Internet Addiction and Media Mush

Smart Mobs reports (complete with copied-and-pasted typographical errors) on the story in CNN today about “Internet Addiction”. It’s an interesting subject to revisit at this moment, seeing how the modalities of function of the internet have diversified in recent times (RSS, wikis, ecommerce, filesharing, even).

I’ve read the original scholarly article sourced in the CNN story (originally published in October 2005), and I cannot see anything in it that we haven’t heard before. A glance at the citations reveals only a scant few sources more recent than 2003. And as it relies on dated interpretations and observations of heavy internet use, the substance of the paper comes off as quite the period piece. Consider the following choice passages:

Between 9 and 15 million people use the Internet daily, and it is estimated that every 3 months the rate of use increases by 25% (Cooper, 1999).

Men and women experience Internet addiction differently. Men are interested in information seeking, games, and cybersex. They seek power, status, and dominance, gravitating to sources of information glut, aggressive interactive games, and sexually explicit chat rooms and cyberporn. Conversely, women use the Internet more for support and friendship, romance, and complaint mechanism about their partners (Young, 1998; Schneider, 2000).

A focus on the computer and lack of attention to daily reality is indicative of poor judgment and results in lowered grades in school, job loss, and indebtedness (Young, 1998; Christensen, Orzack, Babington, & Patsdaughter, 2001).

Framing high amounts of internet use in terms of a psychiatric disorder, and recommending treatment for this with antidepressant drugs (as this article does) betrays a lack of awareness of how, increasingly, many physically and mentally healthy people are working, playing, and learning online. I do not have any statistical data to support my claims here (though with a bit of digging, I think I could find some), but it is certainly feasible than in the era of blogs, wikis and open source web dev, one could spend ten hours per day reading, writing, learning, socializing, or creating online, rather than indulging in the consumption-oriented frivolities of Web 1.0 (porn, gambling, cybersex, ebay).

I suppose I’m one of those users who easily spends 6+ hours online per day (about 5 hours for work purposes, and maybe 1 hour for leisure). But I’ve never been able to learn things as efficiently as I can with contemporary web tools such as RSS and wikis.

Based on my modality of usage of the web, to diagnose me as someone with a disorder is an equivalent fallacy as saying someone who is well-read has a “book addiction” that requires treatment.

So to recap: the blog copied and pasted the typo in the news site which hyped up the headlines of a scholarly article that used outdated observations to erroneously conclude that I need antidepressants because I spend too much time online.

Maybe I wouldn’t have to spend so much time online if just one of the writers in the above convoluted sequence had taken the time to untangle their errors and presumptions before joining the misinformation party.

6 thoughts on “Internet Addiction and Media Mush”

  1. What is even more absurd than the CNN article is the fact that some people have made a name for themselves in the wide wonderful blogosphere by just cutting and pasting over and over again.

    Do you think people who cut and paste into their blogs all day are also ‘internet addicts’?

  2. Mush indeed. Check out Reed’s Law on how the internet enables groups of people to interact and consider that as an alternative explanation for why this medium is so compelling. Perhaps we spend time in it because it is better than the alternatives.

    …r

  3. Ironically (?) your google ads are now full of links to places purportedly treating internet addiction. So you will be making money from those you deny/decry. Ah, the internet. Don’t you love it. Even without a brain it shows us our foibles.

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