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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.
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)
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.
The threat of Election Addiction, of course, is that you could damage relationships with nasty partisanship and ugly bickering. You could also harm your career by neglecting work.
In the final week of the election, poll margins will narrow and the dirt will really start to fly. And if the election is close, and accusations of foul play emerge, it could get really ugly for months after the election as well.
There are things you can do to protect yourself against being overwhelmed by Election Addiction. The first step, of course, is to admit you have a problem.
The second step is to find a less damaging outlet. Political shoutfests themselves aren't damaging. It's only bad if it's ruining your relationships.
If you're spamming friends and relatives with political e-mail, guess what? You're probably honking off people you care about. It's time to start trying to influence strangers instead.
Try using Twitter as your outlet. The benefit of Twitter is that anyone can stop following you if they like, and you could potentially influence more people with your opinions.
The third step is to protect your work. Make a rule to yourself that you absolutely, positively will not check any political sites or respond to any political e-mail during working hours.
The fourth step is to cultivate detachment. Check your state on the main Pollster.com map. Unless you live in one of the handful of swing states, the outcome for your particular state is already essentially determined.
For example, if you live in any of the dark blue or dark red states, don't worry about it! If you live in California or Maine, for example, you should know that Obama will get all those electoral votes. If you live in Texas or Alaska, McCain will get those. The decision has already been made for those states. That means you can relax.
(If you do live in a swing state, well good luck!)
The fifth step is to regain your sense of humor. Favor the mocking, irreverent humor political content over the screaming, conspiracy-laden serious kind. After all, if you can't laugh at politicians, you've got a problem worse than Election Addiction.