While reading (still) the non-fiction book Loneliness, which I cited in an earlier post, I came across mention of R.Kraut et. al.'s classic 1999 article on Internet use. I had read this before. A longitudinal study, it looked at 173 people who had been using the Internet for one or two years, and discovered that over time, "greater use of the Internet was associated with declines in participants' communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness." Now I discover that there are many sites devoted to "internet addiction," including tests to discover whether or not you're "addicted" (I'm not).
Is this a real phenomenon? Wikipedia says that the term "internet addiction" was originally created as a hoax. Yet the entry, a masterpiece of fence-sitting, also acknowledges the reality of sub-classes of addiction because they fall into recognized psychological disorders: too much on-line gambling, too much on-line porn. I personally know of at least one college-student who flunked out because he spent so much time in on-line gaming -- but did he flunk out because he was "addicted" or did he just spend so much time gaming because he hated college?
My concern here is partly linguistic. The term "rape" came to be used for so many different things ("the rape of the holiday spirit by consumerism") that it lost some of its potency to refer to the real thing. "Addiction" as applied to time on the Internet may be the same thing.