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Do you send too much time surfing the 'Net? You might get labeled a psychiatric case.

by Bernd Nurnberger

The front page caught my eye... USA Today, international edition, 1996 July 2, Tuesday. "Net overuse called a 'true addiction'" by Marilyn Elias. Upon first reading, I am appalled. Now, I have time on the flight from Hong Kong to Japan and my HP200 is with me, so I write a story for TPC.

I quote the tiny article 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 in understanding each other.

On the opposite side, the art of psychological warfare is founded on 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 words and connotations is much harder to detect. Let's see how this exercise comes out.

"Net overuse called a 'true addiction'"

Sounds like truthful reporting to me. Someone likens the desire to use the Net more than usual to the true addictions: drugs, medication, alcohol and nicotine, eating binges, workaholics etc.

"Obsessive Internet users have a true addiction that can hurt their relationships and leave them hung over or disabled at work, suggests the largest mental health study so far of heavy Net participants."

Well, I understand that an obsession (definition pending) can hurt relationships. I see the author explicitly agrees to call it a true addiction.

Calling physical exhaustion from lack of sleep "hung over" is new(s) to me. Disabled is a severe condition of injury, and rings a bell of compensation claims.

"The study of 396 men and women on line for an average of 38 hours a week was presented to the American Psychological Society."

Who are these men and women? Do they do business on the net, are they just surfing for fun? Without more data, we cannot tell. Come to think of 38 hours: besides work (40 hours+) and sleep (56 hours—), what else do we do for 38 hours a week?

Statistically, we have 56 hours of leisure. If someone spends 70% of his free time in front of the TV or building model airplanes, is it labeled 'true addiction?'

Let's compare: Eating (14 - 28 hours maybe), household chores (depends), commuting (0 - 15 hours for some).

"Net addicts are 'not just geeky teen-agers,' says psychologist Kimberly Young of the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford. 'They can look high-functioning but there are serious problems just under the surface.'"

The rechargeable batteries in my HP remind me that I have used them up, totaling some 40 hours on the keyboard this week. My seat neighbor in the plane is casually watching me. Does he notice my 'serious problem' under the high-functioning appearance? Mind you, I am not on the Net, instead of creative writing, though, I could just as well be reading downloaded web pages.

No, thank you, shrink. Listen to the children choir: we don't need no branding label (bass note - Pink Floyd, The Wall). We don't need no thought control (bass line)...

Not just in this article, but day and again through media of all kinds we get subliminal messages. Notice them and decide for yourself what to think. I see the following in the brief quote above: "although they may look active, people may have invisible serious problems." Null news to me, and besides, the definition of obsessive Internet users is still pending.

"Heavy on-line users in her study all met psychiatric criteria for clinical dependence applied to alcoholics and drug addicts."

This bold statement bears careful analysis and definition of terms. (I have to check this part with a dictionary when I come home). For now it may suffice to say that 38 hours on line per week will do for psychiatric criteria. Clinical dependence is a contradiction in terms. Clinical means in practical research, as in the advertising slogan 'clinically tested.' Clinical dependence thus means a dependence caused by the clinic? I can't believe this. I am certain, though, that the dependence of alcoholics and drug users is caused by chemical changes in the body that lead to withdrawal symptoms so severe that the body of the substance (ab)user forces him to continue in the direction of less pain. The withdrawal symptoms of 'Net overuse' are comparable with those of 'books overuse' or 'news addiction,' maybe even 'gossip deficiency disorder.'

"Three rewards drive what Young calls 'Internet addiction disorder':"

Ever in search for more patients and known for their imaginative and condescending vocabulary of labels, the psych "sciences" have come up with a new creation in the "disorder" category. This one tops the flurry of recent years full of creations like 'attention deficit disorder' (psychese for bored at school), 'disobedience disorder' (having a will), 'hyperactivity' (being more active than the shrink says is good for ya). Get the drift? Very soon we are going to hear of 'superiority disorder' (the urge for a successful career), 'obsessive creativity disorder' (you write too much), 'nutritional addiction' (urge to eat and drink), and countless other branding labels just as easy to create. All you have to do is to say them with authority, yessir! And convince the relatives and acquaintance that only a counteraddiction to brainkillers like Vallium and Prozac will help.

Now, what were the rewards? After all, we strive for pleasure, the sign of successful pro-survival activity.

The article continues:

"Community... meeting friends on line. Overdoing it can be a sign of neglected real life personal relationships."

I agree. It is similar to telefonitis, the HAM Radio hobby or any other pastime involved with communication. If the hobby eats up so much time that one ceases to stay in touch with family and friends, there may be something going to pieces. Or it is the other way around, the hobby as an escape from unpleasant relationships. In any case, there may be something to repair, and in order to do that, one needs new knowledge. The current level was obviously not sufficient, otherwise the problems would not be existing in the first place. Where does one go to learn? Friends, books, libraries, the Internet. This reward turns out as the potential antidote of the 'addiction.' Better meet on-line than all alone, right?

"Fantasy...adopting new personas or playing out sexual fantasies."

Hear, hear, creativity is a reward that drives 'Internet addiction disorder.' When I went to school, and even in adult training (no pun), role play was and is very educational and pleasurable. So is sexual playing, but this is everyone's privacy, regardless of the media involved. All psychiatric 'disorder' labels of the world will not be reward enough to shift people's attention from fantasies to turning themselves in for 'disorder treatment,' even with a large percentage of psychiatrists admitting to sexual involvement with their patients and a number of them convicted for this every year.

"Power... instant access to information and new people, a positive that can go bad."

Thus the article in USA Today ended, no further explanation, nothing. Maybe the editor had the scissors on it to shoehorn the article into the 6 by 16cm free space on the front page. Well, let's sort out the subliminal message in this one. How about: 'Power corrupts?' This is of course equaled with 'instant access to information and new people' (corrupts, we are led to think) and an unneeded warning. Anything can co bad and most things are positive before they go bad.

What with 38 hours on line, that means lots of information or pleasant chat, how does it generate power? When do obsessive internet users (definition remains pending) have any time left to USE all this information and CREATE power with it?


For me, this article is a blatant example of unreflected journalism, tooting the horn of special psych interests for more business. Alarmed relatives might now suspect 'Internet addiction disorder' in their next of kin. What if they ask for professional help? It might go like this: Of course one cannot take away the computer or close the modem connection, that would make the addiction worse. The only evidence of a successful cure is when the patient voluntarily ceases to use the addictive agent. This can be easily and comfortably achieved, thanks to modern pharmacological clinical research. If the patient does not return to normal social interaction while under the treatment, this should not be regarded as a failure. All possible side effects of the medication are explained on three pages of small print. Sign here for informed consent and there for the medical insurance.

What is so bad about spending 38 hours a week in pleasant or excited solitude, only virtually connected to a much larger array of distant friends than would be possible by meeting face-to-face? How many of those 'overusers' are actually arranging a date or a meeting? Compared to the violence and criminality so often intimately connected with alcohol, drugs and psychiatric treatment, Net overuse can be expected to have positive social effects, quite contrary to TV, video and computer games. People are coming back to basics, they talk on-line and write each other. One-way broadcast media foster 'public opinion,' the one opinion no one has because we are all different and inherently individualistic. Its side effects are manipulation and thought control. Two-way communication builds virtual networks of increased understanding.

Of course, any hobby when overdone, cuts into sleep and reduces power and performance on the job. All I object to is labeling overdoing an addiction, implying that the user has no personal will and freedom of choice. If it is not fun, there always is the big switch labeled OFF.

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

August, 1996

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN