As far as addictions go, this one is convenient.
There’s no need to go to a dark street corner and make a transaction with a dealer. No need for needles or pipes. No need to hop in a car to head to your local bar or liquor store.
No, as 26-year-old Justen Wack will tell you, all that’s needed to become an outstanding Internet porn addict is a computer and a little bit of time.
Oh sure, there’s some occasional pangs of guilt or shame, but nothing that can’t be overcome.
“When you’re sitting at home alone on a Friday night,” Wack said, “those consequences don’t seem that strong.”
A little more than eight years ago, Wack came from Cleveland to enroll at Olathe-based MidAmerica Nazarene University and to play on the school’s soccer team.
Somewhere along the way, he became a college male who spent a lot of time looking at online pornography. Wack won’t try to tell you some strung-out junkie story about his addiction. He didn’t end up living in a gutter, and he didn’t end up flunking out of school. But he did have an addiction, and he said it became obvious to him.
“I realized I had a problem when I wanted to stop doing it, but every time I tried to I couldn’t,” Wack said.
So Wack sought help. That’s predictable enough. But where this story has a twist is that Wack didn’t so much find help as much as he built it.
Now, he’s kicked the porn — and gained a business in the process.
The slogan for online pornography very well could be “affordable and anonymous.”
By the time Wack reached his senior year, he had figured out that if he somehow could remove the anonymity from the equation he might be a step closer to shedding his problem.
What he came up with was a computer program. The concept behind it was easy. He would develop a software system that would recognize pornography sites. But instead of the program blocking his access to the sites, it would do something different. It would let him look all he wanted, but it also would send out an e-mail or text message to a friend, parent or someone else close to him. Within 20 seconds of logging onto the site, his “accountability partner” would know about it.
“I wanted to have a friend be able to call me up in the heat of the moment and say ‘What the heck are you doing?’” Wack said.
The system worked for Wack. He said knowing that he could get that uncomfortable call has helped him change his behavior.
Then Wack began wondering whether the program could help other people. After graduating with a degree in graphic design, he was working in a Gardner sign shop when a member of The Bristol Groupe — a Lawrence-based development company — overheard him talking about the idea.
A short time later, The Bristol Groupe had become an investor in Wack’s infant company. Now, Lawrence resident Greg DiVilbiss, a partner in The Bristol Groupe, has become the company’s chief operating officer.
Since August, the company, which has an office in both Gardner and in Lawrence near Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive, has been selling the software under the brand name Saavi Accountability.
The Internet-based program sells on the company’s website, saaviaccountability.com, for $9 a month, which allows the software to run on up to four computers. In late December, the company released its second version of the software, and sales are growing, both Wack and DiVilbiss said.
“We feel like we’re on the cutting edge of Internet technology,” DiVilbiss said.
Since its inception, the software has evolved. No longer is it just for online pornography problems. The company, which includes Wack, DiVilbiss and a software developer, has added online gambling, hate sites, sites that promote violence, YouTube videos and online gaming applications to the list of activities that can be detected and that would trigger a message to an accountability partner.
But the program is set up to let users decide what types of categories, or even specific sites, they find appropriate or inappropriate.
“We’re not in the business of being the morals police,” said Wack, who serves as the company’s founder and CEO.
The software seems to have two main user groups, Wack said. One is people like Wack who are looking for a tool to help them with their own problems. The second group is parents who want a unique way of teaching their children online responsibility.
The company thinks the parent market will be a growing one, especially as online gaming becomes a significant addiction problem, Wack said. The program allows parents to decide how long a child should be playing a particular game.
“If they think an hour a day is appropriate,” Wack said, “they can set it for that. But once they play for an hour and one minute, the parents are going to get a message.”
DiVilbiss also thinks other markets are emerging. He’s hoping to convince justice systems that the program would be a good tool for parole officers who monitor registered sex offenders. He also believes the program might be good for corporations that have grown weary of the traditional blocking and filtering programs.
“I used to work at a company in Wichita that had a filtering program, and it would block a lot of appropriate sites,” DiVilbiss said. “It might block the Journal-World site one day because it had a story about Fred Phelps on it.”
But Wack thinks the bulk of the company’s growth will come from users who appreciate the unique philosophy behind the software. Wack said he’s convinced the best way to overcome an online addiction is not to be stopped from seeing a site, but rather to convince yourself that you no longer want to see it.
“I realized, in my case, I had to address the problem from the inside out,” Wack said. “The heart of the problem was the heart. Our program helps you build the decision-making process. That’s important because one thing that is for sure these days is that you’re going to be exposed to the Internet.”