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My Name is Otis and I’m an Internet Addict
I waste time—but I’ve also connected with people
Otis Hampton
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Addiction is consuming something you can’t seem to get enough of even if it harms your life. By that definition I’ve been addicted to the Internet since 2004. Sometimes I’m online for a whole day without even a chance to see the world outside my windows.

When I’m on the Internet until 6 a.m. (and often I am), chatting with different people or playing online games, it feels like I’m in my own world. Given how hard it is to walk away from the computer, I’m glad I haven’t become addicted to any other things at my age (19), like alcohol or smoking.

One thing the Internet has in common with addictive substances is that you’re sitting at home or in a public place engaging in something you crave. The online state of mind allows you to cancel out everything outside that world. You don’t get enough sleep, and if you’re a student like me, that means naptime during class.

You get lost in the World Wide Web—in my case the worlds of online gaming, free music, and social networking—and you discard anything that is happening in reality. If you hear someone calling, you only have enough breath to say “Huh?” before you re-enter the nirvana of the Web. When I’m in that state of mind, it’s just me and the computer, especially when I’m gaming. My mom will tell me over and over to turn it off, and I’ll keep saying, “Just a second, I have to finish this one thing.”

First Taste

I was introduced to the Internet in the 4th grade in my technology class. Only a few days later, the teacher took away my Internet privileges for a day because instead of doing the assignment, I went to radiodisney.com and listened to “Another Dumb Blonde” by Hoku. Before the first verse was over, the teacher came and turned off the computer. For the rest of the class, I stared at a blank screen and pretended to do the same thing the class was doing. Though I wasn’t an addict yet, that was my first taste of the consequences of not being able to control my surfing.

I was fascinated by the different websites I could visit, especially music sites and e-mail. But I wasn’t really hooked until the 7th grade, when I found planethotwheels.com, a 3-dimensional racing game. I could customize my favorite Hot Wheels® car and race against other players all over the world, earning points and reaching new levels. This was the only site I went on when I came home from school. It felt like I was really the driver of a car knocking other opponents off the tracks.

Whenever I played, time escaped me. I didn’t stop playing until nighttime. My little brother and I didn’t have a working computer at our house so we went to a relative’s house to use her Internet. Pretty soon, the Internet was all I was doing after I finished my homework. But it gets worse.

Socializing Alone

Later in 7th grade, I heard about MySpace on the radio. At first, I didn’t want to create a profile with all my basic information because of Internet predators. I’d heard about them on the news. Somebody sends you a private message wanting to meet you or something, and you agree, assuming it could be the love of your life—only to find out it’s some 40-year-old geezer. The Internet has its dangers, which I avoided before I became addicted.

But then I entered high school. When kids went to the library, the only thing they did was go on MySpace. At first I only went on to listen to music. But then I cracked. I put my info in, posted a picture, and waited. Within a couple of weeks, all my friends had added me and sent me messages and comments.

Whenever I was on my lunch break, I would check to see if my favorite bands, Mudvayne and Breaking Benjamin, had released any new songs. If so, I’d take out my headphones and start rocking…and rolling.

image by Amanda Garcia

MySpace also had private messaging and comment posting to interact with other people. This was the first social networking site I ever got addicted to. I found it easier to talk to my classmates through the computer because it helped me with my image as the mysterious type—quiet in school but more communicative outside of school.

A New Otis

At first, I created a different persona than who I was in real life—I used the Internet to fit in with everyone else. I posted pictures of myself flashing a peace sign and typed “Yo” and “Sup?”—things I wouldn’t do or say in school. When I communicated in real life, it was more revealing: I still talked the way I talked. My personality changed when I talked through e-mails and IMs; I “sounded” more like the other kids.

Sometimes new friends I made online could make the transition to the Otis of real life, the sarcastic, intellectual Otis who “talks white.” With them, I enjoyed coming out of my shell and revealing my comedic side. It was fun to joke around with people who I’d never really talked to. The Internet became a way to start conversations with new people who eventually became my friends in real life.

As I continued using the site, I got friend requests from kids who were in other schools, other states, or even other countries like England, Spain, and Canada. I connected with most of these kids based on common interests like music, movies, and TV shows. Then later they started talking to me about problems like bullies or relationships.

This started my unofficial career as an underground therapist, especially to girls with problems. I was always eager to get messages from kids who had been dealing with the same things I had been dealing with, like bullies. I mentioned to my Internet friends that I had a disability, and they showered me with curiosity. Talking about it online made it a little easier to explain my disability to people in real life, sometimes with humor. To the question, “Why do you walk like that?” I would joke that I was hit by a white Mercedes Benz.

High school had made me feel isolated because there weren’t too many people that I connected with easily. I couldn’t relate to people until I revealed what was on my mind—which was easier online. The Internet helped me expand my circle of friends.

Not All Bad

I started using Facebook after MySpace became dead weight in 2009, and that became another addictive drug. I liked how you could upload pictures and videos, attach links to your status updates, and update your friends on your life.

What really did the trick were the games you could get to through the site. I am currently addicted to a game called Marble Lines, where you shoot different colored marbles. I play the game for up to four hours at a time. The Internet has kept me from focusing on things like school, and that’s definitely bad.

On the plus side, I was able to expand my means of communication and make new friends, as well as reveal my sense of humor to people I already knew so they wouldn’t think that I was anti-social.

Though that has its problems too. A big difference between online communication and face-to-face communication is that online, you can experiment with your personality. When you communicate in real life, you have to reveal who you are without a change of face. In a way, this was part of the addiction, too, because I liked to keep people guessing who I really am—and to stay a little hidden.

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