Friday, June 24, 2011

Steering My Brain

I read an interesting article about the dangers of the Internet, right here. And while I could see the potential problem, my high level of Internet use seems to have had none of the adverse effects they warn about. I could definitely resonate with the need for downtime, since that's when I tend to get most creative.

I was pondering why I haven't found my frequent Internet use - including several forums that I sometimes compulsively check - having any of the effects they describe. I still get plenty of writing done, I still enjoy quiet time petting my cat, I still read stories and empathize with the characters. Even though I have felt the pull of the Internet (and especially World of Warcraft), that pull comes and goes, leaving plenty of time for other things.

I think it's because I'm autistic. And not that autistics are inherently better at avoiding obsession - quite the opposite! All my life, I've been getting obsessed with one thing or another, and learning skills to handle obsession. I know when to give into it and let it out of my system for a bit. I know how to make myself stop something I don't want to stop, in order to do something less interesting. I know how to get my brain shifted into different 'modes', from 'World of Warcraft playing' mode to 'going for a walk' mode to 'working on a story' mode to 'doing some academic research' mode. Since early childhood, I've been learning these skills in many different settings, because almost anything can be as addictive to me as the Internet.

It's like if you took a sighted person and a blind person and put them both in a dark room filled with obstacles. Normally, a room full of obstacles would give the blind person more trouble, but now it gives them less, because part of the room's design ends up temporarily giving the sighted person the same impediment the blind person deals with all the time.

Most people have a 'direct way' and an 'indirect way' to steer their brains, and Internet disrupts the function of the 'direct way'. For me, the 'direct way' is functioning poorly all the time, so I focus instead on the 'indirect way' to steer my brain - what Amanda Baggs refers to as 'thermals'. I've learnt how to find the right thermals, how to nudge them into existence if I can, and when a small amount of flapping can get me onto a new thermal. Most people are much stronger flappers than I am, so they just get by with ignoring the thermals, until a strong wind wrests away control of their flight. Caught up in that strong wind, they try to flap against it and fail, while I gently shift my direction to find the way out without much effort.

And this probably applies to more than just the Internet. I've often wondered why there aren't more autistics with addictions, such as alcoholism, gambling addiction, etc. (A search of google scholar with the keywords 'autism addiction' only finds the crackpot theory that improper gluten and casein digestion causes opiates in our brains, not any research showing links between higher-functioning autism/BAP and addictive behavior.) And I think it's because we know how to manage overwhelming desires without letting them consume us. It may look like we're being consumed by it to others, on occasion, but we're just letting it out of our systems, and the intensity will fade somewhat over time. Other people don't experience this intense a desire for something, until they find things that highjack the pleasure centers of their brains and cause addiction.

I have no evidence for this theory, really, but it's an interesting thought. (And I took a break from World of Warcraft to write it!)


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