# Addiction to Math Stack Exchange

This is a fairly silly comment, but I am starting (already started actually) to get addicted to this site. I am even looking at this in parties and or with friends, as recreational activity, or as a smartphone game replacement.

Is this expected to happen? What should I do? I don't think this behaviour is off topic.

Edit:

I've tried to think on these arguments, and repeating to myself, without results:

1. I am not helping anybody. False. Several people get their homeworks solved for free,

2. I am not helping myself. False, I am learning through teaching,

3. I am not getting any money with these, so this is bad. False, many people do beneficence, helping the helpless,

4. Nobody outside here would recognized it. False, exposing your contribution into the proper field or under the proper people would be recognized as any other part-time activity, maybe not as in a formal academy, and maybe not so broad now, but in the future this will increase,

5. No products is obtained from it. I guess this could be true, no degree, no title, no diploma, no paper. But I am still not convinced. And yes, my subconscient is actually seeking for any fitting phrase for pasting in here,

6. I am letting other activities aside. Such as friends, parties, people, media, news. Again, seeking for phrases for pasting in here,

7. I am not increasing my rep. Again false,

8. I am not learning MathJax. False, false!.

• Jun 4, 2017 at 14:33
• As with any reward-based system, reward produce dopamine, and when done repeatedly, neural pathways develop and create dopamine seeking behavior trying to get more than that sweet-sweet reward. What can you do about it? One option is to switch to an even better reward system. For example, heroin, but that is hardly a good idea for most people.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Jun 4, 2017 at 15:20
• @AsafKaragila "For example, heroin" - lol really the only example you thought worth a mention? Jun 4, 2017 at 16:10
• @mrnovice: Well, that depends on the person and what sort of reward system works best to addict them. As far as I understand, heroin is fairly universal to beating most other habits. Maybe crystal meth and crack to... I don't know first hand about any of these... Also, the goal is state altering substance. Starting a smoking habit won't interfere with using the site. Being high will.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Jun 4, 2017 at 16:11
• don't worry, for most people, the addition will wear off. Jun 4, 2017 at 18:42
• you will be assimilated, resistance is futile! Jun 4, 2017 at 23:51
• There are tons of ways to help teach math more locally, and face to face, at that. There's nothing wrong with having the chance to help others learn math, or to learn math from others, This site is not the only place or means of doing that. So I doubt that the opportunity to teach and/or learn is what's "gotcha". There is a definite "gaming" and "competitive" aspect to the site, which can help make it fun to participate on the site, but "gaming/rewards" you accrue (which in the end can't really be cashed in) it can be addictive.... And that isn't always healthy. Jun 5, 2017 at 1:14
• I'm not trying to alarm you or anything. Just try to keep it all balanced. Decide ahead of time how much time you can afford to spend on the site, and take notice when you find yourself exceeding that time, or neglecting other things. I'm just saying there needs to be a balance...Get the sleep you need, attend to your other responsibilities, involve yourself with friends, family, other forms of recreation, and then, with time and energy you have to spare, dive deeply to your heart's delight, here at MSE! Jun 5, 2017 at 1:19
• @achillehui "don't worry, for most people, the addiction will wear off." LIES!!! It's been, idk, 6 months? AND I STILL FEEL ADDICTED! (but its become slightly less serious now) Jun 5, 2017 at 1:41
• @SimplyBeautifulArt my addiction start to wear off somewhere around third year. 6 months is nothing... Jun 5, 2017 at 1:55
• @hyprfrco it's more like 50k but it really depends on person. There are people here who breaks the 100k barrier w/o any sign of slowing. In general, don't worry whether you are addicted or not. Compare to other form of addiction, the damage caused by mathaholic is relatively minor. Just enjoy it while you are addicted. When times come, most people will simply walk away w/o too much hangover. Jun 5, 2017 at 2:48
• This is quite true. Addiction to maths itself is very real and when you reach MSE you know that almost any mathematical curiosity can be satisfied here (at least that's what I feel). The opportunity for learning on MSE is limited only by one's own capacity. And best of all when you ask a question here no one will shout that horrible sentence, "The proof is beyond the scope of the book/syllabus". This is so much better than any textbook you can find. I believe the addiction is harmless unless you forget to do the basics for your survival.
– Paramanand Singh Mod
Jun 5, 2017 at 4:28
• Addicted? Take a number! Asaf has visited the site for 2400+ days. Consecutive. Not. A single. Day. Off. I had a day off a few years ago, so I'm only at 800+ Edit: I spent the weekend here, and consequently managed to take a day off. I do go to that event every year, but usually I get home eager to visit this site upon returning home. This year travelling took more out of me. Jun 5, 2017 at 4:43
• If only there was a device that lets you access internet everywhere in the world where cellular networks exist... Hmm.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Jun 5, 2017 at 6:14
• @Jyrki: Also, just to set the record straight, 2499. Tomorrow will mark day 2500.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Jun 6, 2017 at 11:24

Is this expected to happen? Yes. It's natural to become addicted to a website or app which rewards users with immediate feedback. People get addicted to Facebook, Instagram or any number of games. I go through phases where I check my stackoverflow profile far too many times in a day, even after I've stopped enjoying it. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

What should I do? The good news is that these kinds of addictions wear off quite quickly. Now that you know you have a problem, you just need to break a few habits:

1. Move or remove all shortcuts. I'll bet your fingers go straight to the stack exchange app every time you pick up your phone, or website every time you open your web browser. You can help break habits by simply removing the app from your phone, and burying your bookmarks in some obscure bookmark subfolder. Every time you go for the app, now, that extra step of remembering where you'd moved the bookmark will give your brain enough time to think "Oh right, I don't really want to check stack exchange, I'm only checking out of habit."

2. Do a small digital detox. Leave the house without your phone. Just for a day. You'll feel naked at first, and find yourself constantly reaching for that empty pocket where your phone ought to be, but when you get used to it you'll quickly find yourself forgetting about the app/website (and, as an added bonus, noticing the world around you).

3. Do a big digital detox. This means a weekend of camping (or skiing or meditation or visiting your folks or taking oil painting lessons... whatever floats your boat) without any gadgets. This will be the hardest but the most rewarding.

Stack exchange is a great website, but some people (like you and me) are a little more prone to the dopamine rush of instant gratification, and need to take little breaks from it.

• For some people that shortcut idea won't work because they don't use them. From practice I can type $x$.stackexchange.com in 2 seconds for some values of $x$. Jun 10, 2017 at 17:55
• @wizzwizz4 In that case, maybe a digital detox is in order ;) Jun 10, 2017 at 20:46
• It is enough to type $m$ in the explorer to get it............... Jun 13, 2017 at 16:36
• @hyperfrco Maybe there's a way to disable autocompletion in the explorer. Also see the tips here Jun 16, 2017 at 23:50
• On your computer you can use a browser extension like StayFocused or Leechblock to keep yourself from accessing a certain site, and I believe there are similar solutions for mobile browsers. Jun 26, 2017 at 13:54

Okay, let's start this with a profile view. Just take a look at the profile of Bubba, even if interested look at me.These two profiles can precisely give you the answer what you are getting and what you are missing here.

I am one of the persons who have been in this situation and more importantly I was in this situation to an extent you can never think of.

If I remember correctly, I joined the site in August last year, I was so so so excited to be here that I used to be with my laptop for $10$ hours a day which is insane for a $15\frac{1}{2}$ old. In the December I realised that where I am now. I failed my $5$ consecutive tests (Well I failed as my level dropped significantly, I still got enough marks to be in the top $20$ ). My reputation mark reached $7K$, the decrease now is due to voting correction. On January $21$, I had a chat with some of the friendly users like amWhy, Simply Beautiful Art. I discussed this issue with them that I am getting addicted to site and ofc it took time but now I realise what I have lost during last $5$ months. I remember the motivation I got from kind amWhy and her words, Its your time, the site will always be there and so will be you.

The lesson I had after this incident is that now I am able to differentiate between less prior and more prior things in my life. I took a great step at that time by contacting the mod Danial Fisher and requesting him to suspend me from MSE, YES!! a forced suspension so that I can go and prepare for my exams. I was suspended from $22nd$ Jan to $31st$ march (Day of my results).

So, what is the conclusion??

Welcome to the club. :P

In addition to learning through teaching, I'd also add just learning and discovering new things in general. I've learned some new (new to me, anyway) and interesting things on this site since I started using it, most of which I stored in my favorites tab.

I'd say it's not a problem as long as it isn't interfering with your obligations. For me it became a problem after I downloaded the iOS app because at that point it started heavily interfering with other things going on in my life. A few weeks later I deleted the app and all was well again. It was actually pretty liberating, like when I deleted the Facebook app.

I also noticed that my addiction became less severe after I hit 10k recently. (But there are still 3 tiers of privileges to get, sigh.)

And it sounds counterintuitive, but joining another stack really did help a little. At one point I took a small break from here and hung around Puzzling.SE for a bit. I think the thought of keeping up with two stacks (and then more when I started hanging around StackOverflow, Code Review, Math Educators, and Academia.SE) became overwhelming to the point where I'd spend several days away.

To reiterate, and if you take away only one thing from here I strongly suggest it be this: The only thing I'd be concerned about is whether or not it's interfering with your life in general. If not, then no need to worry. There are plenty of worse things to be addicted to.

• I second that the possibility to discover so many new things is the amazing thing about this site. Jun 7, 2017 at 3:55

If you want to change your browsing behaviour, you can use browser extensions such as

LeechBlock (for Firefox)

Nanny (for Chrome)

I've set it to redirect *.stackexchange.com to a simple HTML file containing my to-do-list during the time I intend to work.

(I occasionally check for flags etc. from other (e.g. mobile) devices, but I never use those to work, so at least I'm consciously not-working, rather than working-but-possibly-temporarily-sidetracked.)

• What if you installed the app on your phone? Jun 13, 2017 at 16:37
• @hyprfrco I don't need my phone to work, so having the app installed on my phone doesn't distract me while I'm working (on my computer, say). Jun 13, 2017 at 16:45

As long as it's not interfering with the rest of your life, there's no problem. You still show up to work, do your job, go home, spend time with your family, right?

If you have to convince yourself that you're not addicted, maybe you do need to cut back, at least a little. This website is designed to be addictive. That's what the points and the badges are for.

The more points of "reputation" that you have, the more privileges that you have on this site. At the level that you and I are at right now, we can upvote and downvote, we can comment on any post, we can suggest edits and we can "access review queues." A few hundred more points and we'll be able to "create new tags." You can "track" these things with your profile page, not just for yourself but for others, which encourages competition.

Or maybe you don't really care about the points, you can always give them away in bounties while taking care to maintain a little strategic reserve of a couple hundred. Maybe you care more about the badges. Right now, neither of us has a "tag badge." Maybe one day I'll get a prime-numbers badge and you'll get a geometry badge.

But for me what is most compelling about this website is that you can get answers to some rather esoteric questions fairly quickly. Last month I got a letter from a professor at my local university. He was responding to a question I asked him ten years ago. If this website had existed back then, I could have gotten an answer much more quickly.

The next time you feel like you've been on here too long, you should quit your browser, turn off your computer or phone, grab a book and pour yourself a glass of wine (if you're of age). Or if you don't have a book you feel like reading, get a sheet of paper and work on something like the first few rows of Pascal's triangle modulo $7$.

I wonder why you say that you started to get "addicted" to Math.SE (considering you haven't done much on the regular site), but it looks like you really like this site and that is a good thing. You really want to find good questions to read the answers off of or answer them yourself. It helps you learn. But like everything, too much of visiting this site is bad. If it starts to get to this point again, I suggest you join another StackExchange forum. There are over 100 to choose from that might suit your interest. Step outside your comfort zone and discover new things!

• I really don't think joining other stack exchange sites is a solution to stack exchange addiction Jun 5, 2017 at 10:58
• But it gives you a new experience. I'm sure it'll be a getaway from being addicted to here. Jun 5, 2017 at 14:59
• Haha that's like saying go get addicted to something else.
– user370967
Jun 5, 2017 at 18:49
• I'm not saying that the OP should use the new site and get addicted to that; the point is to find the balance between the two. Jun 5, 2017 at 21:27
• almost 200 sites now...
– uhoh
Feb 2, 2020 at 3:04

Addiction is good, you just need to make sure you get addicted to the right things. If you don't get addicted to anything at all, you'll become aware of the facts of life which is quite dangerous.

• (+1) I cannot agree more (irony and citation included). It is a pity this answer has been downvoted. Jun 13, 2017 at 12:27
• Well I sincerely agree with what you said and that's why an upvote from me, actually what you said is not quite pleasing for people because for most of the people here even the addiction to MSE is not good, if it were then there was no need for this question. Jun 13, 2017 at 15:07