Can You Put Down Your Mouse? Your Cell Phone?

It seems very likely that Internet Addiction will be included in the DSM-V, due for full publication in 2012 [1]. Are you surprised? Are you informed? Read more about what constitutes Internet Addiction and how it is impacting people all over the world:

According to Jerald Block, Internet Addiction is

“a compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder that involves online and/or offline computer usage and consists of at least three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and e-mail/text messaging. All of the variants share the following four components:

1) excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives,

2) withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible,

3) tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use, and

4) negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.”

If any of these symptoms apply to you or someone you know (and that’s very, very likely), perhaps you should read on.

As this announcement comes forward, he United States is just beginning to detect and investigate Internet Addiction. Other countries, however, have acknowledged and been treating it for several years. In March 2007, Harper’s Magazine published an intensely written, compelling essay by McKenzie Funk on the subject. In “I Was a Chinese Internet Addict,” Funk highlights the disorder in great detail and performs a type of journalistic ethnography; entering himself as a patient in a clinic designated to treat those unfortunate souls diagnosed with Internet Addiction. Funk is bound to astound you by his excellent reporting as he describes in graphic detail his interactions with several Chinese Netizens (which he informs us is the “preferred translation of the term wangmin, literally ‘network citizens.’), his clinic experience, and the overall state of digital affairs in China

Frankly, while you read, you are sure to begin developing at least a minute sense of fear. You’ll begin to wonder: could the current state of affairs in China simply be a premenition of what the United States is careening towards? When Funk was in China last year, statistics suggested that 12.5% of Chinese youths (that’s one in every eight) are Internet Addicts. According to Block’s article from this year, that number has only increased – and now stands at 13.7% (or 10 million youths). Undoubtedly this is tied to the unfortunate news published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which determined that “80% of college and university dropouts had failed due to Internet Addiction” (the study was presumably restricted to Chinese institutions only). On the heels of these disturbing revelations, China’s government has begun to get involved by passing laws which now discourage more than three hours of computer gaming on a daily basis [3]. Of course, measures like that can no longer help some individuals, such as the young Shanghai man who, after six years of online gaming, has become forever stuck in a sitting position, his back becoming “fused at a 90-degree angle;” his doctors admitting “there was nothing they could do” [2].

Funk would likely say that we’re right to fear that this vignette might soon appear within our own borders. After all, he identifies Internet Addiction clinics, certain laws, “safe-surfing” programs, and an anti-Internet Addiction sitcom as Chinese counter-measures “by a people who were certain they saw a danger that the West, in its more incremental steps to modernity it, largely hadn’t” [2]. Funk observes that “it is normal for humans to become lost, to drop out of society, and perhaps just as normal for them to lose themselves but tell themselves they’re fine. It is rarer, [he thinks], when we dare name the culprit” [2]. We can certainly ignore it no longer. As the most recent figures from comScore indicate, more than 69% of the world’s internet users access a social networking site at least once a month.

I recognize, of course, the irony in reporting this information via the same medium it seems to inveigh against. And yet, I maintain that the Internet is not inherently “bad”. Just like alcohol, cigarettes, food, and so many other vices common in our society, the Internet is simply an innocent tool. It is, as it must be, our use of this tool which defines whether it is healthy or unhealthy. Unfortunately, as a society known for its excessive use of all the aforementioned vices, I’m not yet confident we possess the self-control necessary to avoid becoming a country full of addicts.



[1] Jerald Block, “Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction,” The American Journal of Psychiatry, March 2008. Link.

[2] McKenzie Funk, “I Was a Chinese Internet Addict,” Harper’s Magazine, March 2007. Link. (Well worth buying the article, as you probably must).

[3] – “The more they play, the more they lose,” People‚Äôs Daily Online, April 10, 2007. Link.

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