Some would argue that one can become “addicted” to the Internet. I’ve argued for over a decade this is a fairly ridiculous assertion that doesn’t even withstand a simple test of logic. Because if we can become addicted to the pipes that bring us information and friendship, it stands to reason one can become “addicted” to virtually anything in the world — sex, cake, shopping, TV, reading, the Internet, even friendship itself. Where do we draw the line and how? Why single out Internet use as its own disorder, but not someone who can’t be pried from in front of the TV 30 hours a week? Or from reading a book?
I’m certainly not alone noting how the term “Internet addiction” helps sells newspapers more than it helps us understand human behavior. And certainly I write about the latest rounds of research every year that call into question “Internet addiction” for various reasons.
For instance, did you know that despite the fact that dozens of studies have been done on “Internet addiction,” few studies have been done examining the scales used to measure this phenomenon? One that was published last year found that a commonly used scale in early Internet addiction research was basically useless and invalid (invalidating any research that used it). And there has been only one independent study done on the psychometric properties of the “new and improved” 20-item Internet Addiction Test (IAT) used by virtually all other researchers. Five years ago. The researchers who did the study — Widyanto & McMurran (2004) — called for more studies to be done, as its sample size was small, self-selected (not randomized) and therefore their results could hardly be classified as “conclusive:”
[The IAT’s] reliability and validity need to be further tested using a larger sample. Once a valid and reliable measure has been devised, more can then be researchers about the nature of Internet addiction.
Despite the fact that nobody has done that followup research yet (at least for U.S. populations), it hasn’t stopped researchers from using the IAT anyways.
So I was glad to read Vaughan Bell’s entry in Slate yesterday, as he makes sensible points about why it’s bad to medicalize every behavior we engage in a bit too much:
This creeping medicalization of everyday life means that almost any problem of excess can now be portrayed as an individual falling foul of a major mental illness. While drug addiction is a serious concern and a well-researched condition, many of the new behavioral addictions lack even the most basic foundations of scientific reliability. In light of Tiger Woods’ extramarital trysts, “sex addiction” has been widely touted by the global media despite the fact it lacks official recognition and scientific support. Perhaps the most widely publicized of these new diagnoses, Internet addiction, is flawed even on its own terms: A 2009 study published in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior revealed that it has been classified in numerous, inconsistent ways in published research. Most studies of the “disorder” rely on self-selecting samples of college computer users and are otherwise subject to significant bias.
Despite the scientific implausibility of the same disease—addiction—underlying both damaging heroin use and overenthusiasm for World of Warcraft, the concept has run wild in the popular imagination. Our enthusiasm for labeling new forms of addictions seems to have arisen from a perfect storm of pop medicine, pseudo-neuroscience, and misplaced sympathy for the miserable.
The full article is worth your time if you’re interested in this topic.
Read the full article: Can you really be “addicted” to shopping or using the Internet?.