A study just published in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior has reviewed all of the available scientific studies on internet addiction and found them to be mostly crap. And not just slightly lacking, really pretty awful.
To quote from the research summary:
The analysis showed that previous studies have utilized inconsistent criteria to define Internet addicts, applied recruiting methods that may cause serious sampling bias, and examined data using primarily exploratory rather than confirmatory data analysis techniques to investigate the degree of association rather than causal relationships among variables.
Rather disappointingly though, the authors just suggest that better research is needed when it’s quite obvious that the whole concept is fundamentally flawed.
So badly flawed that it’s a logical fallacy, a category error, in fact. To revisit the point, the internet is a medium of communication and it is not possible to be addicted to a medium of communication because the medium does not specify an activity.
It’s like saying someone is a ‘language addict’ or is ‘addicted’ to transport. It just makes no sense.
Unfortunately, none of the so-called diagnostic scales or indeed, researchers, actually get this point, so it’s perfectly possible to be diagnosed with internet addiction if you’re putting in a lot of long-stressful hours running a business. If you use the internet to communicate with your employees that is.
If, on the other hand, you’re putting in a lot of long-stressful hours running a business and you use an alternative medium of communication, then you’re not an internet addict. Same motivations, same emotional impact, same psychological effect. But if you use the internet you have a mental illness, and if you don’t, well, you don’t.
You can switch ‘running a business’ for anything that is stressful, preoccupying and intrusive (following a sports team perhaps) and if you use the internet as a tool, you’re diagnosable.
At least with the current methods – which, it turns out, are not even based on even a semblance of scientific reliability.
This is not to say that there aren’t people who use the internet excessively to the detriment of themselves and their families. But there are people who follow football in a similarly problematic way, and people who spend too much time going to folk concerts, and people who can’t tear themselves away from the stock market.
This doesn’t make them addicts and the sooner we stop trying to apply addiction to people as a clumsy way to trying to avoid the language of blame the quicker we can tackle their social and emotional difficulties in a more relevant and appropriate way.