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The Internet's Newest Danger: Election Addiction

There's no such thing as "Internet addiction."

The Internet is simply the Mother of All Enablers, providing a medium through which addicts can indulge real addictions, including porn, gambling, news, video games and socializing (a.k.a. social media addiction).

The Internet is a powerful enabler of addiction because of what experts call the "three A's": It's anonymous, affordable, and accessible. Indulging your online addiction looks like real work -- you're sitting there at your computer paying attention to your screen. And it's always just a click away.

In the past month or two, I've noticed a new addiction arise, one that's more powerful and widespread than any other: Election Addiction.

People are compulsively spending huge chunks of time surfing political sites and video sharing sites, social bookmarking services and news sites. They're looking for content that supports their political opinions and candidates, then e-mailing links to people who disagree.

A heated conversation ensues, often with long diatribes, rising frustration and anger, peppered with links to still more online content.

Election Addiction is virulent, and unlike other Internet-enabled addictions. Here's why:

1.) Election Addiction feels like you're doing something important. Unlike other addictions, like porn and gambling, there's no shame involved.

2.) It feeds off of the Election Addiction of other people. It's viral.

3.) Election Addiction is justifiable in part because it's rare and temporary (just one more week!)

4.) Like Online Porn Addiction, Election Addiction is fueled by skilled professionals. In the past few years, an "Election Addiction Industrial Complex" has arisen. The pundits, journalists, political "advisors," political organizations like MoveOn.org, the Club For Growth and others seek out, create and publish the "stuff" of Election Addiction and deliberately try to manipulate you into holding extreme positions and accepting polarizing ideas.

5.) We're unprepared for it because some of the Internet applications are so new to us. New Web 2.0 tools like Digg, YouTube and Facebook are enabling Election Addiction like nothing the world has ever seen.

The current Election Addiction phenomenon started slowly at first, with the battle for the Democratic nomination between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Then, of course, when each major party formally nominated its candidate, the partisan harping began.

Things really got crazy with the nomination of Sarah Palin, with fans defending the GOP VP pick, and detractors slamming it. And now, in the final week of the election, the addiction seems to have taken over the lives of millions.

Despite how widespread it has become, nobody's talking about Election Addiction because any conversation that gets anywhere near the election devolves into a nasty shoutfest about the candidates themselves. The election is like some kind of conversational black hole from which no other topic can escape.

The heated online debates are fueled by unprecedented numbers of high-quality online resources. These resources are the Election Addiction equivalent of bars for alcoholics and casinos for gambling addicts.

So have you got the Election Addiction? Here's how you can tell. You've got Election Addiction if you:

• Check Real Clear Politics' Presidential Polls page more than once a day.

• Check Twitter's Election 2008 page more than ten times a day (or leave it running all day).

• Check Pollster.com more than once a day.

• Actually check cspan.org (even though you used to think it was a boring site)

• Obsessively check YouTube and Hulu for political videos.

• Use any of the above online resources while at the same time watching debates or election events on TV.

• Take time away from work in order to engage in toxic, humorless online or e-mail election argument with friends and family members who just won't see the obvious dangers posed by their candidate.

Next page: How to protect yourself