Internet addiction: an unconvincing notion

“I thought I was addicted to Internet chatting. Turns out I was addicted to the person I was chatting with” (I.K., 27, female, loc. unknown)

Internet addiction is a hot topic in the scientific community (if you want evidence, here‘s a database containing a huge amount of articles published on it, between 1996 and 2006).

Internet addiction is a slippery topic, too. Definitions are vague, diagnostic tools are not standardised, negative consequences are questionable – can I really talk about social withdrawal if I spend 18 hours a day exchanging emails and IMing with my friends online? Most of all, Internet addiction has become kind of an unconvincing notion since ubiquitous computing has rendered the Internet just about as pervasive as – say – running water. Of course, my quality of life would decrease dramatically if I had to live without taking showers or washing my dishes. But can I say I am addicted to running water?

An effective way of curing Shower Addiction
An effective way of curing Shower Addiction

The same goes with the Internet. If I, for one, had to give up Google and word-processing, I would give up writing altogether. And that would be a major catastrophe. Can I say, in all sincerity, that I am addicted to Google? Or that I am, more likely, addicted to writing?

Here’s the point. Internet is a tool to do things. Whether it is staying in touch with people, or knowing everything about the Merovingian dinasty, the Web is just a medium. Curing Internet addiction is just about as useless as the proverbial shooting the messenger (maybe because he brings too many messages?)

Anyhow, have a look at this article published in CyberPsychology & Behaviour if you want to be sure that this field of research is far from sound.

Sookeun Byun, Celestino Ruffini, Juline E. Mills, Alecia C. Douglas, Mamadou Niang, Svetlana Stepchenkova, Seul Ki Lee, Jihad Loutfi, Jung-Kook Lee, Mikhail Atallah, Marina Blanton (2008). Internet Addiction: Metasynthesis of 1996–2006 Quantitative Research CyberPsychology & Behavior, 2147483647-5 DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2008.0102