Internet addiction is a modern problem, and it’s one that we have only a limited understanding of. In the mid-’90s, when the term was first used and experts began investigating the issue, it was assumed that excessive Internet use was the core symptom of Internet addiction. But because we all use the Internet a lot, does that mean we’re all addicted?
Eoin Corbett (first name pronounced “Owen”), an 18-year-old Irish filmmaker, decided to investigate to see if he really was addicted to the Internet. He started by “unplugging” for a month and has released a short online documentary to chronicle his experience. The results may not have been shocking, but they do provide an interesting insight into how closely people can come to full-blown Internet addiction.
Understanding Internet Addiction
Although it’s yet to be officially recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM), Internet addiction is far from theoretical. It isn’t simply frequent use of the Internet; like most addictions, it can only be considered as such when continued use negatively impacts everyday life. The Internet has the potential to lure people into addiction because it (and most notably, social media) plays into our need for connection to others, and we derive actual physical rewards (from the same neurochemicals often responsible for drug addiction) from using it. In other words, the Internet is potentially addictive in much the same way cocaine is — except that it’s vastly more available.
Corbett’s Documentary: ‘Internet Addiction And Me’
To investigate the issues with Internet addiction, Corbett “disconnected” for 30 days and challenged a few of his friends to do so for a week. Going into the project he said, “I’m probably more addicted than I think I am,” and his friends had similar expectations. This reflects the traditional definition of addiction, whereby any excessive use is thought of as a core symptom of addiction, but Corbett came to find that the online world didn’t have quite the hold on him he imagined it did.
Replacing The Internet With TV
One of the most notable consequences for Corbett was the change in his entertainment habits. Instead of using online services like Netflix, he found himself watching TV shows he didn’t even care about, such as “Ice Road Truckers.” His parents were happy to have him downstairs more often but, ironically enough, they didn’t sit with him … they watched Netflix in the next room.
His friends had slightly different experiences. One did mostly nothing with her spare time, while another found that her schoolwork suffered because of how dependent she had become on the Internet. A third friend found the opposite to be true: not using the Internet helped him be more efficient and productive with his schoolwork.
Is Internet Addiction As Widespread As We Think?
As part of the documentary, Corbett interviewed psychologist Ciaran McMahon, who pointed out that Internet addiction is fairly poorly defined. He suggested that when we talk about Internet addiction, it could be that we’re really having issues with impulse control. This is a core factor in many addictions, but the widespread nature of the Internet means it’s difficult to use this alone as proof of a unique issue.
The findings from the disconnected group of friends seem to support this general downplaying of the issue. Corbett, who was offline for the longest period, said he “built it up in my head as being a bigger thing than it really is.” Overall, he didn’t find it so difficult to stay offline, and although the core way he adjusted—by watching trashy TV—isn’t exactly an ideal way to spend your spare time, it would be a bold-faced lie to claim we haven’t all done the same thing from time to time.
The Cyber World Should Never Come Before The Real World
The overriding message behind the documentary was seeded by McMahon, who said, “When you’re in a social situation, I think it’s really important for parents of young children to establish a rule that the people in front of you are more important than the people on the Internet.” With this rule alone, the core problem (the obvious frequency of use) that makes people claim “Internet addiction” where it may not exist would be addressed, and it might help young people realize that nothing bad happens if you’re not constantly connected.
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