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The Progression of Internet Addiction Through the Public Sphere

           When the company Forrester Research took to comparing North American Technographics Benchmark Surveys from 2005 to 2010, it found that Internet usage of households in the United States increased 121% -- from six to thirteen hours a week. Though this increase of weekly users may seem shocking, the monitoring of Internet usage and its effects on the user has been around since the early years of its creation. It has also been studied more extensively after the commercialization of the Internet in the mid to late eighties through the National Science Foundation Network as well as (and most commonly known) Al Gore. With the new revision of the DSM in 2013, we have seen a lot of conversation surrounding this controversial epidemic, Internet addiction.

            Just a few years after the Internet became a more widely used household commodity, Ivan Goldberg, a psychiatrist and clinical psychopharmacologist in private practice in New York City, posted a diagnostic criteria for what he termed “Internet Addiction Disorder or IAD” satirically on psycom.net, stylingthe diagnosis as an entry in the DSM. In the parodied “entry,” he posted some seemingly dramatized criteria including "fantasies or dreams about the Internet," and "voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers." Other people took similar comedic strikes at Internet addiction, like the site named “Webaholics,” which listed a possible sign of Internet addiction being that “You get a tattoo saying, ‘This body best viewed with Netscape 2.0 or higher.’” Some jokers called the condition “netaholism” and call the sufferers “netties. ” However, included in Goldberg’s criteria were some valid concerns of what researcher Kimberly Young later termed Internet addicts: “The symptoms… cause distress or impairment in social, occupational or another important area of functioning.” Golberg found himself receiving genuine emails from those worried of their “condition,” some admitting to spending up to twelve hours a day on the internet and a feeling of losing RL (real life). He consequently set up an on-line resource for those seriously affected: Internet Addiction Support Group.

            Shortly after hearing the various comedic names for Internet addiction disorders, Kimberly Young decided to seriously look into what she called “pathological Internet use.” Once she finished her first study, Young founded the online Center for Internet Addiction Recovery and published her book, Caught in the Net, successfully taking the idea further away from a joke and drawing it closer to a psychological construct. After Young’s study and serious consideration, Goldberg changed his name of the disease to Pathological Computer Use, along with a posting of his updated diagnostic criteria.

            Many popular media and those in the scientific community picked up this hot topic of Internet addiction as well. Good Morning America, in 1999, featured Dr. David Greenfield, a practicing psychologist and director of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in West Hartford, Connecticut, to give his interpretation of Internet addiction. In his interview, he stated that eleven million of Americans were then addicted to the Internet (currently, it is estimated that about 160,000 kids between ages five and nine in South Korea alone are Internet-addicted). Carefully defining the disorder, he stated that a person affected by Internet addiction uses the Internet in a way that interferes with his or her life; rather than looking at the number of hours spent online to determine the level of severity. He also made the important assertion that the Internet itself does not become addictive, but it seemed to be the interactive communication achieved through going online. He called those addicted to the act of searching online “information junkies” and “electronic vagabonds.”

            In 2013, with the release of the DSM-V (a revision of the DSM-IV released almost eighteen years prior), heated debate surrounded the possible addition of Internet addiction as a disorder with diagnostic criteria. Though it is not yet a formal disorder, Internet Gaming Addiction has made it’s way into the DSM-V as a serious condition whose harmful effects merit further clinical research and more experiments.

            As we continue to integrate the Internet into almost every part of our lives, it becomes more and more difficult to draw the defining line between addiction and poorly managed time. According to a study called “The Social Habit” by Edison Research in 2012, from 2006 to 2012, the percentage of Americans who have a social networking profile rose from a modest twenty percent to over half the population. Similarly, the percentage of people who use social media more than once a day rose from five percent to twenty two percent. Whereas the earlier news sites might have interpreted these numbers as a case of addiction plaguing the country, we might consider that it is, more likely, the promotion of social media and the trending of smartphones that have social media accessible apps.

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