EVEN BEFORE the sun's rays have stretched through her
Marjory Wiener is stretching her fingers toward the on button of the
personal computer in her Great Neck living room.
Wrapped in her floral bathrobe and heading toward the kitchen, she
makes sure that techno tap is the first thing she does, even before
starting her morning coffee.
The java brews, as does her screen. Up pops an instant message from
one of her 16-year-old Bayside High School art students, who knows
Wiener is always online at 6 a.m.
"Can I do my Spanish homework in your art class today?" the note
"Only if you're making a pinata," Wiener types back. "Because you
are not doing anything in my classroom if it's not artwork."
She's also got a regular old e-mail from a friend she went to high
daily, telling her about her two grown children, her job and her
And she's got another e-mail waiting from her boyfriend's mother in
Texas. "She writes me about three times a day," Wiener says. "She's very
hip for 76."
Wiener zaps her boyfriend's mom back an e-mail, thanking her for a
Texas T-shirt she sent. "If I can thank somebody online I will do that,
rather than write it out," she explains. "I love the convenience."
Wiener, who has a 27-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old son, is 55
- definitely not part of the Generation X long expected to be so
But Wiener has Internet fever. And on Long Island, as across the
nation, it has been insanely contagious. At 3 o'clock on a Sunday
afternoon, the parking lot at the CompUSA store in Hauppauge looks like
Roosevelt Field Mall on the day after Thanksgiving. Cars are queued up
like sausage links, each waiting for the car in front to find a coveted
parking spot. People waddle out with their arms in bear hugs around
cardboard boxes filled with computer monitors. Inside the store, the
checkout lines are four people deep.
The stereotype used to be that the Internet was only for computer
geeks in Coke-bottle glasses and too-shortpants. But in the past two
years, U.S. Web users have come to more closely resemble the general
public, according to a survey conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based
Other studies also show that more ordinary boots are brushing the
Internet's virtual welcome mat. Although U.S. Internet users overall
continue to have a higher education level than the general population,
fewer new Internet users have completed college: By the end of 1998, 36
percent of Internet users had a bachelor's degree, down from 46 percent
in the second quarter of 1996, according to the latest survey by
Texas-based IntelliQuest Research, which conducts Internet-related
studies. And users aren't quite so affluent anymore, though they still
have a higher-than-average household income: 55 percent earn at least
$50,000 a year, compared to 60 percent in 1996, according to
At least 76.5 million people - children, teens and adults -
were using the Internet in 1998; a projected 93 million will be using it
by the end of 1999, whether at school, at home or at work, according to
Jupiter Communications, a New York-based new media research company.
That's more than 30 percent of the U.S. population. America Online
reports that it had 10.7 million subscribers in 1997; by the end of
1998, that number had increased almost 50 percent to 15 million
subscribers. (AOL can't break the numbers down regionally for Long
Island, says spokeswoman Tricia Primrose.)
That the computer has become an essential part of Wiener's life is
evident from its place of honor in her living room. Its homely gray
plastic body sticks out among her antiques, no matter how hard she's
tried to meld it into the decor. Ever the artist, she's even hot-glued
flowers to it.
Matthew Posnick of East Hampton is a dog trainer and a
self-described animal psychologist who just started using the Internet
in January and calls himself K9shrink online. "I solve people and dog
problems," Posnick says. "You got a dog who makes all over the house,
chews things up, is aggressive or shy, doesn't want to eat?"
Since he purchased his computer, he's been spending between one to
three hours a day online, "slowly picking my way through this." He
e-mails other animal trainers, and has started to trade stocks online.
He's taking a local adult-education computer class and has started to
learn such essential communication tools as knowing that LOL means
"laughing out loud."
"I learned how to meet girls on AOL," he says, laughing and quickly
adding, "Don't put that in."
But it's a fact that people are looking for everything from lava
lamps to love online, on everything from Internet auction sites to
computer personals sites. The day he is interviewed for this story,
Posnick, who is 50, is preparing to go on his first Internet-inspired
date: a Sunday brunch with a Freeport woman whose personal ad and
photograph he saw on America Online's "Love@AOL" message board.
"You just have to hit a button to introduce yourself," he explains.
He'd been instant-messaging her and talking to her on the phone for 10
During a phone call after the date, Posnick's voice sounds decidedly
less exuberant. "Am I in love? No. She's very nice. We made friends," he
says. After brunch, they went to the pet store, and he helped her pick
out clippers for her cat.
Back at CompUSA in Hauppauge, 70-year-old Bea Bubel of Bay Shore is
clutching a plastic bag that holds a program called Streets98. It's an
atlas she and her husband will use to plan trips in their travel
trailer. It's not their first electronic foray, by any means: Bea plays
Scrabble on the computer. And when the Bubels get onto the Net, they use
e-mail to communicate with their children and grandchildren in Florida.
"We will not get into heaven if we do not have a computer and at
least know some of the language," Bea says she warned her 73-year-old
husband, Herman, before they bought a computer this past summer.
"Otherwise, when we reach the Pearly Gates, we won't know the
password," Herman jokes in reply.
The Bubels have been through technological revolutions before -
they remember when television was the new Big Thing. But the Internet
demands a lot more from people, they remind. "With the computer, you
have to know how to put it on and not freeze it up," Bea Bubel says.
"The televison, the older people went for it first, they had Milton
Berle." With the Internet, the younger generation has led the way, she
"The penetration is much faster than it was for earlier technology
like television or radio," says Stuart Gibbel, spokesman for Cyber
Dialogue, a New York-based market research company that studies Internet
That may be because the Internet is interactive, while TV and radio
are passive, says Stephen Cole, a professor of sociology at the State
University of New York at Stony Brook. And the ability to e-mail friends
and family in far-flung places essentially for free is a lure people
can't seem to resist, Cole says, adding that the Internet is reviving if
not the art of writing, at least the art of communication.
Contrary to those who predicted such technological advances would
isolate people in their homes, Cole thinks the Net brings people closer.
"It's going to bring back more social solidarity that really has been
lost in contemporary life," Cole predicts.
That's something Peggy and Peter Gange of Lindenhurst don't want
their family to miss. With a budget of $2,000, they've hooked up with a
friend of a friend who is going to assess the needs of their family -
which includes children ages 11, 17 and 29 - with the goal of helping
them buy a computer system. Peggy and Peter get on line - the
old-fashioned line, that is - at CompUSA to buy the only purchase they
feel confident choosing so far - a mouse pad with a picture of a cat
wearing sunglasses for $7.99. Fellow shopper Ed Andrews of East
Northport turns around to give them some advice.
"Get onto cable the minute you can," he says to them, praising the
high-speed access it offers compared with telephone connections. "Oh,
God. I didn't even enjoy the Internet until I got cable."
Everybody's an amateur, everybody's an expert. Andrews, 49, is an
electrical construction foreman. "I'm ever-expanding. I do my banking
online. I now track investments online with Charles Schwab. My 401(k)."
He can call up electrical wiring diagrams for work. He buys his cigars
online. He sends friends electronic greeting cards.
"They wake up, they check their e-mail, and blip, there's a singing
telegram, an animated telegram," he says. "I can sign on Monday morning
and have 33 messages waiting for me." He even recently got a second
computer so he and his wife would each have one.
Where are Long Islanders finding all this extra time to spend
online? "I haven't watched much TV lately," says Michael Behan, 40, of
East Hampton, who owns a vending business and bought himself a new
computer in January so he could more quickly surf the Internet.
Jokes abound on the Internet about how you know when you're taking
the Net a little too seriously: "You spend half of the plane trip with
your laptop on your lap ... and your child in the overhead
compartment." Ba-dum-bum. "You move into a new house and decide to
Netscape before you landscape."
For some people, there's a grain of truth in that jesting. Martha
Berry's family just got a computer in December. "That was Santa's gift
to the family," Berry says. She has three children, ages 17, 10 and 3.
But the gift became more of a present just for her.
"I got hooked," she says. "For a couple of weeks in January,
literally, I didn't come out of the basement." She calculates she was
spending three to four hours a day online, "which is not good when you
have three kids."
The 37-year-old stay-at-home mom from Port Washington had such a
honeymoon period on the computer that the laundry was spotless for three
weeks because she needed an excuse to keep returning to the basement.
"For a while there, it was, like, sick," she says. "I could see
where you could get sucked into it. I really thought I was blowing
When her children started complaining that she was on the computer
all the time, she cut down. And the entire family instituted a sign-up
schedule for the computer so that everyone would have a fair chance for
access and nobody would be online too much for their own good.
Berry's now primarily in touch by e-mail with friends from New
Jersey three times a week, whereas in the past they'd talk a couple of
times a year and send Christmas cards to avoid expensive phone bills.
She checks msnbc.com for the news.
And she's tiptoed into politics: She e-mailed the local school board
to tell board members she opposes the plan to float a bond to build a
new middle school, preferring instead that the school board rehabilitate
an already existing, district-owned school. "I e-mailed the
superintendent," she says, sounding shocked at her own audacity. "I
never would have done that before."
Even her 3-year-old, Mike, has a favorite Web site: nick.com, where
Nickelodeon television shows are featured.
For some people, the Internet has become a way to find a network of
people like themselves without the obstacle of geography. Janet Pico, a
24-year-old senior studying international business at Hofstra
University, for instance, finds herself most often drawn to her computer
to participate in the "Girlfriends of the U.S. Navy" discussion board,
where the women call themselves "willows," short for "Women in love with
"It's like a support system, because a lot of the time the guys are
gone six weeks here, two months there," Pico says of the online group.
She started participating about a year ago, and the group eventually met
at the home of one of the women in Virginia.
Pico lives in a dorm room with a computer that is wired directly to
the Internet. "It's never off. I'm logged on 24 hours a day," she says.
If she happens to wake up in the middle of the night, she's likely to
check to see if she has e-mail from one of her friends, naval or
otherwise. In between breaks in classes, she'll check in. Before she
goes to sleep.
"The Internet has become such a big thing now," Pico says. "It's come
to the point where everybody feels they need a home computer."
Certainly Andrew Costello of East Northport feels he does. As he is
grocery shopping for his family at the Waldbaum's in Huntington village
on a Sunday, he is on his cell phone asking a co-worker to e-mail him
the plans for a corporate boardroom his company is putting together.
That night, he looks at the plans and e-mails them back with his
comments. Saves him from going into the office on his day off.
And if you don't have a computer at home, there's always school, or
the public library, or the office, or even the mall. Michael Jefferson
and Cory Albertson stand in a corridor at Roosevelt Field Mall on a
weekend afternoon and from there, via computer screen at the Erol's
Internet kiosk, they ogle the inside of a planned Pontiac Aztek car.
David Letterman would do well to initiate a bit called Stupid
Internet Tricks. "If you go to Lamborghini.com you can honk the horn.
You can hear the engine," says Jefferson, 21, of Uniondale.
"They can go visit Australia [online]. Like it? Plane tickets on
line," Albertson of Glen Cove says, sounding like the Internet service
provider salesman that he is: He works at the kiosk. "Say you missed the
weather forecast. You can go to a Web site where they have photos in
space showing clouds over the U.S.
"Some people don't even know what the Internet is," Albertson says.
"I'll tell them exactly what it is. It's almost like having access to
And though the world has come to Long Island, Long Islanders still
have a way to go before they become cocooned in a virtual world where
everything in their lives is done by computer screen.
Despite Wiener's love affair with her flower-bedecked computer, for
instance, she refuses to forgo her Macy's Big Brown Bag for the
point-and-click e-shopping that would result in a Federal Express
package thunking on her doorstep the next day. "I do not shop," Wiener
says. "I want to be there. That's part of the fun, being in the store."
But it seems pretty certain that the Internet will continue to
stitch itself into our lives until a computer terminal at home is as
common as the radio, television, telephone and VCR. "I think it's going
to spread until almost everybody is using it," Cole the sociologist
concludes. "I don't think this is a fad."
Nothing But Net / Internet obsession is the dark side of the Web
BACK AT the beach house on Fire Island, everything was ready. Linda
Taylor had cooked a simmering beef bourguignonne. She'd picked the few
wildflowers still blooming in October, flowers the deer had not yet
eaten. A $25 bottle of wine waited to be uncorked.
Taylor sat at the counter in Nicky's Clam Bar at the ferry terminal
in Bay Shore and waited. She was about to meet the man she'd been
corresponding with by e-mail for nine months.
For at least four hours a day - longer on weekends - the two
aspiring writers would send their poetry and short stories back and
forth and type long messages about themselves. Each tap of a key had
become a virtual caress. Taylor was convinced this man could see through
his screen and straight into her soul.
Taylor would come home from her job as a graphic artist and log on to
the laptop at her dining room table in her charming house on a steep San
Francisco hill. She was so riveted that many nights she didn't eat
dinner. She needed a haircut but didn't have time to get one. She'd find
she had no clean clothes because she hadn't done laundry or stopped at
the dry cleaners. Sometimes, she would get herself a cup of coffee in
the bleary-eyed morning and realize she had no more milk.
Her friends were worried about what seemed to be an Internet
addiction. Taylor had started visiting a writers' chat room in 1996 and
her time on the Net escalated after she bumped into the writer from the
Deep South in early 1997. Taylor, who was in her early 50s and single,
had just been to a wedding of two people who met through the Internet
and was filled with the romantic notion that she, too, could find her
missing part online.
So she built Deep South into the person she longed for him to be. He
told her he was short; she messaged him that he needed to work on his
self-image. He told her he likes to drink; she ignored it. Instead, she
reveled in the moments when she would tell him how her neck was
bothering her and he would type, "rub, rub."
"I was caught in some kind of inexorable, very strange type of
grip," says Taylor, who brought the experience up to her therapist. The
Internet enhanced the seduction, she says. "You become conditioned, like
Pavlov's dogs. You hear the little bell [indicating an instant message]
and you begin to salivate emotionally."
Every fall, Taylor spends a month on Fire Island, devoting herself to
her writing. She decided to invite Deep South to spend two weeks with
her. They would be two writers, holed up in a beach house during the
off-season, helping each other create.
On the morning she was at Nicky's Clam Bar, Taylor was daydreaming
about the tempestuous affair she was about to have. Until into the clam
bar walked a very short man in pink shorts and rubber flip-flops and
months of illusion, in Taylor's word, "vaporized."
In the midst of the Internet delirium that has gripped Long Island
and the world are mental health experts who argue that some of us are
literally getting sick - becoming addicted to the rush of going online
from our living rooms and offices - and becoming almost incapable of
switching the Internet back off.
For Taylor, she says it was as if she had opened a long-stuck drawer
in her pantry and found that a circus was living inside. "That's how I
felt when I got addicted . . . There were all these people and all
these scenes going on right before my nose and they were locked behind a
password. Once I discovered it, I couldn't get away."
Harold Pass, director of psychiatry for the adult outpatient
department at University Health and Medical Center at Stony Brook, says
he's seeing about four cases right now of people who are struggling with
computer dependency, along with their other mental-health problems. One
of them has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Another is painfully shy and
"For some, it's a way of playing fantasy roles and avoiding
emotional and intimate connections," Pass says. "For other people, it's
erotic gratification on X-rated Web sites." Pass says none of his
patients would agree to be interviewed.
Though the media have hyped Internet addiction in headlines and
stories, controversy swirls in psychology circles over whether spending
too much time on the Net is actually an addiction in the vein of
alcoholism or substance abuse. Or whether it's a compulsion, such as a
food or gambling problem. Or whether it's just a bad habit.
Peter Favaro, a Port Washington child and adolescent psychologist who
does forensic psychology for Nassau and Suffolk County courts in
"high-conflict" custody cases, is skeptical of the concept of Internet
Experts have a tough enough time understanding the workings of
chemical addictions, says Favaro, who is involved in an ongoing Long
Island case in which a man arguing for custody is alleging that his wife
is a computer addict who is neglecting their children. "Alcohol and
cigarettes create an addiction. The computer does not," he says. "If
this were the 1950s, I wonder if you'd be writing an article on whether
or not the telephone or television was addicting."
Favaro says mental-health professionals who tout themselves as
computer-addiction specialists may be employing a marketing strategy -
what he dubs "The Sally Jessy Raphael Syndrome." With HMOs and managed
care companies capping fees to therapists, everyone is specializing in
something, Favaro says - marriage problems, eating disorders, "Turkish
nuns who left the order and married Buddhists priests. I doubt anyone
could earn a living as a computer /Internet addiction specialist."
But Kimberly Young, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh
at Bradford, is trying to do just that. She runs The Center for Online
Addiction, an Internet site for people who believe the computer is
causing negative repercussions in their real-life relationships, their
studies, their jobs. "I've seen people take caffeine pills just to stay
online longer," Young says.
Young started to treat what she called Internet addiction in 1994
after a girlfriend of hers called, saying that her husband was hooked,
and she was considering divorce. Young now treats clients by e-mail for
a fee and says her virtual clinic gets requests for about 10 e-mail
consultations a week. Though other mental-health professionals consider
e-mailed treatment of online addicts to be unethical - not to mention
ironic - Young says she treats by e-mail because so few mainstream
counselors understand the Internet itself, let alone Internet addiction.
"They don't understand what a chat room is," Young says. "That becomes a
very lonely experience for the client."
For some Internet addicts, the attraction is to online casino
gambling, as the Web makes such a vice much more accessible. "Now, I
don't have to drive to Las Vegas," Young says. Others are online stock
traders who monitor their money for 12 hours a day. Online shopping,
online auctions. Online pornography makes up the biggest chunk of online
addiction, with about one in five people who have a computer problem
struggling with cybersex addiction, Young says. Many people who lose
control on the Internet already have some other mental health problem,
from addictive personalities to depression, Young says.
From the anecdotal experiences of Peter S. Kanaris, director of
public education for the Suffolk County Psychological Association, the
idea that Internet abuse may be a symptom of another problem rather than
the problem itself holds true. Kanaris, who specializes in sex
counseling, says he hasn't had clients come into his Smithtown office
complaining that one of them is addicted to the Internet, but that he
has seen the Net exacerbate intimacy problems in already faltering
couples. "The Internet brings a world of access to every kind of sexual
behavior right into the home," Kanaris says. "Another area of life
starts to get shortchanged."
According to Young, Taylor - who had not sought Young's
professional help - had many signs of a burgeoning problem: She was
sacrificing time with friends in the real world. She was anticipating
her next session when she was off-line. And she was hooked on one
specific area of Web life - for her, chat rooms, e-mail and instant
Taylor calls her first meeting with Deep South "the most profoundly
derailing emotional moment that you can possibly imagine experiencing."
Despite her disappointment and confusion, Taylor found herself on the
ferry speeding toward the beef bourguignonne, wildflowers and that
bottle of wine.
After an awkward dinner, Taylor and Deep South sat across from each
other in straightback chairs with a coffee table between them. The first
ferry that could return him to the mainland wasn't until 8 a.m.
"I realized that I had created with my novelist's brain a scenario
that was not attached to any definition of reality," Taylor says, adding
that the realization cured her of her Internet addiction. "I realized
that this medium is incredibly dangerous. Even if he had been Mr.
Wonderful, there's something really, really neurotic about spending that
much time in that world of unreality."
Taylor now uses the Internet three or four hours a week, including
brief visits to the writers' chat rooms. When that little America Online
box pops up now at the end of each session and tells Taylor how much
time she's spent online, she says, more often than not, it's less than
How Much Is Too Much?
Psychologist Kimberly Young came up with this "Internet Addiction
Test" in her book, "Caught in the Net" (John Wiley & Sons).
Answer the following questions using this scale:
1 = Not Applicable or Rarely
2 = Occasionally
3 = Frequently
4 = Often
5 = Always
1. How often do you find that you stay online longer than you intended?
2. How often do you neglect household chores to spend more time online?
3. How often do you prefer the excitement of the Internet to intimacy
with your partner?
4. How often do you form new relationships with fellow online users?
5. How often do others in your life complain to you about the amount of
time you spend online?
6. How often do your grades or schoolwork suffer because of the amount
of time you spend online?
7. How often do you check your e-mail before something else that you
need to do?
8. How often does your job performance or productivity suffer because of
9. How often do you become defensive or secretive when anyone asks you
what you do online?
10. How often do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with
soothing thoughts of the Internet?
11. How often do you find yourself anticipating when you will go online
12. How often do you fear that life without the Internet would be
boring, empty and joyless?
13. How often do you snap, yell or act annoyed if someone bothers you
while you are online?
14. How often do you lose sleep due to late-night log-ins?
15. How often do you feel preoccupied with the Internet when off-line,
or fantasize about being online?
16. How often do you find yourself saying "just a few more minutes" when
17. How often do you try to cut down the amount of time you spend online
18. How often do you try to hide how long you've been online?
19. How often do you choose to spend more time online over going out
20. How often do you feel depressed, moody or nervous when you are
off-line, which goes away once you are back online?
RESULTS: 20-49 points: You are an average online user. You may surf the
Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage.
50-79 points: You are experiencing occasional or frequent problems
because of the Internet. You should consider their full impact on your
80-100 points: Your Internet usage is causing significant problems in
your life. You should evaluate the impact of the Internet on your life
and address the problems directly caused by your Internet usage.
Reprinted with permission.
Net Gains - Or Losses?
How has being on line changed your life - for better or worse?
E-mail us a email@example.com. and though we can't imagine you'd need a
snail-mail address, here it is: Write to "Feedback," c/o LI LIfe, 235
Pinelawn Rd., Melville, N.Y. 11747-4250.