The variety of approaches and the themes raised throughout say as much about reporting methods as content. To describe intricate and complex issues with one word is to over-simplify, and using the same terminology in both the popular press and academic writing complicates our ability to process what we read still further. The word ‘addiction’ over simplifies the diverse nature of the human condition and should not be used lightly. It is unfortunate that the popular press often use this word inappropriately.
Momentum has gathered however, and as I write this, consideration is being made to include the term “internet addiction disorder” in the next edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) due in 2013. Some experts feel that this will open the door to the inclusion of a wide range of other possible behavioural addictions.
I have looked at how and where we use the existence of the term ‘internet addiction’ in comparison with the use of ‘technology addiction’ as an alternative term, but few studies define carefully that to which they refer, from digital TV to mobile phones – and of course the variety of other behavioural addictions that come into play. Investigations, surveys and comment into these areas are common, but results are often inconclusive, simply because of the complexity and variables.
Sherry Turkle has consistently argued that using the word addiction masks anxieties about the internet generally and anxieties about broader issues. In 2011 she frames it thus ‘I believe that we will find new paths toward each other, but considering ourselves victims of a bad substance is not a good first step’. (Turkle, 2011 p. 294) The fact that we need the internet, need to learn to live with it, need to learn how to live with it.
Debate on the subject is both thought provoking and extremely important, but very rarely is it necessary to use the word addiction as a metaphor or descriptor. Some investigations now indicates that addiction to the medium of the internet for its own sake may exist, but not on the scale popular reporting would have us believe. For an individual to display high levels of susceptibility, they would need the coming together of some of the specific circumstances that allowed this vulnerability to occur .
‘Life in the modern day’
One interviewee in BBC’s ‘Caught in the Web’ (2011) says that ‘the world revolves around the internet… this is life in the modern day’ – and so it is. Using the term addiction in such a general – and often emotive – way is not helpful, and even less so when definitions of the meaning of technology as related to the internet are often either unclear or absent. Perhaps we just need to look carefully at what technology we are describing and what we are using it for before drawing any conclusions.
Levy argued in 2007 that ‘we may well realise the dangerous consequences of lack of time to think’ (Levy, 2007) and felt that that universities might lead the way in welcoming this back.
So they may – but I would argue that the issue is the responsibility of all of us – and we might take advantage of the popular press to raise awareness of the issue in ourselves, our children, our parents, our colleagues and our peers. Just by discussing our behaviour with others we are often able to make small adjustments and raise awareness.
What we need to focus on is awareness and the skills required to live with our ‘life in the modern day’.