The media has been buzzing with the supposed news that ‘internet addiction’ has been added to the list of ‘official mental disorders’. This is nonsense, but it tells us something oddly disappointing about how the media handles tech scare scores.
This recent wave of ‘the internet is making us crazy’ drivel stemmed from an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald and the story soon went global – being picked up by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Russia Today.
Firstly, for those of you who are not aware why the concept of internet addiction is so untrue it’s a logical impossibility, I’ll direct you to an earlier post.
But talking specifically about the article which sparked the media panic attack, it’s odd in that it quotes two psychologists – one who has never published anything on internet addiction and the other who is a Reiki therapist. This doesn’t make it wrong but it does strike me as slightly strange for a news piece.
The article is trying to talk about the listing of ‘internet use disorder‘ in a non-diagnosable section of the DSM-5 for conditions “recommended for further study”.
This section has speculative and non-official disorders in it. You can find caffeine use disorder there if you’re feeling a bit jittery.
It also has the diagnosis of attenuated psychosis syndrome in it. Here’s how science journal Nature reacted when this diagnosis was listed in the same section: “Psychosis risk syndrome excluded from DSM-5″
In other words, if something appears in the DSM-5 section “recommended for further study” it is excluded from the list of ‘official mental illnesses’ because the diagnosis has been evaluated but found to be unsupported by research evidence.
It’s a mystery why this has suddenly become ‘news’ now because this decision has been discussed for years and it finally happened last May.
But it’s also worth noting that even the proposed definition of internet use disorder isn’t actually about using the internet, it’s about online gaming. This doesn’t make it any less nonsense, however. If someone who is addicted to gambling starts playing online do they suddenly have ‘another mental illness’? Clearly not.
Similarly, the idea that someone can be ‘addicted to gaming’ is just daft as the concept of ‘gaming’ is so wide as to not describe any single behaviour or experience – something quite important if you’re going to say that there is a mental illness based on it.
More interestingly, the The Sydney Morning Herald article has a curious quirk that allows us to see how lazily these stories get picked up and flung around.
The piece says will be included in the ‘revised edition of the DSM-IV’ – which is presumably a very awkward way of saying DSM-5.
Suddenly though, the world’s media is saying that ‘internet addiction’ will be included in the ‘DSM-IV’ which would be quite a feat considering it was published in 1994.
Here’s the clanger presented as original journalism from Forbes, the Daily Mail, the HuffPo, Mashable, the New York Post, Times of India and Russia Today. The Guardian even asked readers to vote on whether it was true!
Essentially, you can currently get anything into the media just by suggesting that technology is ‘bad for our minds’, because we love stories that justify our worries – no matter how untrue.
We used to think schools were ‘bad for the mind’ but try getting ‘education causes mental illness’ into the newspapers.