Without a doubt, the amount of attention we give the internet and technology has risen over the years. We are always ‘on’ and technology is taking up more and more of our time. Online addiction is and changing the way we relate to each other, society and ourselves.
The internet has had a positive effect on society, but there is also an undercurrent of negative change. This is something that a lot of us find hard to look at and accept. Many people say that I am too negative and that tech does a lot of good. People tell me to focus on the positives. It reminds me of the book ‘Smile or Die,’ by Barbara Ehrenreich, where she talks about how we must always look on the bright side of life – without contemplating the bad.
The bright side?
Looking at online addiction, we can see that the subject is fraught with controversy. Many debunk the notion in its entirety, while others, such as David Greenfield, talk of the negative effects of the internet and technology. In fact, there was a great documentary on the subject, called Web Junkies. The documentary takes a look at Chinese boot camps that seek to cure people from their online addiction. When the makers interviewed the people in the camps, many of them revealed that they sit in internet cafes for hours, or even days at a time. Some, not even getting up to go to the toilet – and instead using bottles to urinate in. Compelling evidence of an all-encompassing addiction, if you ask me.
However, looking at journals on the subject, the evidence is far from conclusive.
One one hand, we can clearly see how engrossed people are that it affects their daily lives. But, on the other hand, no one can make a legitimate case for it to be recognised and put in the DSM.
To me, something is not right here. If we look at the dictionary.com definition of addiction it reads:
“The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”
The internet is littered with examples of the trauma caused by online addiction. People struggle without their phones for just a short amount of time.
I did some research into the matter by going 3 days with no phone – and the results were startling.
Why do we find it so hard to fit online addiction into a category?
In the documentary, we can see that the people in the boot-camp were all addicted to playing an ORPG (Online Role Play Game). However, not everyone is interested in the online fantasy world. Instead, they seek out stimulation from places like: social media, dating websites, chat-rooms. Some may even look at pornography, or gamble, the list goes on.
The internet is a virtual world. It has a different, more diverse set of realities for us to choose from and partake in.
Much of our internet use is based around sitting in front of device. This is one thing that groups all of these internet-based activities together. Whether it’s pornography, games, YouTube, social media etc. we all do the same physical action – sitting in front of a screen on the internet.
To flip it on its head, if we met an offline gambling addict (think fruit machines, betting shops etc.), we wouldn’t say they were addicted to the physical world!
Virtual addiction vs. real world addiction
This is where it starts to get complicated. A gambling addict, who solely uses web-based casinos, would not be labelled an internet addict. They would be a gambling addict.
It is easier to label someone a gambling addict as they are doing the physical action that leads to the stimulus. This in turn, creates the addiction no matter what medium is used.
How can we link all of these activities together into one encompassing addiction – online addiction?
The internet has opened many new pathways to explore, but we are still using the same criteria – based on the physical assessment structure.
In my opinion, we need to classify internet use as a singular act – separating and examining the effect of different virtual activities to understand the effect they have on society. And then label them as the addiction in themselves.