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The American obsession with therapy may almost be considered as a neurosis in its own right. But quacks see promising material in a growing number of internet addicts.

"6 percent to 10 percent of the approximately 189 million Internet users in this country have a dependency that can be as destructive as alcoholism and drug addiction, and they are rushing to treat it," reports the New York Times.

Staff at an Illinois hospital said they see similar signs of withdrawal in net addicts patients as in alcoholics or drug addicts, including "profuse sweating, severe anxiety and paranoid symptoms".

But is it so harmful?

Something very strange is happening, to be sure. Consider the reaction around the web to a column in the Los Angeles Times this week by linguistics professor Naomi Baron. She expresses concern that the shallow nature of reading on the web diminished her students ability to reason.

She's isn't the first to observe this. Academic researchers have found that net use creates a "problem solving deficit disorder" amongst children, and cognitive scientists have discovered the bombardment of email depletes IQ "faster than marijuana".

Baron wrote,

"If we approach the written word primarily through search-and-seizure rather than sustained encounter-and-contemplation, we risk losing a critical element of what it means to be an educated, literate society."

Two years ago one would have expected bloggers to leap up on the Professor, admonish her for being a Luddite, and give her a generally thorough 'Fisking'.

But instead her column provoked an outpouring of empathy.

"It actually destroys brain cells or something, because if I've been doing too much online reading, I lose the patience for following a sustained or subtle argument, or reading a complex novel," wrote Body and Soul blog's 'Jeanne D'arc'.

"As a fellow sufferer, lemme tell ya, the phenomenon that Jeanne D'arc is describing up there is real, and more than a little worrisome when you first notice it. It just feels so ... organic, somehow, like you've damaged a part of the brain itself," sympathizes blogger Jack O'Toole.

" I'll run into a sentence that suddenly reminds me of something — and then spend the next minute staring into space thinking of something entirely unrelated to the book at hand. Eventually I snap back, but obviously this behavior reduces both my reading rate and my reading comprehension," writes journalist and blogger Kevin Drum.

"Is this really because of blogging? I don't know for sure, but it feels like it's related to blogging, and it's a real problem. As wonderful as blogs, magazines, and newspapers are, there's simply no way to really learn about a subject except by reading a book - and the less I do that, the less I understand about the broader, deeper issues that go beyond merely the outrage of the day," he added.

"I'm not sure if that argument really has any validity....Hey look, a bird!" adds a wag.

Ironically, in a recent survey, 48.7 per cent of bloggers cited 'therapy' as their primary reason for maintaing a weblog. So this is a 'cure' that's turning out to be worse than the disease.

"I need to get away from the fast and facile and let my brain heal," says Jeanne D'arc, recommending blog breaks.

"It actually feels like recovering a bit of humanity that I forgot I had."

If even bloggers are rejecting the Wibbly Web, and getting back to books, then things are taking a turn for the better. ®

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