Internet Addiction Hyperbole

I’ve been reading a lot about internet and gaming addiction recently. My interest is how this is represented to parents though the media, and how that might influence or shape their negotiations of it’s use with children. There are several hundred academic studies about Internet and Game addiction, none of them sufficiently conclusive to have either addiction added to the medical reference bible for pathological addictions – the DSM-V (dee-ess-em-five). The means that it no recognised by the world health organisation (WHO) or more critically – insurance companies. This hasn’t stopped clinicians saying it. In fact, since 1999 there has been a steady growth in books, conferences and clinical practices offering treatment.

IA and GA is part of on-going social discourse around fear that ‘media’ has corrupting influences on civic life, especially children. It’s the same discourse that didn’t like MTV the Sony Walkman, VHS players and so forth. The media find it useful to perpetuate this dislike of games and the internet, which it sees as causing its declining revenue streams and in the case of media-owners – the ability to impart their moral, political and cultural view on society. When a journalist wishes to add weight to their opinion (not least in talk-back radio), they will call an academic who will tell them X or Y. In print, they will cite (often without context) a passage from an academic text.

Internet addiction and game addiction is a multi-billion dollar problem and opportunity. Plenty of people make significant capital (economic, moral and professional) from ensuring it is discussed. In 1999 when the term “internet addiction” first began to appear – the Internet was quite unlike it is today. This is the era of the Infobahn, the information superhighway and cyberspace. Researchers were horrified to find people went to ‘chat rooms’ to have ‘online sex’. It was the kindling needed to launch a decade of shield-bashing about social, moral, religious and cultural decline. Addiction, sex, violence would consume us all. Except it hasn’t. In the US, gun crime has fallen in this period for example. Yes the Internet can be used for activities that are counter to the social-norm, but that is the history of man-kind, not just the Internet. Internet addiction is treated on a modified basis that it is akin to gambling addiction. This appear mostly to be due the Internet no easily being called a substance like heroin or cigarettes. However, confident in their assertions that IA and GA are akin to gambling addiction, the majority of research-interesteds in “media violence” and “addiction” often take field trips into likening elements of the games and the internet to ‘substances’ or declaring that Second Life is rife sex parties. This generally is said with in a tone designed to get a “giggle” from the audience of course.

For me, the problem here is one of status-interest (being forever proven more correct), economics (making money from the problem) and playing to natural fear parents have of abandonment. More broadly, society struggles to resolve it’s increasing use of technology drive consumer culture as separate from nature and nurture. There are complex reasons for this which are not carried along side claims of IA and GA.

Arguments about media-bias and influence seem to hold a lot more rational explanation for how we feel about digital media and how we use it, than those which see almost all of society as addicts. Do you spend more than 12 hours a week using a computer? Unless GA and IA makes efforts to see ‘users’ as more than subjects or their audience, it seems that we’ll continue to see evocative images, pithy one-liners and contested evidence. What we need to see more of discussions of balance, influence and ethics of media when embodied in Internet and Game form. This won’t fill waiting rooms with fee paying patients or sell books however … so right now … for me at least, it’s only interesting as media-discussion still.