at first, it was the shiny badges you got just for trying things out
then it was the power-ups when you hit certain levels... voting on posts, adding comments, that sort of thing
nothing major, it just starts with a trickle...and the first one is always free...
...and soon you're checking SO when you compile. and when you're at lunch. and when you're supposed to be paying attention to a conference call
they hook you when you're young, when you don't know any better, when your resistance is low...
...they dangle shiny things in front of you: badges! privileges! powers! respect of your peers!
by the time you hit 500, you're completely hooked. You start each day thinking "how much did i gain overnight?". You end each day refreshing the unanswered-questions page over and over, hoping for Just. One. More. Easy. Answer. before bedtime.
then you think, hey, if i hit 3000, i can reopen questions that certain can't-take-the-stick-out SO-and-SOs like to close before they even have a chance to garner a sarcastic comment.
then you think, whoa, 500 more points and i'll pass by that jackass who ticked me off when i was just a noob - take that!
then you think, hey, 1000 more points and i'll show up on page two of the users list
then you think, another 2000 points and i'll show up on page one of the users list
and then one day you think: i've finally hit page one! and i'm halfway to Jon Skeet's rep! woo-hoo! superslackerstardom!
but then ugly reality sets in: you will never reach, much less pass, Jon Skeet's rep rating, for numerous reasons - so you might as well get back to work
the good news is that after a few weeks, it is possible to wean yourself back to a healthy level of participation - an hour a day or less - and still find the occasional juicy question that gives you the overnight boost that you still seem to crave.
i just live in fear that one day the freebies will stop and then i'll have to pay for my SO fix...