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If Everyone Does It, Is It Abuse?

In a recent article on Internet addiction, I will give David Greenfield the benefit of the doubt when quoted in this article over the weekend where he states,

“It’s almost impossible to self-limit and monitor your Internet use,” says Greenfield. “Almost everybody abuses the Internet, even if they’re not addicted. Even I do.”

Honestly, if everyone is engaging in a behavior, it’s neither addiction nor abuse, by very definition. It’s “normal.” Unless you’re the morality police or something, when someone chooses to spend more time talking to their friends online or playing an online game, that’s their right and choice. It’s not “abuse” by any stretch of the imagination.

But even more amusing is the assertion before this quote–

But Greenfield says the technology and lure of the Internet is different from television or telephone because of its magnitude and 24/7 cheap, easy access to just about anything. Users perceive a certain amount of anonymity, lose their inhibitions online and, subsequently, their concept of time.

Really? The telephone opened up the world to international communication to any ordinary person, an act that before then, took a trained telegraph operator to transmit. Before the telegraph, it would take weeks — and often, months — to send a message from one country to another. The telegraph changed that to hours, but required specialized knowledge and equipment that could only be operated by trained personnel. The telephone changed that to instantant communication by any ordinary person, to any other ordinary person within one generation.

The telephone, indeed, was a significant and life-changing technology for the world. (And eventually, most people’s first experience with online communication was through those exact same telephone lines a hundred years later!)

The television was a little less life-altering, but did open up people’s homes inexpensively to an international world of visual imagery of entertainment and news that was previously limited to voice-only (the radio).

How important is visual imagery to humans? Well, before the World Wide Web, there was gopher, the text-only equivalent of the Web. Guess how popular that service was? (If you haven’t heard of it, there’s your answer.) Humans love imagery — it’s how we process a great deal of information in the world. So the advent of the television was a significant milestone in human development (for better or worse).

The television brought images for the first time into most people’s homes of places they’ve never seen or experienced (e.g., Times Square on New Year’s Eve; the moonwalk; the Korean and Vietnam conflicts). It opened a whole new world of possibilities for millions. While many dismiss television as simply an entertainment technology, it was much, much more at its onset.

So, with all due respect to David Greenfield, I’d say history has many examples like the telephone and television that had a significant, society-altering impact that we feel to this day. To suggest that the Internet is somehow so unique and different that it won’t follow the same or a similar path of adoption and integration into our modern lives is to misunderstand history.

Yes, the Internet is unique and different than those two other technology examples. But not so unique or different that it needs its own disorder diagnosis, which is demonizing the technology over the behavioral issue. Remember that some professionals have also called for television (in the 1960’s) and video game addiction (in the 1970’s) and neither exist today, and for good reason. People learned to cope with these technologies in their lives, as they will learn to cope with the Internet in due time.

If Everyone Does It, Is It Abuse?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). If Everyone Does It, Is It Abuse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 15 Apr 2007)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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