Do we have an Internet addiction and don’t know it?

Recently, while aboard the papal plane, the tech-savvy Pope Francis was asked how much time people should spend online and watching television. He replied:

“There are two different elements here: method and content. Regarding the method or way of doing things, there is one that is bad for the soul and that is being too attached to the computer. It makes you a slave to your computer and is like a mental illness.”

The Pope is, of course, a religious leader, so his comments must be taken with the pinch of salt (he hasn’t watched television in 25 years, let’s remember). That aside, does he have a point? Is there such a thing as an Internet addiction? Is there a maximum amount of time we should be spending online? What are the long-term effects of Internet-abuse?

11188261_860248577357113_2777261593746466215_nNetizens Annonymous

As far back as 1997, psychologists were already testing the “addictive potential” of the World Wide Web. Way back then, certain people were exhibiting the same kinds of symptoms that appeared with other addictions: trouble at work, social isolation, and the inability to cut back.

At the same time, there is disagreement over what could be construed as whether the Internet is an activity in itself, or if it’s a means by which you can do something. For example, an addiction to online gambling would constitute as a gambling addiction, not an Internet addiction, and the same could be said for online shopping, streaming and online dating phenomenons.

If you don’t have a clear cut problem such as the ones mentioned above, then perhaps your Internet addiction is to do with connectivity, and not the signal kind. This means that, if you are constantly on Facebook, Twitter, Viber or Snapchat, that your addiction is one of keeping in touch, connecting to your friends, and keeping up-to-date with what everyone else is doing. The latter quality wasn’t prevalent before, but is becoming increasingly so nowadays thanks to endless hours of scrolling through the Social Media sites.

Recommended Daily Allowance

“The truth is, we don’t know what’s normal. It’s not like alcohol where we have healthy amounts that we can recommend to people.”

This is according to Marc Potenza, a psychiatrist at Yale and the director of the school’s Program for Research on Impulsivity and Impulse Control Disorders in an interview with The New Yorker.

Because the long term effects of the internet are as of yet unknown, there isn’t a maximum amount of time for doctors and psychiatrists to advise their patients. There are, however, symptoms of Internet overuse that are intrinsically linked to compulsive behaviour. Here are a set of questions you should ask yourself if you think you have an iAddiction, as advised by the European Commission:

  • Do you neglect work to go online?
  • Are you staying up late at night online?
  • Do you continue to browse the internet even after you lose interest?
  • Have you fallen out of touch with family and friends in the real world because you prefer staying online?
  • Do you feel angry, depressed or irritable when you are not at your computer?
  • Are you secretive about how much time you are spending online and do you lie to people who ask about your computer use?

Effects of Internet Addiction

As the Internet hasn’t been around long, there is a problem in predicting the long-term effects of its overuse. However, there are some short-term problems, mental illnesses and disorders that have been linked to Internet overuse, and these give an insight into what we can expect in the future from excessive online problems.

A study on the subject published in 2012, found a 4.4 per cent prevalence of what the authors termed “pathological Internet use” or using the Internet in a way that affected subjects’ health and life. That is, through a combination of excessive time spent online and that time interfering with necessary social and professional activities, Internet use would result in either mental distress or clinical impairment, akin to the type of inability to function associated with pathological gambling.

For maladaptive Internet use—a milder condition characterized by problematic but not yet fully disruptive behavior—the number was 13.5 per cent. People who exhibited problematic use were also more likely to suffer from other psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, A.D.H.D., and O.C.D.

If you’re still not convinced of the dangers of the Internet and it’s overuse, here’s some links that will keep you awake at night:

What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

Is the Internet making us crazy?

Does the Internet Make Everyone Crazy?

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