Studies pointing out the dangers of our technology-enabled lifestyles are nothing new. Topics such the possibility of getting brain tumors from our cell phones and the danger of video game violence translating into real-world violence frequently pop up on the front pages of newspapers and web sites (including this one) around the world.
Another popular topic is addiction, specifically Internet addiction. A new study published in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care says that Internet addiction is a serious problem, manifesting itself in between 5 percent and 10 percent of all surfers.
One problem with the term “Internet addiction” is the looseness of the term as it can be applied to any number of problematic behaviors.
The researchers in this case broke the term down into five specific behaviors:
* Cybersexual addiction
* Cyberrelationship addiction
* Net compulsion
* Information overload
* Interactive gaming compulsion
Cybersexual and cyberrelationship addiction along with interactive gaming compulsion are fairly self-explanatory. Net compulsion describes a range of unhealthy online behaviors including stock trading, gambling, and shopping, while information overload covers compulsive web surfing. As one might expect, men are more prone to the cybersexual addictions as well as the net and interactive gaming compulsions. Women seem to struggle more often with the cyberrelationship addictions.
If you’re wondering how you stack up on the continuum of net addiction, there’s a handy Internet Addiction Test, which comes from the Center for Online and Internet Addiction, in which you can discover how addicted you are. I took it and scored a 41, which puts me at the very low end of the “frequent problems exist regarding use of the Internet.” My late-night surfing habits as well as my predilection towards checking e-mail and IM on my way out the door helped raise my score.
Studies such as this are useful in that they point out the fact that some people have a problem managing their online lifestyles along with ways of addressing the problem. The question remains as to whether there is any such thing as Internet addiction. Yes, people become addicted to certain online behaviors. In many cases, however, those behaviors look an awful lot like manifestations of “real-world” problems transported to the Internet. Sexual addiction becomes a cybersexual addiction, codependency and relationship enmeshment translate into a cyberrelationship addiction, and blowing too much money at the casino or horse track too often becomes just another net compulsion.
The behaviors and problems are real. But does putting them into one of five buckets under a broad umbrella of “Internet addiction” really help address the root problems causing those behaviors? When 54 percent of Internet addicts say they have a history of depression, 52 percent drug or alcohol abuse and 34 percent an anxiety disorder, it seems even clearer that cyberspace is just another place for unhealthy and self-destructive behaviors to manifest themselves.
By Eric Bangeman
Ars Technica, LLC