It's official. The Internet is addictive. A senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, who specialises in "technological addiction", says that some people use the Internet to get "high". In tests he found that Internet users show the same chemical changes as gambling addicts. This includes secreting abnormal amounts of cerebral spinal fluid.
The lecturer, Mark Griffiths, could not be contacted, but I found him in his favourite online chat room where he had taken on the avatar form of a milkmaid. He said he would have time to answer my questions when he had finished playing a multilevel Dungeons and Dragons game with 3,000 other users. I asked him to explain what he meant by addiction, but he said he was far too wired up to explain it all - couldn't I come back in five hours or so? Even dressed up as a Freisian cow I couldn't get his attention for long.
You don't have to be a brain surgeon to see the man has a point, and if he gets enough publicity he could single-handedly win the war against drugs. Soon we will see pushers selling modems on street corners and users exchanging URLs. It'll be ugly, but a lot better than the real thing.
Talking about "the real thing", who says advertising on the Net doesn't work? The freedom of Net advertisers to get in-your-face goes beyond many other forms of media. Is some animated icon wiggling away at you while you read this page? I think not. Are a series of subliminal messages being pumped into your cortex while you read these sponsor-free words. I think not.
Perhaps it's the sophistication of the Net audience or the relatively low levels of traffic on sites that allow this kind of thing to happen with gay abandon. It doesn't help that we all go around saying we are not affected by online ads. Censorship and regulation may be around the corner for the ad industry, but it's as if its open season in the meantime.
Where is it all heading? One of the latest buzz products is Eye Candy, which allows an ad to be viewed and then takes you back to where you came from rather than leaving you hovering in cyber-adspace. Another growing trend is ads that are personalised based on learning about your usage of a site. This personalisation is beginning to usher in a new economic model on the Web. A model based on giving people free stuff if they agree to receive advertising. Free stuff can mean free access, email and even Web space. I received an email that offered free Web space last week. I used it to create a site campaigning for freedom from personalisation and then received hundreds of emails each day from spammers and online marketeers seeking to share in my family fortune. There's no such thing as a free online lunch.
What's going on? The PC is becoming such a hot piece of real estate that it won't be long before companies realise they can sell advertising to local coffee shops and patisseries that want to sell you food and drink in your weaker moments. How about a compulsory company policy on screensavers ensuring a healthy helping of adviews per hour? Maybe it could be used to supplement salaries?
Online marketeers are getting excited about the way the Internet tracks your online activity with pinpoint precision, but what about tracking your thought patterns? A recent futuristic conference in California (where else?) told of a product called Mind Garden, which uses a combination of EEG technology and brainwave analysis to read the frequencies of users' brains and uses that to move objects around in a 3-D landscape. The next step would be to allow you to move around the Web by thinking (or not as the case may be). Advertisers must be salivating at the idea of monitoring your every thought.
And another thing. Has anyone done the maths on the Bill Gates deal with Apple? That guy has more power than the Bank of England. He puts #150 million into Apple, the share price jumps up a whopping 33 per cent and, presto, he's #50 million richer, without even firing one Apple employee. Perhaps Microsoft should invent its own currency, then we could all get rich selling our family heirlooms and converting them into Dollar Bills (geddit?).
Personally, I think it's time Gates bought a small Third World country and created the model nation state to show us what life will really be like in the future. I go along with Charles Arthur's piece in The Independent. He believes that most of us have got it wrong about Gates. He's not in it for the money, he just wants us to all hold up our hands and say he was right. It's a geek thing, don't ya know?
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