It would not be possible here to look at all the investigations that have been done, from those conducted back in the early 90’s, and then bringing this up to the present, such as the new study of 1,000 university students internet habits ‘the world UNPLUGGED’ in 2010. There have been very many, and approaches have been varied – this underlines just how difficult it is to investigate.
Labels such as ‘Internet addiction’, ‘internet addiction disorder’, ‘pathological internet use’, ‘problematic internet use’, excessive internet use’ and ‘compulsive internet use’ are all terms that have all been used to describe similar phenomena. (Widyanto, Griffiths 2006) Broad research into such diverse and all pervading subject is extremely difficult, and much empirical research is defined in quite narrow terms. A variety of approaches have been used and most are reasonably small samples.
The largest sample I discovered was a study of 17,251 respondents in 1999 – the study was described by David Greenfield of the Center for Internet Studies in ‘Virtual Addiction: Sometimes New Technology Can Create New Problems’. (Greenfield, 1999).
Many however are very much smaller, for example in ‘Excessive Internet Use: The Role of Personality, Loneliness and Social Support Networks in Internet Addiction’ (Hardie and Tee, 2007) the writers – both from Swinburne University of Technology – observed that ‘small mono-cultural student samples are often the norm’ and indeed assessed their own study as being ‘relatively small’ (96 respondents).
The role of personality and personality type has come under further scrutiny more recently in a variety of ways -one recent study from Michegan State University used the Big Five personality factors (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness) as a basis for their investigation into 11-16 year olds over a three year period. (Witt et al. Nov. 2010)
Kimberly Young’s work ‘Internet Addiction: The Emergence of a New Clinical Disorder’ used adapted criteria originally applied to the assessment of behavioural addiction hypotheses. This has been scrutinised both by herself and others for inviting participants to assess their internet habits, and then using these results statistically. As she put it herself: ‘this study has inherent biases present in its methodology by utilising an expedient and convenient self-selected group of Internet users’. (Young, 1996)
Purely quantitive analyses of larger groups are provided by Eurostat, who have looked at use of the Internet for various work and leisure purposes, and by Pew’s American Life Project, who study internet habits of users in the United States, and look at such areas as use of social networking by age group. The report ‘use of ICT at home’ (Office for National Statistics, 2007) provided some UK statistics – in terms of measuring access to digital TV, internet and mobile phone access trends by household.
In conclusion, researchers have struggled to find the best ways to study the possibilities of technology addiction and address so many variables. Yet each of these must, nevertheless, have a major bearing on any conclusions we may wish to make as we assess the possibility that using technology could become addictive.