A.N. Turner presents a dire warning about internet addiction — paired with hope that it can be overcome.
Just how bad is our culture’s internet addiction? What is it costing us? Can we get better?
That’s what A.N. Turner tackles in his new book, Breaking the Feedback Loop: How I Liberated Myself From Internet Addiction, And How You Can Too. In it, the former tech industry insider combines personal anecdotes with heavy research. Addiction to social media and online pornography has dire consequences, he argues. And his case is convincing.
Coming from a millennial who describes himself as “not very religious,” the book has the potential to reach audiences who may have overlooked Christians’ warnings up till now.
Turner gears his book toward “ambitious young adults who have been negatively impacted by the internet.”
“We are a miserable generation so far,” he writes. “If we don’t fundamentally alter the way we interact with new technologies, we are doomed.”
Why We’re Glued to Social Media
The self-published title is divided into parts instead of chapters. In Part I, Turner explores the forces behind his generation’s social media addiction. He makes a critical observation when he writes:
The bulwarks of society — the webbing that held people together, the socially reliable institutions like the church, the family home, and long-term employment — are crumbling. Services like Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and Pornhub have swooped in to fill the vacuum.
He explained to The Stream: “I think a lot of people thought … as you connect with more people online, that would be better than having a local community neighborhood or a church.” Instead, “it’s made people generally more lonely.”
“There’s a short-term kick you get” on social media, Turner went on. “It can seem to reduce the loneliness. … But after that quick kick, you’re more lonely, and you’re comparing yourself” to others online.
Among dangers of social media addiction: People’s attention spans are shortening. We’re less capable of healthy boredom, creativity and productivity at work.
Turner cites one particularly disturbing study from 2014. “Students preferred receiving mild electric shocks to sitting alone with their thoughts,” it found.
Moreover, young adults don’t know what they’re missing. In their homes, “emotional and sexual gratification” are immediately accessible via their devices. Many feel “it’s less worth it to go out and see people,” Turner told The Stream. But the gratification found online “is very fleeting.”
In Part I, Turner details his triumph over social media addiction. And he ends with a poignant question for readers: “Is social media an occasional diversion from your actual life, or is it the other way around?”
The Dangers of Pornography
In Part II, Turner zeroes in on a large facet of internet addiction: pornography. For many, it fits hand-in-hand with social media.
From his perspective, porn is shaping an entire generation to have skewed views of sex and romance. It encourages viewing people as mere objects. It normalizes sexual violence. It’s burdening young people with sexual dysfunction. And it may even lead to divorce and sexual assault.
Turner insists porn hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Why? It’s a taboo topic, he says. Users are hesitant to open up to their own loved ones, let alone researchers. And that’s a problem. He writes of his own experience:
I shielded my relationship with porn from family and friends because even though an estimated 87 percent of college-age men consume pornography, I still felt that pornography was taboo, a dirty secret. I felt I had no one to talk to, no one to help me identify the root cause of my problems.
Revealing and well-researched, Part II shows how fully pornography can consume someone. It may not be for every reader, however. Turner does a good job of illustrating porn’s crippling effects on real life. But in so doing, he includes some mildly graphic descriptions of premarital sexual encounters.
A Secular Take
The good news? Porn addiction can be overcome. Turner testifies to this, and details his method — gradually scaling back until he was completely porn-free. But for Christians who see porn not just as an unhealthy habit, but a sin, the idea of scaling back rather than quitting outright may be controversial.
When reading Breaking the Feedback Loop, it’s important to remember Turner’s secular worldview. “I’m admittedly coming [at] this from pure self-interest and improving people’s lives,” rather than any spiritual impetus, he told The Stream. That explains the occasional curse word, and why in a few instances, he attributes humans’ addictive tendencies to evolution, rather than our sinful natures.
But when it comes to porn specifically, Turner thinks his secular approach will be a boon. And he may be right. Religious groups have been sounding the alarm about porn for decades, he acknowledged. But few have paid attention.
“So many people have denounced these views about pornography as coming from religious zealots,” he told The Stream. “I honestly think people are in denial, they’re attached to it, and they haven’t yet realized that it’s ruining their relationships, harming their work and not making them better off.”
An Argument for More Education
So how do we fix all this? Turner offers ideas in a brief Part III. Some, like his argument for more internet regulation, won’t sit well with everyone. Others are sure to be more widely received. Like education.
Turner believes teachers of various subjects should incorporate relevant discussions of internet addiction. Additionally, schools should help students understand and control internet use from an early age.
Breaking the Feedback Loop exposes just how bad our cultural internet addiction is, and what it costs us. For young adults who don’t realize the extent of their addiction — or its ramifications — it may be just the eye-opener they need.