Tech addiction starts quietly but gets all-consuming

The need to have the latest tech item is a hard urge to fight.
Brian Kemp, who is a copy editor at, with a small sample of the tech items that make him happy. ((Courtesy of Ana Neves))

I want it all, and I want it now.

I heard that Queen anthem earlier in my life, and when I sang along I envisioned myself king of the world or owner of a heavily guarded private island where only beautiful people lived. Little did I know that decades later that same song would apply to tech items, big and small, cheap and expensive — and beautiful. I do want them all.

It's sad, really — I take one step into a store full of the latest gadgetry and I start drooling. It's like Vegas, but bigger and brighter, with the gleaming boxes and products dancing a wild, peyote-inspired, roulette-wheel-circle before my wide, wanting eyes. I want to fall to my knees not with fear and loathing, but with desire and consumerism.

I want that wireless router, that wireless camera, that Apple laptop, that mini-projector, that 3D widescreen TV with three or more HDMI outlets so I can hook up my Wii, my computer, my Xbox.

Now, now, now!

OK, a little dramatic … but this is me.

If I could, I would not hesitate to walk up to a tech store manager and say, "I want one of everything in your store. Yep, I said everything, pal."

It's not an addiction, but a religion for me. Yep, a religion.

How could this happen to me? Are the advertisers working their college-learned marketing black magic on me? I'm not naïve, I believe. I think I know when a product is given a small upgrade and it's sold as the biggest thing ever. Yet, I still want it.

I may need help.

Others have 'the problem'

So where do I turn for help and are there others out there like me?

Why, yes. There are many of us, it seems, and we are being mocked (a sure sign that tech product addiction is an issue). There is a quiz on, for example, that asks the relevant question: "Are you addicted to technology?" The site has 50 questions that you answer yes or no, and you receive a score at the end. The questions range from, "Does your internet usage cut into the time you should be spending on personal hygiene?" and "Do you call people by their screen names when you see them in real life?"

I took the possibly tongue-in-cheek quiz and found myself answering yes to as many as 49 of the questions — which led the quiz to classify me as a "crackhead."

The crackhead description goes like this: "You get all shaky when you think about technology, always searching for your next fix. You've considered constructing a biotech bathtub for your body to lie in, so you can plug your consciousness permanently into the internet. Family members are planning to stage an intervention and check you into a clinic. You look forward to the shock therapy."

Partially, oh heck, make it mostly true.

So I'm driving past a Future Shop and wracking my brain about what I could possibly need in there before I pass it. And then I manage to get past it, but I'm still thinking about all those things I don't need.

I thought of something I had read in an article on IT World's website, where the writer talked about ways to wean yourself off tech addiction, with a 12-step program. They say to admit the problem. I do. They say to apologize to those who have been hurt by your addiction. I have. They say to go 24 hours without touching a keyboard. I can't.

If one looks, there are many sites that detail serious addictions to video games and to the internet itself, with stories of families being torn apart and people losing just about everything.

My addiction appears less serious and is a plain old capitalist-induced one, on the level of people addicted to free Apple apps or new cars or yellow flowers. I tell myself that, anyway.

Back in the day

How did this happen to me? It started innocently enough.

I grew up in the 1970s in New Brunswick. I remember us having maybe four channels, tops, on our TV at one point, with at least one from neighbouring Maine.

There were no dishes, except in the kitchen, and a show that featured Maine country singers was a big hit. There were no mobile phones, either — back then, if someone said "cellphone," I'd have thought, "They give prisoners phones?" The only texting was in books, and wireless meant you had no power. Yes, and we walked uphill to school both ways.

I remember the year our family made a Jetsons-type leap into the future, when Dad brought home a console game that hooked to the TV no less. It was a futuristic mind-boggling game with the glam name of Pong.

We had arrived in the era of technology, and spent hours turning the knobs and watching the bright ball move back and forth across the screen. It was tech poetry, of the minimalist kind, and the seeds of my addiction had been planted even though they would not sprout for a number of years.

Time passed, and things were invented. I paid little attention as fast cars and motorcycles mattered more.

Fast forward to university, at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. I strolled into a history professor's office looking for help. He asked me to sit down and I waited as he typed away at his computer. I asked him what he was doing.

"I'm on the internet, chatting with a professor at a U.S. university."

"The internet?" I respond. "Sounds pretty dumb to me and a waste of time."

Clearly, Bill Gates had no worries about competing with me at the hazy dawn of the internet.

The beginning of an era

As I moved along in life, I eventually landed a job at a newspaper, where I learned the guts of first an Apple-based publishing system and then a few Windows-based programs. On one of those systems at a second newspaper I was trained as a "super user," even though my tech interest wasn't super yet. I learned the ins and outs because it was my job. I was still immune to technology's siren song.

Call of Duty is a first-person shooter video game which has a strong following among computer and console gamers. ((Activision))

And then came The Game.

A few years later, after a divorce, I found myself living alone and eating KFC and drinking beer at nights in downtown Fredericton. My buddy Jeremy was playing the online war game Call of Duty at the time and was having a lot of fun with it. I tossed aside the chicken bones, and made room for a computer and got myself a copy of the game.

Next thing I knew, I was in a Call of Duty clan, and playing most nights with people from all over the world. I was into it, as I wrote for the clan's newsletter and talked to my new buddies from Germany, the U.S. and Canada.

Soon I decided I needed a new monitor to keep up with my clan mates. And then I needed a gaming mouse and a gaming headset. And then I needed a faster computer with a beefed-up graphics card as I needed to keep up as our clan took on other clans in tense tournaments.

On and on it went: new TV, new phone, new stereo and almost daily visits to the nearby Future Shop.

I felt the need for tech.

It gripped me like a drug, but it was more like a powerful super-charged vitamin, I suppose, with the only victim my bank account, and some possible loss of social skills.

So that's how it began, a lonely guy eating too much KFC. But to this day it continues, and I embrace it. I offer no solutions to these cravings because there are none. It's just the way it is.

Tech is now one of the great human endeavours. It's there, so we buy. Enjoy, but go cautiously through this holiday season so that a seemingly innocent gift doesn't send you down the same path I now tread.

And don't worry — even if you succumb, I'll still have the latest gadget before you will.