Are we Internet Addicts?
As I do several times a day, I sit at my computer screen with the knowledge that I have plenty of school work that could be done but for some reason I have to check my email (all 3 email accounts), check facebook (maybe someone left me a message or wrote on my wall), and check nytimes.com (for any interesting new stories) before I can begin my work. Even after I start working, I can easily be distracted by a song playing across the hall that I must immediately download and while I’m downloading I will check my email, facebook, and nytimes again to see if something has changed. Am I addicted to the internet or do I have the control to stop myself? In a world where we have access to so much at the touch of a keyboard we seem to constantly search for something whether it’s an email, a stock or a message on facebook and yet we cannot stop. Is this addiction or is this normal? For a college student, is this normal or is this too much? Are we constantly on the internet because it is so accessible or is it so accessible because we want to be constantly on it? Would reading a newspaper ritualistically everyday during breakfast be more normal than checking the latest stories online? Has our world become so reliant on the internet that we cannot distinguish if we are addicted to the internet or not? What is internet addiction and how do we define it? Is internet addiction real or is it a fabrication? I think the concept of internet addiction can be argued both ways and therefore further research should be performed to develop stricter guidelines to determine what is internet addiction and how can this be treated.
One day as I was surfing the web, I came upon a website that tested internet addiction. Fortunately, my score was only 40 percent (4) which means I am a ‘normal’ internet user. What the website didn’t specify are the parameters that they tested me on. What is normal for the website? What is normal for a college student? What is normal for a 13 year old, who spends a great deal of time playing video games (1)? The website didn’t ask me if I must use the internet for work or school, it asked whether the internet affects school. Whether it affects school or work in a positive or a negative manner was not addressed. There is no definition of “normal online time” because what was normal fifteen years ago, when the internet was so new, is not normal today (6). Normal is a relative term, one that changes with time and with situation and therefore cannot be defined.
It’s interesting to think how has internet addiction been defined and how is it tested. If one must use the internet to make a living or earn a degree are they considered, “internet addicts” or are these people “normal?” To answer this question, we first look at the definition of internet addiction. According to Wikipedia, internet addiction is defined as a pattern of internet use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as manifested by three of the following occurring at any time in the same 12-month period: -1- tolerance, -2- withdrawal, -3- internet is often accessed more often or longer than intended, -4- there is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control internet use, -5- a great deal of time is spent in activities related to Internet use, -6- Frequent talks about the Internet in daily life, -7- important family, social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced (3). Are these symptoms specifically for internet addiction or are they simply for any type of addiction? If we took television, for example, many of the symptoms, previously mentioned, would pertain and yet we don’t consider having television addiction.
There is evidence to suggest that Internet Addiction Disorder is just a subdivision of Addiction, however, when one thinks about the behavior of this disorder they uncover something else. Why do we spend so much time on the internet? We do research for work or classes or papers (like this) because the information is out there. Why is this information so accessible? Who puts this information on the internet? Would a site like Wikipedia exist without Internet Addicts? Spending time on the web and researching for papers occurs because someone has put the time and energy into posting information on their websites or global informative encyclopedia websites. It is someone who probably spent too much time online that revised the Internet Addiction Disorder site on Wikipedia on February 18, 2007 because they were interested in the topic or they have an internet addiction. According to Dr. Grohol the bottom line of why we spend so much time on the internet is socialization (2). He claims that social interactions make the internet addicting because people communicate via email, discussion forum, chat, or an online game. People spend their time exchanging information, support and chit-chat with others (2).
If one looks at the web forum for the Neurobiology and Behavior class, it is evident that fifty something students log onto the same website to discuss many different issues. They log on at least once a week to read what others have written and respond to their writing or write about a topic that has interested them throughout the week. This is a prime example of socialization on the web. There are so many forums that enable people to post, comment, and discuss issues that appeal to their needs and desires. These forum’s are like diaries but the person is not talking to the diary but to another individual who can comment and suggest changes or another way of thinking of the same situation. These online forums are like group therapy only they are free and they enable people with different backgrounds and different lifestyles to comment and enlighten the writer of the initial comment. We are addicted to communicating our problems with anonymity and without judgment.
Internet addictions are behavioral addictions that currently are being reevaluated. Researchers are moving toward a definition of addiction based more on behavior as they think about whether brain activity and biochemistry are affected the same way in behavioral addictions than in drug addictions (7). According to Dr. Howard Shaffer, who leads the Division on Addictions at Harvard University, addictions are based on experience. They are repetitive, high emotion and frequent. It has been found that neuroadaptation, changes in neural circuitry that help perpetuate behavior, occur in behavioral addiction (7). The field of psychology is currently attempting to narrow down the controversial argument this topic has begun about behavioral addiction versus drug addiction. In behavioral addictions, the same brain activity in the frontal and limbic regions can be observed as that of cocaine addict when exposed to their respective stimuli as seen on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
In sum, Internet Addiction has long been a controversy as to whether or not this is an addiction. Researchers have now begun to delve further into the field as it started with online surveys that lacked description. The current symptoms appear to be related to common addiction symptoms that can occur in any field whether it is television, reading or shopping. On the other hand, research has shown that similarities exist in brain function of behavioral addicts and drug addicts. These findings have established that there is a problem with overuse of the internet but what is the underlining cause of this addiction? Is it socialization? Are we trying to escape from our own lives into a web of information where anonymity is everywhere? Why are we so addicted to the internet? What would this class be like if we had no internet? Would it exist? Are college students so familiar with the internet that we express similar brain activity to the internet as a cocaine addict would to cocaine? How can we be certain that this will not affect us in 20 or 30 years? All of these questions have yet to be answered, however, with the sea of evolving information on the web we may be able to answer these questions soon than we imagine.
- Chan P and T. Rabinowitz. A cross-sectional analysis of video games and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms in adolescents. Annual General Psychiatry 5: 16-27. (2006).
- Grohol, J. Internet Addiction Guide. http://psychcentral.com/netaddiction/ revised 2005.
- Internet Addiction Disorder. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_addiction (2007)
- Internet Addiction Test. http://www.netaddiction.com/resources/internet_addiction_test.htm.
- Rau P, Peng S and C. Yang. Time Distortion for expert and Novice Online Game Players. Cyberpsychology & Behavior. 9(4): 396-403. (2006).
- What is normal? How Much is Too Much When Spending Time Online. http://psychcentral.com/archives/n100397.htm. 1997.
- Holden, C. Addiction: Behavioral Addictions: Do they Exists? Science. 294(5544):980-982. (2001).