And Just How Much Time Have You Spent Surfing?

Is the Internet addictive? The American Journal of Psychiatry, the publication of the American Psychiatric Association feels strongly enough to give space to one psychologist who favors listing it in the next version (the fifth) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). The editorial, by Dr. Jerald Block, can be found here. Mike Masnick at Techdirt spied the report, noting that it is not the first time the psychiatric community has attempted to find something pathological in a technology-related activity that people like to spend a great deal of their time doing.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen so many “calls” to label the use of certain technologies as “addictions” that we’ve noticed something of a… well… addiction by some to call for new technology addictions. Among the long, long list of possible addictions has been email addiction, web addiction, online porn addiction, video game addiction, internet addiction, and mobile phones or other gadget addictions.

In the past Masnick has not been shy to express the opinion that such dubious calls to classify higher-than-average use of email, video gaming and Internet use as a clinical disorder are merely attempts to expand “therapies” that insurance must cover. If the fact that some Korean teenagers average 3 hours a day on the Internet (what U.S. teenagers average in front of the TV) amounts to a mental illness, what do we say about those retirees in Florida and Arizona retirees who play one, if not two rounds of golf a day (four to eight hours). The 10 recorded cardio-pulmonary deaths among users in Internet cafes that Block cites does not a social problem make. Going back to the golf example, I’ll wager that the number of players who have had heart attacks while out on the links number far more than 10. Masnick provides a sounder perspective.

Of course, there are a few problems, including the fact that research has shown little evidence that the internet is really addictive, and almost every story of internet addiction really tends to be about deeper issues that resulted in someone seeking an outlet on the internet (from depression, bad family situations, alcoholism, etc.). Focusing on the “internet” part tends to have people trying to treat a symptom, not the disease. Hopefully, this new push will follow the same path as the one last year to have video games declared an addiction too. It didn’t take long for that idea to get shot down.