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PCs and the Internet: Addiction Magnets or just Tools?

The traditional Media (at least in Greece, where I live) don’t treat nor the right. I don’t know if  it’s because of ignorance or because they feel threatened by it. However, I do get the impression that, most of the time, when radio, TV or the press mention PCs and/or the it’s because of a child pornography site, fraud or how young people are getting addicted to it.

According to WikiPedia’s “Addiction” article: “… The term is also sometimes applied to compulsions that are not substance-related, such as problem gambling and computer . In these kinds of common usages, the term is used to describe a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in some specific activity, despite harmful consequences, as deemed by the user him self to his or hers individual’s health, mental state or life. …”.

I’ve had various discussions with intelligent people who are not well acquainted to computers nor the Internet and they express concerns about its use and hidden dangers in it, especially if they are parents. The concern that “kids, teenagers or people who use their, usually networked, PC for long hours are addicted” is overrated and exaggerated.

From Wikipedia’s “Internet addiction disorder” article: “… To the extent that the Internet is a social medium instead of an object, people cannot be addicted to it. The analogy is made to an environment: a person can not be truly addicted to living in a favorite town (no matter how distressing a change of home might be), and a goldfish can not be addicted to living in a pond.
Secondly, it is widely recognized, even by its supporters, that most if not all “Internet addicts” already fall under existing, legitimate diagnostic labels. For many patients, or inappropriate use of the Internet is merely a manifestation of their depression, anxiety, impulse control disorders, or pathological gambling. In this criticism, IAD is compared to food addiction, in which patients overeat as a form of self-medication for depression, anxiety, etc., without actually being truly addicted to eating.
It is possible that a person could have a pathological relationship with a specific aspects of the Internet, such as bidding on online auctions, viewing pornography, online gaming, or online gambling (which is included under the existing Pathological Gambling), but that does not make the Internet medium itself be addictive. …”.

People spending way too much time “in” the Internet is a misconception dated back to the time we needed to dial-in to the Internet. While connected to the Net over telephone lines the meter was running, hence the need to make the most out of it. Broadband has changed this. We are now “online” all the time for a flat rate, or, at worst, for a pay-as-you-go rate (especially true in cellular telephony). In these early days, we got online specifically to use the Internet, mainly use email, surf the Web and, if advanced enough, to do some instant messaging and e-shopping.

Today, thanks, in part, to digital convergence and the computer becoming a consumer item, we have one PC each instead of one per office or home and we do online pretty much anything we did before the Internet existed at all. Thanks to broadband, the phrase “I am connected” doesn’t mean much any more, because we are online whether we actually make use of the Net or not. Sometimes we are practically online and we don’t even realize it (most high end cellular phones are a click away from the Internet)! We have blended it in our everyday life like the telephone, the radio, the TV, the newspaper, the typewriter, the tape recorder etc. before it.

Except for physical activities (debatable; have you tried Nintendo Wii Fit?), computers, possibly connected to the Internet, are used today for prety much everything else. Today, even more than in the earlier days, neither computing nor using the Internet are activities by themselves. They are just enablers for countless individual activities (the following is by no means a complete list, or in any particular order):

  • Reading, Watching, Listening to Multimedia Documents
    Reading, Watching and Listening to our own or others’ material includes art, essays, news, books (electronic and audio), presentations, schematics, photos, music, videos, radio & TV broadcasts, podcasts, etc. or any combination of those and more.
  • Research
    Whether it is scientific or market research, online computers are the behind it that collect, store, index, process, search, retrieve, distribute and present all the information and data in ways limited only by imagination.
  • Multimedia Documents Creation
    Most (or all?) of this so-called “content” we can view, we can also create ourselves for us and others to view or use.
  • Communication & Social Networking
    Email, Instant Messaging (IM), VoIP telephony, Video calls, Audio & Video Conferencing are just some types of online communication. Social Networking helps keep in touch with lots of people. Additionally, (micro)Blogging and help us get input from and address potentially unlimited content creators and audience, respectively.
  • Recreation & Games
    Physical activity aside, electronic editions of traditional board games represent only a small fraction of the games we can play with practically unlimited human or computer opponents from around the globe.

It’s not my intention to prove how good technology is; there may be issues in all applications that leave room for discussion. I am trying to raise awareness to the fact that computer and Internet usage cannot be measured as an activity on their own, as they are not. They represent the sum of all their individual uses. Of course (networked) computing (possibly as life itself) is a platform where addictions can occur. Like all drugs are not inherently addictive, nor is technology, computing or the Internet. Still, ‘… With the widespread use of computers in the 21st century, it may be difficult to distinguish users who are “highly engaged” in their computer use from those who might be considered “addicted”. …’ (from Wikipedia’s “Computer addiction” article).

Diversity and multiple activities & interests have always been factors against addictions. Having a tools combination like a computer networked to the all-inclusive Internet actually promotes diversity. Let’s do so, too.

PS. There are studies indicating computer and internet “addiction” or “overuse”. At this point (and I am no expert), I believe many people use or overuse them like they do with any new, shiny toy. Once they both become commonplace, like the telephone and television did, any “related” addiction will be easily traced to the pre-technology causes.

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