Internet addiction?

You might get labeled
a psychiatric case

by Bernd Nurnberger

The front page of the “Life” section caught my eye — Hong Kong Standard (Newspaper), 1997 October 24, Friday. Internet the new drug of addiction, by DPA Features.

What a coincidence? I have seen that a year before! Same topic. Well, further down, same psychologist, same university.  1996 July, USA Today - look here.  Only now, the author is not revealed,  DPA (Deutsche Presse Agentur) is the German Press Agency. Well, by pure conincidence, on the flight from Hong Kong home to Tokyo, I again have the time and my HP200 palmtop computer is with me, so I again write a story for the TPC (Tokyo PC User's Group).

I quote the full-height column from said newspaper (fair use, I guess) and interleave my comments. Language lives. New phenomena and new technologies add vocabulary and shift definitions. That is why derivations in dictionaries are so useful. They provide a historic trail to the origin of words and assist us in understanding each other.

On the opposite side, one of the weapons in psychological warfare is subverting the vocabulary and its definitions, thus shifting the moral values to a new allegiance. Free people rightfully oppose the censoring or alteration of books. Alteration of definitions and connotations of words is much harder to detect. Let's see how this article comes out.

"Internet the new drug of addiction"

Sounds strange. Addictive drugs are not at all an adequate metaphor for Internet, not even for TV or other established media. Is this is a serious warning? No match in my opinion, for the true physical addictions: drugs, medication, alcohol and nicotine, chocoholics, workaholics, etc. Oops, almost fell in the wording claptrap myself, “work addiction” is not drug-induced.

"IF [sic] you dream of the Internet even when you’re offline, stretch the hours you spend at the computer and get irritable when you can’t surf, you could be hooked."

Well, I happen to not remember any dreams related to computers. If I remember dreams, it is of flying, faraway friends, female companions including my wife, sometimes making music. Sometimes when a brisk search on the Internet did not reveal what I was looking for, I idly surf about and then indeed find myself occasionally stretching the hours I spend at the computer. As far as Yahoo Xtra news by Reuters and other media go, the substance is about the same as on TV, radio, newspapers. Of course if I want to surf and can’t, maybe because of an overloaded Internet or the provider’s rare tremporary outage,  I get irritable. Just the same as when I can’t find the book I am looking for or the chapter in the manual that explains how to close all open Windows with a simple two to three finger key combination.

"United States psychologists put Internet addiction on a par with alcohol and drug addiction. Satisfying the craving gives temporary respite from agitation, anxiety and problems.”

Psychologists means more than one. As we shall see below, there is only one. A year ago, I didn’t realize this, but now I have the evidence. Clever wording makes it seem like this was the opinion of an association. See for yourself the 1996 wording.

And on cravings: any activity I consider useful will give me temporary respite. On the other hand, if I am are forced to be idle whe I don’t want to I do experience agitation. Is it the same for you?  The subliminal message above appears after reading it a few times: Agitation, anxiety and problems are the normal condition of life, relief is only temporary and there is a craving for Internet.

"Speaking at the American Psychological Society’s annual conference in Chicago, Kimberly Young of the University of Pittsburg [sic] explained ..."

This is either now the second time the same psychologist presents an ‘Internet addiction’ study to the same society or the German press agency committed one of the more frequent news manipulations: it omitted the date.

"... that housewives were most at risk, but students, schoolchildren and people without full-time jobs were often dependent on the Internet, too"

Well, I have a full-time job, even an overtime job, and - boy, am I dependent on the Internet! A considerable part of my income and career depends on it.  And for those who have time enough, what’s so bad about Internet, compared to the established media? Could it be that the uncensored information and free opinion available on the Internet might spell doom for the psychologist and their consultation fees? After all, it is fairly easy to find good material on the Internet or a soul who listens or reads the screen and may offer workable ideas and encouragenment - for free.

"Ms Young’s [sic] findings were based on data network interviews with 396 Internet users who fulfilled at least four of the eight criteria of addiction."

No news, same study as 1996. Here is the evidence: same number of users.  What are the criteria for addiction?  The article does not reveal it. But I do reveal my own addictions:  I crave food every 6 hours, I may even get violent if I cannot satisfy that addiction for 3 days.  I crave air even more, I would get violent if I were deprived of air for only a minute.  And how 396 data network interviews on-line could provide objective proof for addiction is beyond my understanding..

"Only eight percent of those interviewed worked in high-tech professions or were otherwise computer experts."

Hmm, some 32 people gave that as their profession in the on-line interviews. I’d be interested in a bit of journalistic homework:  What is the percentage of such professions or knowledge in the general population?  If this small sample of 396 does not match the general population, the sample is biased, a sure recipe to arrive at misleading statistics. If undetected, this leads to erroneous conclusions. I seriously doubt any statistical significance of a study of some 400 out of 40,000,000 Internet users.

"Only one in 10 logged into the Internet to fish for data or extract information."

With respect to the statistical error inherent in such a small sample, the actual number in a larger population could vary from "almost everyone" to "one in hundred". And isn’t fishing for data synonymous to extracting information? Even in chat rooms, I do extract information (from others) and I fish for data (whatever others may tell about themselves). Fuzzy logic to the extreme.

"The most popular feature were the the chat rooms which 35 per cent admitted to using."

How did Ms. Young locate her interviewees, 139 of which said they used chat rooms? What type of people she got certainly depended on the forum she used to ask for the interviews. Without the description of the method, the data itself are not convincing. Ask around, how many of the people you know use the Internet even know what chat rooms are? And then, what is there to admit about chat rooms? The subliminal message is that chat rooms are “forbidden play”.

"A further 28 per cent preferred Multi-User Dragons for interactive fantasy games."

Hey, what about the people who prefer chat and the dragons game, are they not counted here? Among the 1000 people I can contact via the Internet, there are only 28 who even know that game.
See how convincing that sounds? I do have some 1000 contacts in my e-mail files, but I admit made up the number who know that game. It is too easy to come up with a true sample equally valid to the 1996 study rehashed in that article. Just mail the question to everyone in your e-mail archive.

Nope, not valid, the psychologist would say. You somehow know all these people, that is not a valid cross-section of the population. Your sample is biased.

So is the psychologist’s.

"’Internet junkies are not seeking to increase their knowledge but looking for a social crutch, sexual fulfillment and support in developing their personality,’ Ms Young [sic] concluded."

So what? TV entertainment junkies may do the same. People who go to bookstores and newsstands may do the same. I remember a few of my high school classmates who announced they wanted to study psychology answered when asked in private, that they hoped to find there a workable solution to develop their own personality,  reach deeper fulfillment and find ways to be more independent.  It may be stretching the bow too far to suppose Ms. Young went through a phase similar to my classmates.

"Nervous types, she said, also had the opportunity to express their opinions without having to fear rejection. —DPA Features"

Surprise! Ms.Young had not concluded, or the little green news men added this of their own accord?
Independent of the media, be it any of the various places on the Internet or other communication channels: In a true democracy, everyone has the opportunity to express their opinions without fear of rejection. Of course, in a totalitarian environment would one have to fear rejection. Is that he subliminal message? Or is it that if you fear rejection when you express your opinion, you are the nervous type?

You decide.

Conclusion: the same.

This article about the 1996 study warmed up and repackaged is again unreflected journalism and warped verbiage, tooting the horn for a single psychologist.  Alarmed relatives might now suspect to see signs of a new drug addiction in the Internet users at home, especially those who occasionally turn their backs with the comment, “leave me alone just now, I am on-line.” and close the browser window to hide gifs and pics.

If they have the bad luck of asking for psychological advice (ha!), it might go like this: Of course this is a serious addiction, not to be taken lightly. One cannot take away the computer or close the Internet account, that would be negative feedback and worsen the condition. The only evidence of a successful cure is when the patient voluntarily ceases to use the addictive agent. This mind-alteration can be easily and comfortably achieved, thanks to modern pharmacological clinical research and this safe and effective prescription medicine. If the patient does not return to normal social relations while under the treatment, this should not be regarded as a failure. Possible side effects of the medication are explained on these three full pages of small print. Sign here for informed consent and there for the medical insurance.

What is so bad about spending time in pleasant or excited solitude, only virtually connected to a much larger array of distant friends than would be possible to meet face-to-face? How many of those "396 addicts" are actually working with the Internet, trade information or goods, arrange for dates or meetings? Compare this to the violence and criminality so often intimately connected with alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs and psychiatric malpractice. "Internet addiction" is two-way. It can be expected to have positive social effects, quite unlike typical one-way addictive media such as TV, video and computer games. People are coming back to basics again, they write each other letters, they talk on-line, make fiends, and more.

Social Implications

One-way broadcast media foster public opinion, the one opinion no one has because we are all individuals with our own opinions. Broadcast side effects are manipulation and thought control, virtual brainwashing. Two-way communication as it is possible on the 'Net builds virtual communities of increasing real understanding. Newsgroups and bulletin boards give consumers power because of large numbers of more or less unsolicited reviews on almost anything. Maybe that's why the Internet is not welcome to some and professional advice is offered how to keep the masses ignorant. Would not be for the first time in history.

All I object to is labeling simple overdoing an addiction. If you remember the first time you used a computer or a new software that really interested you, was it hard do put it down? For me, it was. It is unprofessional to imply the user must have fallen prey to the vast powers of the Internet, lost personal will or freedom of choice, is thus addicted and needs treatment (by certain ilk). Lord, save us from those who try to save us from ourselves. Please.

BTW, if you are concerned about your privacy what with all the company and government computers storing data about their customers (yes, we are customers, WE pay the government), what would be the defense options? Offhand, I can think of one: many of us storing data about companies and the government practices and sharing it all. The people will know about big brother as much as big brother knows about the people, hehee... With home pages mushrooming everywhere, we are getting there.

If Internet is not fun or makes you tired, and especially if you feel addicted, do not seek “professional help”. It is right there with you already, the big switch labeled OFF.

Thank you for reading.

intended for 
Algorithmica Japonica
The Newsletter of the
Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor Mike Lloret

Background culled from Japanese MS-Windows 3.1



 Revised 1997-10-27 Why on earth this date format ?
 © 1996, later by
Bernd Nurnberger. All rights reserved.