The concept of “Internet addiction” is a pet hate of mine, as it really doesn’t qualify as any kind of genuine or quantifiable disorder, but gets thrown around in pop science conversations as if it’s an actual social issue.
I find it comes up quite a lot in China, as a lot of people do spend a lot of time using the Internet here. Having got frustrated with being unable to talk about the nuances of this, I’ve written the points below in the hope that I can get my point across properly next time.
This hasn’t been completely edited yet so there’s a lot of dodgy Chinese in there. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks a lot to the users at Chinese Forums for working on this.
“Addiction” vs “excess”
There’s a difference between being addicted to something and just doing it excessively.
Excessive use of the Internet is not a medical or psychiatric issue.
Compare it to other enjoyable activities: going to the cinema, reading books, going for walks, chatting to friends etc.
There are plenty of examples of people who do these things “excessively”, but no-one says those are “addictions”.
The concept doesn’t make sense
The concept of “Internet addiction” implies that “the Internet” is some sort of definable activity.
In fact, there are countless, varied uses for the Internet.
It’s a communication medium, not a substance or specific activity.
It’s like saying that someone is addicted to “transport”, “art” or “politics”.
I’ve heard the example of the parents in Korea who let their child die because they were too busy playing video games.
I’m not denying that that happened, but one example doesn’t count as evidence.
You need consistent and quantifiable criteria.
Those people did not neglect their child because they used the Internet too much.
They used the Internet too much because they had some underlying problem that also caused them to neglect their child.
This is an example of confusing two things that have a common cause with one thing that causes another.
People “diagnosed” often have other problems
People “diagnosed” with “Internet addiction” are nearly always diagnosed with other difficulties as well.
Having some sort of mental disorder causes people to use the Internet excessively, not the other way round.
Excessive Internet use is a symptom of other problems, not a cause of them.
These other problems need to be dealt with, not the excessive Internet use.
Excessive Internet use is bad, it’s just not the core problem
This is not to say that excessive Internet use isn’t a problem.
It’s saying that it’s not the root cause, and it’s not a medical or social issue that needs to be addressed in itself.
There’s no good evidence that spending a lot of time online is problematic in itself.
- The neuropsychology blog MindHacks has a lot of excellent coverage of this, in particular:
- Why there is no such thing as internet addiction
- ‘Internet addiction’ built on foundations of sand
- Internet addiction storm breaks in China
- Internet addiction nonsense hits the AJP
- ‘Internet addiction’ lacks validity finds another study
- “Internet addiction: To diagnose or disregard.” – Jeffrey A. Schaler
- Internet Addiction Guide
And some examples of the silliness:
- Center for Online and Internet Addiction
- Internet Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Self-Help