TeX.SE is addictive, we have recently had evidence.

I don't think this is only due to the reputation mechanism.

For example, the little games available on FB have a similar reward mechanism: you win points, and you can compete with your friends, but they don't give me any form of addiction (maybe it's not the same for other people, of course). I play them only when I'm talking on the phone with my long-winded cousin (to tell the truth, she talks and I listen to her playing Candy Crush).

More than anything else, I believe that it's due to something similar to the Stendhal syndrome.

It's the sort of pleasure you feel when you see a gorgeous answer on TeX.SE, even if it is not useful for you, or when you manage to do a beautiful output with LaTeX, even if nobody else will see it. I reached the nirvana with halloweenmath package.

The question is: which trick can we suggest to users that want to



P.S. = Papiro, please come back!

  • 8
    admittedly tex.sx is addictive, both the q&a and the chat. at least i have a demonstrable association with my day job, watching for reports about the ams document classes and packages. although i'm not as generous with my votes as some other folks, i will certainly have to remember, when i retire from the fray, to not request removal of my account, to avoid the sort of brouhaha that has happened here. Feb 2, 2017 at 17:52
  • 7
    @barbarabeeton When you retire, you'll have more time to spend on TeX.SE!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 2, 2017 at 17:56
  • 3
    ah, but my connection won't be as reliable. (of course, i certainly don't want to abandon my many friends.) Feb 2, 2017 at 18:01
  • @barbarabeeton ... and many ducks! :)
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 2, 2017 at 18:10
  • @barbarabeeton Sorry, re-reading your comment I realized that you meant retirement from TeX.SE, whereas I understood retirement from work! Don't worry, you have more than 50K reputation points, hence your upvotes won't be deleted in any case!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 3, 2017 at 9:36
  • 2
    Thanks for sucking me into [meta] for about an hour. :P
    – Raphael
    Feb 3, 2017 at 10:12
  • @Raphael Hahaha haven't you set your timer?
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 3, 2017 at 10:16
  • Not for tex.SE I haven't, and certainly not on this temporary work machine. ;D Too bad notifications pop up whenever I hit Stack Overflow...
    – Raphael
    Feb 3, 2017 at 10:54
  • @ChristianHupfer My grandpa always said: "desmèt cunt fam" which means "stop eating when you're still hungry" (in Milanese dialect) :)
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 3, 2017 at 12:49
  • @barbarabeeton P.S.= anyway, do not retire from the fray, we need you!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 4, 2017 at 5:52
  • @CarLaTeX -- actually, i did mean retirement from ams. (it's really overdue, but there are some projects i want to see completed first.) i would like to stay connected to the things that interest me, and that includes tex.sx -- although i'll no longer have the resources available at ams to help me research problems. Feb 4, 2017 at 16:19
  • @barbarabeeton ah, so my first interpretation was not so wrong... :):):)
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 4, 2017 at 21:16
  • FWIW, I want to add that not deleting an SE account has barely any downside. They don't send many (any?) emails. If you want to lock yourself out (forever), change the password to a random string and hit "logout" a final time.
    – Raphael
    Feb 4, 2017 at 21:18
  • @Raphael That's a good idea for who want to exit (not me, of course!) without deleting the account. Only if you subscribe the newsletter they send you a mail once a week.
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 4, 2017 at 21:26

8 Answers 8


I was to become addicted some time ago...

The first things I used to think, when I woke up, were:

  • I must look whether my rep has grown up or not.
  • I must look at any new question I can answer, so I can get some more rep.
  • etc...

And, at work:

  • I must find some time to answer some questions at TeX.SX.
  • I have to check if I got any upvote.

At a certain point, I've remembered that I had a job, a wife and a son...

Now, I wake up and think:

  • Let's wait for my wife to wake up, so I can tell her how much I love her.
  • Let's wait for my son to wake up, so I can tell him how much I love him.

And, at work:

  • I have to do my best, so my students can be better than they are.

TeX.SX used to occupy my whole day, while now I enter TeX.SX (like I'm doing now) only when I've nothing else to do!

  • 3
    Wonderful answer! <3 <3 <3
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 4, 2017 at 12:04
  • @CarLaTeX Thanks, but it's only the truth! Feb 4, 2017 at 12:12
  • I totally agree, people we love are the most important thing!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 4, 2017 at 12:34
  • 1
    @CarLaTeX è una cosa tutta italiana (l'ammmore!!!!!!!!!!) Feb 4, 2017 at 12:36
  • 4
    Sì, sono questi freddi anglosassoni che pensano solo ai punti di reputazione! :):):)
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 4, 2017 at 12:41

We have to make a distinction here. The addiction is due to Stackexchange network elements not TeX itself. There is also question answering addiction which is even more damaging because you end up working on things way way more than your life permits and the result is absolutely useless such as my many pointless TikZ answers. Unfortunately that's the norm for many PhD students due to procrastination. That is an absolutely different type of addiction and requires either career change or a reorganization of life.

In this case, however, something which is sometimes called "idle-game addiction" type of behavior creeps in. I'm not a neuroscientist obviously so I can't discuss the causes and mechanism but the general trend is there is a reward that comes ever so slowly that it borders on your patience. If it is a bit more slower you get bored if it is a bit faster then you run out of rewards too quickly.

That's the part SE network taps into with the badge and reputation stuff. It diminishes the value of an answer and emphasize on the success. But anyway there are better people suited for such analysis.

What I would really suggest is to stay away from that reward part of the site. It has nothing to do with TeX and gives you uber-falsch incentives. That would also avoid the fake "we own this place" attitude.

It is just a place where you ask and answer questions. Regarding the TeX-SX addiction itself, try switching to package writing or other open-source avenues such that you can pace yourself in your own time.

PS: I never did the statistics (because I don't procrastinate anymore, see?) but if you ignore our few wizards who write code without even testing, most popular package authors either don't have or very little activity here. My premise is that this should be due to the satisfaction of seeing their work being used by many people.

Long story short, don't put all your eggs in one basket, here procrastination being your eggs.

DISCLAIMER: I have been openly criticizing Papiro and others whenever I could because for quite some time I have argued that they abused the review system for that stupid colorful dots and they have replied for themselves elsewhere that they strongly disagree (search on meta).

Then s/he got into the voting badge hunt apparently which is much harder than the other badges because you have a limited vote numbers to cast. And it borders on your patience very nicely. I know because I was one of them for some time when I was drawing fireworks or other weird stuff on this site.

  • I've posted my question for "fun" but I see the problem is much more serious than what I thought. I'm relatively new here and didn't know all this background. I hope really few people take all this rewarding mechanism in the way you described!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 4, 2017 at 12:19
  • 3
    "Unfortunately that's the norm for many PhD students due to procrastination."... I unfortunately think you're way to accurate there! :s
    – ebosi
    Feb 4, 2017 at 15:37
  • 1
    There's a gray area between wasting time and using SE to learn about stuff. If somebody wanted to invest x hours per week to learn LaTeX and asked me for ideas, I'd tell them to go answer questions on TeX - LaTeX.
    – Raphael
    Feb 4, 2017 at 21:21
  • 1
    “Regarding the TeX-SX addiction itself, try switching to package writing or other open-source avenues such that you can pace yourself in your own time.” Package writing didn't help me at all. Indeed it nowadays is often a reason to come back because people have questions about my packages (but that's fine!). What actually helped is that music began to play a much bigger role in my life and so I simply haven't got the time anymore :) (BTW: most of the addictive game fun was over for me once I got the fanatic badge…)
    – cgnieder
    Feb 4, 2017 at 22:16
  • @clemens Music goes into "That is an absolutely different type of addiction and requires either career change or a reorganization of life." :) I could never get into this badge/point/hats/edit stuff but I can imagine the temptation.
    – percusse
    Feb 5, 2017 at 1:19
  • I think you a right. But you can watch it happens everywhere. Take skiing, a lovely sport in the alps. But somepeople are rather hunting points with a gps systems for travling the track at a special speed or whatever. I think it is then NOT about skiing but about gaming. Tex is not a game. It can be a vocation. But it should not be a game. Nothing should be game when it's about social interactions.
    – TimK
    Feb 15, 2017 at 12:55

Having had a "mild" case myself, this is what helped me.

  1. Set a time limit and enforce it. I use LeechBlock myself; it allows you to set block times, daily limits, and restrictions of the form "Xmins every Yhours".

    Less invasive variants just create an artificial delay before showing you certain websites; that's to prevent check-for-updates-eritis.

  2. Block the Hot Questions bar using Stylish -- it would lead me from one catchy question title to the next, across the network.

  3. And, since in my case most time was spend on moderation activities: stop caring so much. The site exists without you and will be mostly fine.

You can use 1 and 2 to break harmful habits¹, and then form new ones.

Note: It is important not to treat (bad) habits like addictions -- the two are distinct phenomena! That said, if you are addicted you should get medical help, not advice on the internet.

Good luck!

  1. You might just want to read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg; I found it quite enlightening.
  • Thank you! I'm not at a pathological level :):):) I was only trying to avoid other cases like Papiro's one!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 3, 2017 at 9:32
  • @CarLaTeX I'm afraid you have me at a loss. Did they delete their account yesterday? I noted that I lost a chunk of rep due to a deleted user.
    – Raphael
    Feb 3, 2017 at 9:44
  • 1
    Yes, see here: meta.tex.stackexchange.com/q/7179/101651!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 3, 2017 at 9:46
  • 1
    @Raphael: Yes, ... the user demanded deletion himself and he was no high reputation user (in which case the votes stick and aren't deleted)
    – user31729
    Feb 3, 2017 at 12:34

I'll add a contrary view.

I'm retired from my day job as a mathematician and home a lot for various personal reasons.

My stackexchange addiction really helps me stay sane. I answer mostly at mathematics, where I can put my expertise to best use, but my addiction began here at TeX when I got extraordinary help with a book manuscript and felt I wanted to give back when I could.

  • 4
    Oh, I want to become retired too right now (predicted in 2040 ;-)) and hope TeX.SE will still exist then ;-)
    – user31729
    Feb 9, 2017 at 16:52
  • 6
    maintaining one's sanity after retirement is something i'm "looking forward to". i've identified a couple of promising projects that may or may not come to fruition (they depend on the agreement of a couple of library special collection curators). my criterion whether to remain active on tex.sx depends largely on whether i can continue to be useful, while i lose access to the resources i've been used to at my regular job. if i can break my dependence on chocolate, i think i can do the same with tex.sx; but it'll be a conscious decision. Feb 9, 2017 at 16:54
  • 2
    Very interesting point of view, in your case, SEs are the therapy, not the disease! I'm an (old) student-worker, I discovered this world by chance, and I've become very fond of it. I'm looking forward to finishing my thesis so that, afterward, I can spend my free time learning, more in detail, LaTeX and TeX and answer here with more proficiency. When I retire (predicted 2030), I think I'll do like you, to keep training my brain.
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 9, 2017 at 16:58
  • 3
    Into my sixties, prepared for retirement, old city apartment, student roommates to keep costs down and interesting people around; canoe for summer, used skis for winter; art materials; a few selected students to tutor. Ready to go keep productive and enjoy myself. Then respiratory failure of no known cause (never smoked, no sudden illness or injury - doctors find me an "interesting case"). Moved out to country and attached to oxygen machine. Some tutoring online to supplement pension. Math SE helps keep sanity, better than all day facebook. Messages and new friends always welcome.
    – victoria
    Feb 10, 2017 at 21:52
  • 1
    @victoria I'm very sorry about your health problem, but I'm glad to see that SEs can help you. Yes, SEs are much better than FB, here there are smart people who do smart things! :)
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 11, 2017 at 22:45
  • 3
    Hey, most of the time I manage to enjoy myself. It was just a hell of a wrench going from strong and independent and active to tied to an oxygen machine and reeling around the house collapsing. Getting very much better with my treatment plan for the unknown disease of unknown prognosis.
    – victoria
    Feb 11, 2017 at 23:04

You're asking on the wrong site. The audience of this site is most likely still active on TeX.SE, therefore the sample is biased as all people, which quite completely, are missing from the pool.

  • Sorry for my English, but I don't understand the exact meaning of your answer...
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 13, 2017 at 22:44
  • @CarLaTeX What I tried to say: the people here are all more or less active on TeX.SE, none of us managed to leave this site behind. No one of us can tell you how to leave this site without coming back. Asking on this site means your sample is biased. Feb 13, 2017 at 22:48
  • But I didn't ask how to leave the site, only how to decrease the time spent on the site... for the ones who feel they're spending too much time here :)
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 13, 2017 at 22:52
  • 1
    @CarLaTeX Very true, nevertheless your sample is biased :) Feb 13, 2017 at 22:57
  • It was Papiro's case that inspired me, even if he can't see my post I thought I had to mention him!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 13, 2017 at 23:05
  • P.S. = I am not the downvoter!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 14, 2017 at 6:48
  • @CarLaTeX Don't worry, on meta downvotes are just an expression of opinion and not impolite as on the main site. Feb 14, 2017 at 8:16
  • Good thing! However, I'd never have thought that this question of mine would have had such a great success!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 14, 2017 at 8:57

I'll add my point of view on the matter, because I was deeply addicted to website for about 3 months and have been forced out of it due to a vacation which I could not bring my laptop with me (this post is from my cell phone), though I believe I'll fall back to it as soon as I get my hands on my pc.

For me the addiction came from the two way street where the site is built. Sometimes, in order to answer something I had to do a bit of research first and ended up learning something in the process, also repeating some of my already acquired knowledge helped on reinforcing such information. So in the end I was too gaining from the site, as much as (or even more) than I was giving.

Finally, I think the matter at hand may be more of time management than TeX.SX addiction. If you feel you are wasting your time here but cannot shake it off, perhaps consulting a specialist might be in order rather than posting a question on the very website your addicted to. If you feel you're just spending too much time here try pushing the website to a low priority (do the important stuff first) and avoid procrastinating here at all costs (procastinate somewhere else, if needed be). Those are my thoughts on the matter.

  • 1
    Thank you for adding the new point of view about the learning experience! As I said before, the post was not for me personally (if I'm addicted I'm happy to be it) but only to avoid other Papiro's cases... "Putting important things first" is the recap of the answer I accepted!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 15, 2017 at 13:58
  • I just felt to share my feelings on the matter. And "you" refers to the reader, not to you personally, ;). BTW, this is a great pool, I was constantly driven to the website during work hours... =/ Feb 15, 2017 at 15:06
  • Of course, "you" is also generic! For me it's the same: I'm working at this moment, but don't tell my boss :):):)
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 15, 2017 at 15:13
  • Only if you do not tell mine! xD Feb 15, 2017 at 16:46
  • Hahaha let's hope they're not TeX.SE users!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 15, 2017 at 16:47
  • Oh, but I know for a fact that they are clueless of LaTeX'es bare existence. In fact, TeX.SX was one of the few procrastinating sites that are available to access in the company! It was blocked for one day (it drove me insane) but on the very next it was available once more, that made me visit the site less frequently... =P Feb 15, 2017 at 16:53
  • My company only blocks the chat room (but I've got a smartphone, hihihi).
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 15, 2017 at 16:55

This more of a comment, but already trimmed it as much as I could and still too long so posting it here.

I keep coming back question to this and feel like I should contribute to it. However, most of my thoughts on this issue are already covered here: A risk when using tex.sx.com. The first part of @karlkoeller's answer is a good description of what I was like before.

I do miss chatting with the folks here, but trying hard to stay focused on my project, which brings me back here on a daily basis, so the risk of falling back into the addiction is real, but so far I have been ok.

Summary: if it is causing a problem, figure out a solution: Papiro's is one way, but there are other solutions.

  • 1
    Thank you for the post you linked, so there was another case! Fortunately, I'm not at a pathological level; I wrote this post only to avoid other users to have Papiro's problem (and also for fun). Yes, TeX.SE is stealing time from my thesis, but I think this only happens because I chose the wrong boring topic (if TeX.SE didn't distract me, there would be FB or any other thing you find to procrastinate an awful job...) but, of course, eating a pizza with friends is much better of all these things!
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 14, 2017 at 7:45

These are the reflections of someone whose account can be deleted any second.

enter image description here

These kinds of sites seem to be attractive too many also because they suggest one to be very useful. (No, I am not saying that the answers are not useful.) So one can easily get used to get many positive answers and encouraging comments. And the human brain is longing for positive feedback, so we keep on answering and answering. A priori, there is nothing wrong with that since the answers seem to be useful for some.

However, I also see some danger in all that, and do not at all say I was immune to that. We may be wanting this kind of feedback too much. We learn how to attract positive votes, e.g. by adding nice screen shots, animations (I am very "guilty" of that) and so on. In a sense many of us are competing for reputation points (which is reinforced by the fact that if you click on users, you'll find them ordered according to their reputation), badges, ticks, whatever positive feedback we can get. This leads to all sorts of complications. Apart from spending more time here than one should, some of us just copy an existing answer without disclosing their source, some of us disclose the source but self-advertise their post as being "more concise" and so on and so forth. And it is really unclear where one should draw the border between good and not so good behavior. On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense to reward the more complete and more elegant posts. After all we all want to have good and elegant codes. Also being quick is rewarded. After all, it is good to have timely answers. However, this also leads to the practice that some add a quick answer just to be first, and then to revise it drastically. Certain badges can only be obtained if one was the first to answer. I openly admit that I also sometimes just added the key ingredient of an answer, and then completed it. (Changes within the first 5 minutes do not even seem to get recorded.) Then there are those who see an idea and copy it. (Even though I did all the dubious things mentioned above, I claim that this is the one thing that I never did, at least not knowingly.) This kills a lot of motivation of newcomers to contribute since the first thing they see is that someone else absorbs their idea in another answer. I believe that the reputation cap of 200 is introduced to counter some of the most negative consequences, but in reality it seems to long those who exceed it even more for the tick and answer questions that are not really interesting but to provide one with "easy rep points". (At least I did that.)

Why am I writing all this? Because I think that the whole site is in a way designed in such a way that we compete in this way. As I said, this serves a lot of purposes but also has some negative consequences. IMHO those who designed this site understand human psychology very well. I believe that it is not only our fault if we overdo it on this site, and spend too much energy. It is partly a consequence of the design, and I urge those who design this site to change the design in such a way that it becomes more cooperative, more democratic and less business-oriented. All these wishes do not concern myself (because I deleted all my accounts) but remaining and and future users of this and similar sites.

As for the answer to this question: one very efficient way is to delete the account. This is guaranteed to work.

  • What do you mean by "someone whose account can be deleted any second"? Is it necessary to add that detail?
    – Werner Mod
    Aug 6, 2019 at 17:29
  • @Werner At least as necessary as your comment. Your comment is also a very good explanation for why it is good to leave this site in its present form. There are always some who think they have to impose rules on others, but do not follow the most basic rules themselves. Sigh.
    – user121799
    Aug 6, 2019 at 17:29
  • @marmot: Well, that doesn't make sense. Mentioning that makes it seem like you're about to delete your account. And even if that were the case, what does that have to do with the question?
    – Werner Mod
    Aug 6, 2019 at 17:37
  • @Werner "As for the answer to this question: one very efficient way is to delete the account. This is guaranteed to work."
    – user121799
    Aug 6, 2019 at 17:48
  • @marmot: That's a valid point and answers the question. I just don't understand the reason for adding the preface "...someone whose account can be deleted any second." You have your reasons, for sure...
    – Werner Mod
    Aug 6, 2019 at 17:59
  • @Werner Obviously I cannot write this post after my account has been deleted, so this is the post by someone who expected to have deleted the account. The only thing that does not make sense (in this post) is IMHO the statement "The account is scheduled to be deleted 2 days ago.", which I am not responsible for.
    – user121799
    Aug 6, 2019 at 18:01
  • @marmot: Oh, I see now. It wasn't clear before. You can click to cancel the deletion though (it seems). Note that account deletion in your case would accompany ~8.5K vote adjustments (which would include votes on new users, I'm sure).
    – Werner Mod
    Aug 6, 2019 at 18:05

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