because i thought i could never devote the time to it to do it properly. however, i have seen how people have become "addicted" to it. I use the quotation marks because an addiction is pretty much a medical condition and i am not sure if th examples i know of fall into that category.

Pioneer podcaster Leo Laporte on his Podcast This Week in Tech, explained how he had become "addicted" and had to go cold turkey. (the episode where it is first discussed can be found here (from about minute 92), and another episode where farmville is discussed here,0,1 (from about minute 3).

As is stated, this kind of addiction is not new. World of Warcraft and other MMOs, have been doing this, and snaring serious addicts for ages. The real danger of Farmville is that is attracts the casual gamer, getting a whole new market of victims.

It is a serious serious problem which i anticipate will start affecting real economies...

trinidarlin said...

Facebook in itself is an addiction. Farmville just compounds the issue. And you're right, it is dangerous as it attracts the casual gamer and the average person who may not do drugs or alcohol or gamble and this is seen as fun, and safe, until you are inextricably attached to the thing and as you say, life changes drastically. Everyone has a vice. Farmville seems to fall into that category for some people.

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