John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
This article dated Oct 99 (v1.0)


Internet Addiction

in a Nutshell

Howard Rheingold sent me an e-mail asking my opinion of the media's coverage of "internet addiction." He was working on an article for an online magazine and asked if I could be as concise as possible, presumably because he knew the editor would place a size limit on his piece, as editors of most zines often do. It was an interesting challenge for me. Not only is the topic of addiction - ANY addiction - a complex social and psychological one, but there's also a great deal of controversy nowadays about this particular phenomenon called "internet addiction." So I perused all that I have written about addiction in my online hypertext book The Psychology of Cyberspace, considered what other experts have written, thought about the media and my many past conversations with journalists about this topic - and came up with a pithy conclusion that I placed into an e-mail and launched off to Rheingold. Here was my nutshell summary:

Hi Howard,

In my opinion, the current epidemic of internet addiction breaks down into three parts. The largest group of addicts are ghosts. They exist only in the minds of our media that loves to hype and scandalize, of luddites who fear the unstoppable power of the internet, and of some naive mental health professionals who ambitiously want to lay claim to a new pathology. The second group get caught up in the excitment and novelty of the many fascinating opportunities the internet offers. Maybe they go overboard - causing problems in their "real world" life - but it's a phase. They realize what they can and can't get out of cyberspace, and return to the real world a bit wiser. The last group - the minority - are those unfortunate, already vulnerable people who succumb to one or more of the many seductions of the internet. They're unable to help themselves. These are the kinds of people that truly expert professionals are trying to help.

I'm fond of pointing out the ingredients of healthy internet use.... BALANCE and INTEGRATION. The time and relationships you invest online are balanced by that invested in-person. You integrate your cyberspace and in-person lives by telling people online about your offline life, by telling offline people about your online life, by meeting online companions in-person, and by supplementing offline relationships with online contact. Balance and integration is the only way to get the Big Picture of how the internet has and hasn't changed human relationships. It's the way to overcome the lopsided, secretive, encapsulated immersion into cyberspace that is the hallmark of "addiction."

Last, but not least, the internet is a marvelous milestone in the history of civilization, largely because it's so malleable in its purpose. Like your e-mail signature quote says, what it is is up to you. Some people will devote their lives to it. Was Einstein addicted to physics? Or Picasso to painting? Where does "addiction" end and "passion" begin?

- John

THAT'S the full quote that I sent to Rheingold. Unfortunately, due to those editorial demands, the article was chopped down quite a bit, which left my quote very truncated, condensed, and only partially representative of the full idea that I intended. A common event in contemporary journalism. Also deleted was Rheingold's concluding comment about how journalists are spending too much time on this topic, and should move on to other important issues about the internet. I'd have to agree with Rheingold's attempt to wrist slap. I'd also add another slap to counteract the tendency to partially quote experts in order to shape their ideas to fit the design of the article.


See also in the Psychology of Cyberspace:

Computer and cyberspace addiction (click on the bullet for a summary)
Integrating online and offline living


back to the Psychology of Cyberspace home page
www.rider.edu/suler/psycyber/psycyber.html