Last night I was watching the Dolphins beat the Jets at a sports bar across the street from the Moscone Center, a part of San Francisco totally overrun at the moment by the Oracle Open World convention, an event that annually competes with Burning Man to be the largest temporary city in the world. At the table next to me, one of the conference-goers repeated one of the most popular meatworld memes, saying how great it was to get away from the internet during a week at Yosemite. After which, he related his Facebook adventures for the rest of the evening. Is it really liberating to be away from the internet? Not really, according to Virgin Media and The Future Laboratory in a survey whose results have spun wildly out of control.

Thirty-five percent of UK residents experience reduced stress levels when connected to the internet and mobile phones, the report – whose main objective appears to be pushing the concept of the ‘SOSO,’ someone who ‘switches on to switch off’ -- concludes.

Much of the purported anxiety is understandable: the highest levels of anxiety were from the fear of being cut off from family and jobs. The one really eye-opening thing about the report is that 15 percent of respondents experience anxiety when they are cut off from the best internet deals.

As in a lot of recent findings, the language used is similar to that used for addiction.

“Human actions are motivated by the desire to feel good within ourselves,” said psychologist Eva Simpson in the report. “Having modern technology at our fingertips, we will naturally use it as a means of locating stimuli that will satisfy this feeling, encouraging SOSO behavior.”

There’s been a sort of renaissance of internet addiction stories in the last half year, especially after the opening of the first U.S. internet-addiction treatment center in August, just weeks after a high-profile patient death in a similar facility in China.

Another recent study, this one of teens in Taiwan, suggests that internet use increases the risks of ADHD and depression, and claims that more than 10 percent of teenagers in that county are internet addicts.

Virgin’s study is interesting as it suggests that the physchological responses elicited in those deprived of the internet mimic mental withdrawal patterns seen in other addictions. At the same time, all this recent internet-addiction coverage reminds me of the ‘internet vampire’ stories that were written circa ’96-’97, when the internet went mainstream.

Any thoughts?

By Mark Alvarez