How can we discern the difference between internet addiction and ‘healthy’ internet use? After all, as students we constantly use the internet for research, email, news and socialising. It becomes problematic when it affects our mental and physical wellbeing, interferes with our relationships, academic or financial situation.
Is Internet addiction even real?
I found that there is an ongoing debate about whether internet addiction is even classified as a real condition. Joseph Walther, a Communications professor at Michigan State University, argues that, ‘No scientific evidence has emerged to suggest that internet use is a cause rather than a consequence of some other sort of issue (Economist 2011).’ However, psychologist Dr Kimberley Young raises concerns about the new problems of this medium. Online role playing games, gambling, social media and pornography were identified as problems linked to internet use. In The New Yorker article, the internet is described as a ‘vehicle’ for these addictions. For example, the distinctions between internet addiction or gambling addiction are not so clear.
In 2013, the American Journal of Psychiatry suggested that Internet addiction be added to the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Due to the lack of substantial evidence or ‘systematic, longitudinal data’ (Konnikova 2014), it was not added.
There’s something different, and more complicated, about Internet addiction, though. Unlike gambling, it’s more difficult to pin down a quantifiable, negative effect of Internet use (Konnikova 2014).
As highlighted by Konnikova, internet use is difficult to quantify, which may account for the lack of clinical research.
Is there a cultural factor?
In 2008, China recognised Internet addiction as a clinical disorder, becoming the first nation to do so. This clip from documentary, Web Junkie (2013), presents a startling look at an Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in Daxing, Beijing. The treatment consists of a mixture of therapy and military drills training for three to four months, à la ‘boot camp style’. A patient recounts how his parents deceived him into being ‘locked up’ in the Treatment Centre. Is such a drastic and extreme measure necessary, or even effective in the long term?
With widely reported deaths of young South Korean men who die of over exhaustion due to gaming binges for days, South Korea has implemented national prevention programs to prevent and treat internet addiction for young children. National screening days are held to identify children at risks and early prevention programs are offered in schools. I find it interesting that both the Chinese and South Korean government have responded to problematic internet use at a national level. While it does raise questions about internet addiction specifically in Asian cultures, 1 in 8 Americans showed ‘at least one possible sign of problematic Internet use’ in a telephone survey (Stanford 2006).
‘Parents concerned over problem gaming and internet addiction’
Researchers say that 1 to 3 young people are addicted to the internet and video games (ABC News 2014). In 2013, The Pew Internet Project found that more than 30% of children under the age of 2 have used a tablet or smartphone whereas 75% of children of 8 years old and younger live with one or more mobile devices in the home (Young 2015). Such statistics raise alarm about young children and their relationship to the internet.
There is still dispute about whether internet addiction is a real, diagnosable condition. The distinctions are not so clear due to the lack of data and clinical studies. But with young children having greater access to the internet and technology than ever before, we need to question the consequences of excessive internet use in our everyday lives.
Barret, R. 2014, Parents concerned over problem gaming and internet addiction, ABC News, 8 March, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-08/teens-addicted-to-gaming/5306534>.
Konnikova, M. 2014, Is internet addiction a real thing?, The New Yorker, 26 November, viewed 22 August 2015, <http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/internet-addiction-real-thing>.
The New York Times 2014, China’s Web Junkies: Internet Addiction Documentary | Op-Docs | The New York Times, YouTube, video recording, viewed August 21 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqctG3NnDa0>.
Young, K.S. 2015, ‘The evolution of Internet Addiction’, Addictive Behaviors, viewed 22 August 2015, <http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.05.016>.
‘Addicted? Really?’ The Economist, 2011: 10(US). Expanded Academic ASAP. Web, viewed 22 August 2015, <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.d?id=GALE%7CA251108647&v=2.1&u=uts&it=r&p=EAIM&sw=w&asid=b8b231bb3c7d5be53e761eefef0628b2>.
Internet addiction: Stanford study seeks to define whether it’s a problem, 2006, Stanford University, viewed August 22 2015, <http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2006/10/internet-addiction-stanford-study-seeks-to-define-whether-its-a-problem.html>.
Header image: Photograph by Bill Hinton, Getty Images, viewed 22 August 2015, <http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/internet-addiction-real-thing>.