Hey Internet Addicts, for $15K You Can Feed a Goat!

goatsLet’s forget for a moment all of the controversy surrounding the definition of “addiction” as it applies to things like playing video games, texting, social networking and similar activities. Let’s also set aside the essential differences between chemical addictions to drugs, alcohol and nicotine and all of those activities, because that’s a subject worth many posts on its own. Instead, let’s chat about the burgeoning cottage industry catering to growing alarm about electronic media “addictions” and the vast amount of money to be made in sensationalism’s service.

Hilarie Cash, psychologist and addiction specialist, made an appearance on Good Morning America last weekend to tout reSTART, the first “detox center for Internet addicts” located amidst the rolling hills of rural Washington state at the Heavensfield Retreat Center. The program is 45 days long, and has but one purpose: to unplug your brain from the e-addiction that ails you. One young man featured in the news clip happened to be strung out on World of Warcraft and was sent to reSTART by his parents to wring every last troll and armored dwarf out of his beleaguered nervous system.

While at Heavensfield, patients do things we used to do before demon computers entered our homes: chores, cooking, talking, wandering outdoors, and tending to our goats. Livestock and woodland creatures, it turns out, are an important part of recovering from e-addictions, as they put us back in touch with nature’s cranial cleansing power. Prior to the dawn of video games and cell phones, we understood that feeding and cleaning up after our goats was the surest method of staying cortically pure, if you will. All the better if you were milking something.

In short, patients are pulled out of their electronically plagued lives and immersed in a wilderness laundry mat for the mind. The cost of all this: $15,000. That’s about $330 a day.  The program’s website points out that this cost is for a full 45 days, not the customary 30 days for other “inpatient and wilderness awareness programs.” 

Goes without saying that medical insurance doesn’t cover the cost, because Internet addiction is not, for now at least, considered an actual medical condition. The program organizers also address this on the reSTART website, saying that they hope to force the insurance industry’s’ hand by eventually demonstrating via research that Internet addiction is a bona fide and coverable malady.

Even if they’re successful in doing so, I wonder very much how they’ll also demonstrate the value of a multi-week woodland experience to address a problem that most psychologists would say can be effectively handled in goatless therapy. People with compulsions of every flavor, including gambling and pornography, seek treatment in regular therapeutic settings, and many do quite well. 

Beyond that, I’m puzzled by the goals of a program that begins with a premise not even marginally evidenced by research – that using electronic media can result in a condition requiring “detoxification” – which by definition is the removal of accumulated toxins from one’s system. Unless we can stretch the definition of toxins to include billions of nasty little ones and zeros, we don’t have the makings of sound methodology here.

So if “toxins” are not being removed (because there aren’t any) and if traditional therapy can effectively address compulsive disorders, why would someone pay $15 large to send their kids to western Washington to make apple fritters and play in a petting zoo?  

I’m not sure, but I am sure that we’ll be seeing more such e-addiction “detox” centers emerge, because where there’s money to be made, the market will most assuredly follow.

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