Monday, September 15, 2008

Internet Addiction

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.

Or not?


Ann said...

I think people substitute internet interaction for the lack of real connection they feel for the people in their lives. On the other hand, there are people who are painfully shy who find the distance of internet a way to boost themselves socially.

Kids who play games to the extent that they lose jobs or flunk out of school? That is a barely conscious act of self-sabotage.

Jim Shannon said...

I don't use chat rooms or online gambling but I'm looking into playing some online poker soon.

I spend way more time on the Internet because there's nothing good on TV worth watching in the summer. I spend less time on the Internet after summer. So it's a seasonal thing. Now if I was addicted to the Internet, I'd have one of those smart phones with pocket Internet. I'm not ready to go there yet.

g d townshende said...

When I first got on the Internet, back around 1995/6, my behaviour might've been classified as "addictive," but the fact that I now spend far less time on the Internet than I did back then would have to negate the intial observation.

One thing that certainly worked to curb my Internet usage back then, though, was that I was paying by the hour. Once — and only once, thank goodness — I had a bill for my Internet usage of $400. If that isn't enough to make one cut back, I don't know what is.

That $400 bill, however, brings up the question of how things are operated now: Would a return to hourly billing really curb such "addictive" behaviour? And, does a flat fee with unlimited usage encourage "addictive" behaviour? I wouldn't presume to know the answers to such questions, but I think a reasonable speculation to explain the change is that years ago the Internet wasn't the tool for business that it is today, so that hourly fees were necessary to cover the cost for access. Now, with advertising all over the bloody place (including spam), such income has to've helped in paving the way for the flat fee/unlimited usage we find today.

I do agree, though, that the overuse and abuse of the terms "rape" and "addiction" have weakened their original meanings.


Luke said...

My understanding is that the term "addiction" has come to represent more of a psychological than physical phenomenon. Heroin and cigarettes are insanely addicting in both senses, but the terms is expanding to include such things as overeating and gaming.

I've found myself falling into addictive type behaviors with the internet (or perhaps the more correct term is OCD): checking emails and message boards countless times throughout the day, etc.

James A. Ritchie said...

I don't know if internet addiction is real, but I do know a fair number of psychiatrists say it is, and treating this "addiction" is now big business.

I also know of two women who lost custody of their children because because on supposed internet addiction.

I'm an online gambler, by the way. I love playing poker, and there are no casinos close to where I live. I limit how much time I play, but it's the next best thing to sitting in a casino.

Mark said...

Luke's on to something: I too would call this behavior more of an Obsession than an addiction, in some cases very similar to the obsessive gambling behaviors I'd seen when I lived in southern Nevada (there were instances of individuals otherwise qualified to live off base being ordered to live in the dormitory because of gambling obsessiveness).

I myself have been guilty of using computers (both listserves and games) as a time-sink that cost me some GPA.

I also agree w/Annie about internet social interactions being better than no social interactions. One of my friends, who's in IT, described a phenomenon he noticed about 15 years ago. He'd see really Hot Chix with Really Nerdy looking guys. Apparently, before bandwidth got large enough for easy picture/video transmission, these guys were eloquent enough online to win over these supermodel looking gals :-)) After bandwidth increased, physical attraction once again played a major role in the mating game :-/

Nick A said...

Oh, it's an addiction....

E.G., the recent survey done by Sheraton hotels, that had 1/3 of respondents said they prefered their blackberry over their spouse.

Luke said...

1/3 of respondents may very well prefer an enema over their spouse.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Isn't it strange that online we feel free to say things--insulting things--we would never =dream= of saying face-to-face? I'm online twice a week, and spend most of that time talkin' with the gang at Paul Wilson's board. Paul's said more than once that newbies are surprised how civil we are. But that's only by comparison. We can get pretty nasty towards one another. I wonder why... Might a part of it be that us monkey folks don't =really= believe another person exists unless we see him or her?

José Iriarte said...

I don't think the word "addiction" is misapplied here. I've always heard the term subdivided into physiological and psychological addictions. I'd say psychological addictions are no less real. If something's making you feel like you have to behave in a certain manner, how much does it really matter what the mechanism is?

I've displayed addictive behavior in my life, but I seem to be pretty good at hitting a point where I take stock, suffer some self-loathing, and ditch or curtail the behavior with no pain or withdrawal symptoms. I went through it with television (which I now hardly ever watch--in fact, it annoys me when my wife has it on), with casino gambling (which I don't do anymore, but not in the AA total avoidance way, but just that I'm not drawn to it), and with internet stuff (which I still do, but in moderation).

I don't believe internet relationships are illegitimate, but then, I've been fortunate enough to participate in forums with some incredibly intelligent and classy people--not your typical YouTube comment posters. I've met a lot of my internet friends in real life multiple times, stayed with them as I've traveled the country, and become close buddies with those of them who live near me. Honestly, those real-life friends I met online are my best friends. What the internet makes possible is the making of friends based primarily on shared interests and outlooks, rather than on proximity. As someone whose interests and outlook are on the unusual side, that's a wonderful draw.

Bill Dunning said...

It's not really fair to say the word "rape" has been weakening in modern times. From the time of Middle English, it has always had that more general meaning of seizing, carrying off by force, or plundering. Sexual rape was a more specific instance of that. If anything, the word's usage has become narrower over time, since most people these days automatically associate it with the sexual meaning.

Slicely said...

Up to 70,000 people in Switzerland could be addicted to the Internet and another 110,000 are at risk of developing a fixation, a study has found.