The internet has become so important and widely used in our society today that some people are beginning to spend extraordinarily large amounts of their time online. People are using the internet for activities such as school, work, games, banking, social interaction and much more. It seems that the internet is an amazing system capable of satisfying almost any need. But is there such a thing as spending too much time on the internet and can this be unhealthy?
For a system that is used for so much there is amazingly little known about the nature and psychological implications of internet addiction (Spears). That is why Dr. Nathan A. Shapira of the Evelyn F. & William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida embarked on a study of internet addiction that was recently published in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety. According to Dr. Shapira the purpose of his study was to obtain criteria that could be used to diagnose individuals with problematic internet use and identify appropriate subjects for future studies.
CNN and Tom Spears of The Ottawa Citizen summed up the method and results of Dr. Shapira’s study, which involved face-to-face evaluations of two groups of people; one group consisted of 20 volunteers with admitted problems with internet usage and the other group consisted of 17 college students selected at random. His study revealed that the people with internet usage problems spent more than 30 hours a week on the internet. They also used the internet for recreational purposes ten times more than they used it for more productive activities such as work and they had an average of five other psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression or alcohol abuse (Spears; CNN). Dr. Shapira also put forth five factors that may be used to determine if someone is likely to have an internet addiction. He sums up these criteria with the acronym MOUSE:
More than intended time spent online
Other responsibilities neglected
Unsuccessful attempts to cut down
Significant relationship discord because of use
Excessive thoughts or anxiety when not online
Hopefully, Dr. Shapira’s study will be followed up on by other scientists because there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Psychiatrists are still not sure exactly why some people use the internet more than others, what the long term effects of internet addiction are and whether or not it should be classified as a psychiatric disorder itself or just a side effect of other psychiatric disorders (Spears; CNN).
As a student attending an online university, where most of my academic interactions will involve the internet, I would be very interested in seeing this line of research continued. I know through personal experience how easy it is to get carried away on the internet and lose track of time. I do not fit all of the MOUSE criteria and I do not consider my internet usage to be excessive or unhealthy, but I do see how it could be easy to become addicted. It would be very useful to know why and how certain people develop internet addictions so that precautions can be taken to prevent it.
CNN. (2003, August 7). Are You a Web Addict. cnn.com. Retrieved 11 August 2003 from http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/internet/08/07/web.addict.ap/index.html
Shapira, N.A. (2003). Problematic internet use: Proposed classification and diagnostic criteria. Depression and Anxiety, 17(4), 207-216.
Spears, T. (2003, August 11). Putting a Measure on Internet Addiction. The Ottawa Citizen.