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Internet junkies in chilling cold turkey experiment

Two net-free weeks end in trauma

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If you've ever seen a smack-head handcuffed to a bed gibbering uncontrollably because he can't get a fix, then be afraid, because that's what you'll look like after two weeks of internet-free cold turkey.

That, at least, is according to an "Internet Deprivation Study" carried out by Yahoo! and advertising outfit OMD. Participants in the human experiment were deprived of the web for 14 days, and found themselves quickly succumbing to "withdrawal and feelings of loss, frustration and disconnectedness". The reason for the rapid collapse of their universe is - say the researchers - because "internet users feel confident, secure and empowered. The internet has become, to some, the ultimate symbol of modernity to the point that participants were hobbled without convenient access to routine information like maps and telephone numbers. The pervasive nature of the internet is such that participants often forgot or lost the desire to use 'old fashioned tools' like the phone book, newspapers and telephone-based customer service."

And it gets worse. While this cruel "qualitative" torture was inflicted on just 13 households containing 28 guinea pigs, a broader "quantitative" trawl of 1,000 web addicts found that 48 per cent of respondents could not go without the internet for two weeks. This unwillingness to even contemplate disconnection from the digital world was confirmed by Yahoo! chief sales officer Wenda Harris Millard, who reported: "This study is entirely indicative of the myriad ways that the internet, in just ten short years of mainstream consumer consumption, has irrevocably changed the daily lives of consumers. This is true to the extent that it was incredibly difficult to recruit participants for this study, as people weren't willing to be without the internet for two weeks."

The chilling effects of the cold turkey on those who were willing to risk all in the name of science are recounted thus: "I haven't talked to people I usually talk to and have been tempted to go on instant-messenger because I feel out of the loop," sobbed study participant Kristin S. Penny C was likewise suffering: "I'm starting to miss emailing my friends - I feel out of the loop," she said unloopedly. Worse still was this sobering proof of how a temporary lack of an internet connection could reduce one's life to ruins in days: "We couldn't plan a weekend getaway," confirmed Kim V, presumably from the house in which she had been imprisoned since the web embargo.

Mercifully, those participants who are doubtless still undergoing group therapy as a result of their trauma can take solace from the fact that there is a positive side to the Internet Deprivation Study's findings. Take it away Wenda Harris Millard: "Deep ethnographic research like this enables us to do much more than look at consumer trends, it allows a rare glimpse into the reasons consumers make the choices they do and how they are emotionally impacted. We can then help marketers apply these insights to reach their target audiences."

Terrific. If you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to turn off the computer for two weeks. Now where did I leave that five-pound bag of golden brown? ®

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