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Celebrities and everyday people are discovering social networking has its pros and cons, says entertainment reporter JESSICA LEO.
SOCIAL networking has joined sex, drugs and alcohol as the latest addiction plaguing celebrities. With Australians spending a third of their time online perusing Facebook, however, it seems the everyday Aussie is not far behind in mirroring the trend.
British pop singer Lily Allen has become the latest celebrity casualty of the affliction, announcing she is quitting social networking sites and declaring she will be a "neo-Luddite".
Allen joins US pop sensation Miley Cyrus and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, who deleted their Twitter accounts, claiming the site had caused too much disruption to their lives.
- Limit logging on to only once a day.
- When logged in, limit the time spent to 15 minutes or less.
- Set a timer to monitor time spent on sites.
- Reward yourself (for example, with a coffee) when you stick to the allocated time limit.
- Punish yourself if you stray outside the limits - perhaps donate to a charity you wouldn't normally assist or forgo your morning coffee.
- Make time to schedule face-to-face contact with friends.
- Don't update every minute of your life - think about whose life would be enriched by knowing your every move.
Allen, 24, says she is signing off from Facebook, Twitter and blogging to settle into a normal life with her boyfriend, building contractor Sam Cooper.
"It's not about being famous; it's not about all the parties; it's not about wanting to be the biggest pop star on the planet. It's about being happy," Allen said of her decision.
"For me, that is Sam, spending time at home, sorting out bed linen - being normal."
Allen's final Twitter post said it all, with the singer writing: "I am a neo-luddite. Goodbye."
Despite her music gaining exposure via social networking site MySpace, Allen said she recognised she had a problem. "I just had this revelation that Facebook, blogging, all those things were becoming a total addiction," she said.
"I'd be with my boyfriend or my mum and they'd have got just half of me. So I put my Blackberry, my laptop, my iPod in a box and that's the end.
"We've ended up in this world of unreal communication and I don't want that. I want real life back."
The singer's words are sure to resonate with many, particularly here in Australia. It was revealed last month we lead the world for the time spent on social media sites each month, with our average of 7.12 hours exceeding the national averages of Britain, Italy, North America and Japan.
Furthermore, figures collated for October show Australians spent an average of 27.2 hours browsing online, 7.55 hours of which was taken up by Facebook, while MySpace and Twitter accounted for 39 and 17 minutes respectively.
That is not to say, however, the problem is exclusively ours. A Nielsen audit of Americans' use of online time revealed that in 12 months, Facebook use had grown by 700 per cent and Twitter's numbers had grown exponentially.
The issue this year attracted the attention of former South Australian thinker in residence and neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, who claimed repeated exposure to sites such as Facebook, Bebo and Twitter, with computer games and fast-paced TV shows, could effectively "rewire" the brain.
"Attention spans are shorter, personal communication skills are reduced and there's a marked reduction in the ability to think abstractly," Lady Greenfield said.
Adelaide psychologist Dr Darryl Cross, of Crossways Consulting, said social networking was a double-edged sword - while it could serve a purpose of connecting people who were separated by distance, addiction was a serious and very real concern.
"I think people are naturally curious and that's why people entertain gossip, innuendo and rumour," Dr Cross said.
"They love that intrigue. You have a medium like Facebook that feeds into that intrigue.
"Unfortunately, some people do get addicted to it as it feeds their desire about what other people are doing."
Dr Cross said that with technology, such as iPhones and Blackberries, increasing our ease of access to social networking sites, the problem might intensify.
Social networking also can serve a valuable purpose. This year has seen fans and celebrities embrace the power of sites, such as Facebook, to effect social change.
Fans of band Rage Against the Machine launched a Facebook campaign to snare top spot in British charts and deny X-Factor winner the honour, customary each Christmas.
Closer to home, passionate Adelaideans launched Facebook groups to resurrect Hey Hey It's Saturday and the Adelaide Skyshow, generating a groundswell of support.
Dr Cross said it was a matter of adopting the everything-in-moderation adage, suggesting addicts limit time spent and frequency of visits rather than trying to go cold turkey.