Napster Addiction: What Would You Do For A Fix?

After spending morning, noon and night downloading for free, hooked users prepare for the end of the file-sharing service as we know it.

Gregg has 1,389 music files on his hard drive. He downloads 20 to 30 clips a day, and once spent four hours searching for one song.

Gregg is a textbook Napster addict.

He's among the millions of music fans of all ages who have found a friend in the little white cat with blue headphones. They visit him several times a day, whether it's to fulfill a quick fix or entertain themselves for an entire evening. They carry a "songs to download" list with them at all times, and are known to wake up in the middle of the night with a profound urge to download.

"It consumes me like any other thing in existence," explained Gregg, a 24-year-old military officer in Fort Stewart, Georgia, who downloads Björk and Stereolab tunes during breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks. "If someone was making free something you loved, you'd try to get as much of it as possible when you could, and put other things temporarily on hold."

But what if it wasn't free? That's the question Napster addicts are facing, as the current version of the file-sharing program's days appear numbered. Several music acts and labels are suing Napster for copyright infringement, and the company has said it will start charging users and paying the bands, labels and song publishers by summer — if Napster is not shut down in federal court proceedings before then.

Still, Gregg isn't ready to give up his habit. "I will pay for the service that Napster provides," Gregg said.

Others aren't so sure. Zak Kimble, a 24-year-old hotel executive in Chicago, is worried his addiction could get costly, and is trying to feed his Napster cravings while the service is free.

"I am scrambling to get all the songs I can before it shuts down," said Kimble, whose one-download-at-a-time method — "There's less chance for errors," he said — keeps him at his computer for entire Sundays. "I will miss this piece of Americana."

Napster addiction is an obsessive/compulsive behavior geared toward self-gratification, according to Garry L. Troxell, a registered addictions specialist.

"I think what is going on with Napster and much of the other outside stimulants, such as video games, is they are activities that stimulate neurotransmitters much the same way chemicals do," Troxell said. "Once the mind is stimulated in a certain way, it remembers what stimulated it and stores it somewhere in the back. Then during the day, it takes little field trips to the front of the brain, and the brain remembers the stimulus and wants it again."

Troxell said there is no known treatment for Napster addiction, and users should be careful not to let it detract from other areas in their lives.

That has been a problem for 41-year-old Meta Wagner, a writer and a college instructor in Newton, Massachusetts. "If I weren't on Napster or answering questions about Napster, I'd probably be writing the great American novel," she said. "But who has time for such trivial matters when there's always another song to download?"

Wagner has, however, used her Napster addiction to her advantage. She wrote a column about her obsession with what she calls "Napstering" for Salon.com and has become somewhat of an expert on the issue.

There are four stages of Napster addiction, Wagner explained:

1. impaired control over Napstering;

2. preoccupation with Napstering;

3. Napstering despite adverse consequences; and

4. distortions in thinking about Napstering, most notably denial.

"There have been days when I've probably downloaded 25 or 30 songs," Wagner said. "I might be in stage four, but I wouldn't know because I'm in denial about it."

Daily downloader Fred, 26, is nearing stage four. "Addiction is a strong word," he said. "But I can't think of anything I've been so impressed by in my lifetime ... maybe the microwave."

Fred and Bob, consultants at a large Chicago firm, have developed their own terminology and research. They both spend hours a day "Napping," but have different opinions on how it affects productivity in the office.

Fred argues his addiction keeps him working more.

"Napster doesn't distract me — it gives me good music to listen to, which motivates me to put on my headphones and do work," said Fred, whose hard drive includes 300 songs, including cuts from Dave Matthews Band's new Everyday. Because there was nothing like Napster before, "it's not a direct time substitution for something else."

Bob, 27, disagrees. "If anything, it's decreased the amount of work I do ... since that's the only time I access Napster," he said. In less than a year, Baxter has accumulated 455 songs from Napster, including a clip apparently of Britney Spears swearing before a concert.

Napster addicts are certainly changing the face of music. Their relentless file sharing has put the fear of God in the major record labels, which are suing Napster while developing their own similar service.

Record labels, along with other file-sharing programs such as Gnutella, are hoping they can be as addictive as Napster.

Jeff, a 51-year-old business executive in Omaha, Nebraska, said his addiction is wearing thin as the days go by — not because he has lost interest in file sharing, but because "I've got most of the songs I want by now," he said.

Jeff is currently remodeling some rooms in his house, but that hasn't reduced his downloading. He simply stops by his computer every 20 minutes to check on or search for more songs to build up his 640-song library, which includes Carly Simon's "You Belong to Me" and Steely Dan's "Reeling in the Years."

"I was hooked instantly," Jeff said of his first days on Napster, nearly a year ago. "I'm addicted to good music and the thrill of the hunt to find it."

(For complete coverage of the Napster saga, check out MTV News' "Napster Files.")