PsychCentral and Mind Hacks both did pieces recently about the laughably bad Newsweek cover story, “Is the Web Driving Us Mad?”. At PsychCentral, editor-in-chief, John Grohol called it simply a “hit piece on technology”. The subhead on the Newsweek cover reads “panic, depression, psychosis.” Mind Hacks bats this and other aspects of the article away in a delightfully dismissive blog entry:
The [Newseek] article also manages the usual neuroscience misunderstandings. The internet ‘rewires the brain’ – which I should hope it does, as every experience ‘rewires the brain’ and if your brain ever stops re-wiring you’ll be dead. Dopamine is described as a reward, which is like mistaking your bank statement for the money.
‘Internet addiction’ doesn’t exist. It can’t, because it’s a logical impossibility, a category error, and there’s no good evidence that heavy internet use, in itself, is a risk to mental health….
People become addicted to substances or activities, but it’s impossible to become addicted to a medium. You can be no more addicted to the internet than you can to language or radio waves….
It’s also important to make the distinction between something being compulsive, something that you want to do again (commonly, but confusingly, called ‘addictive’ in everyday language), and a fully-fledged behavioural addiction – a mental disorder where you keep doing the activity even when it has serious damaging effects….
The writer, I’m assuming it’s Vaughan Bell, goes on to describe the way problematic internet use is viewed in Japan. It is viewed as a function of social withdrawal.
The core problem is not using repetitive, extended internet use, or even intrusive thoughts about keeping track of online events (otherwise 90% of the office workforce would be diagnosed), but low mood and social withdrawal.
In Japan, almost exactly the same problems have been named ‘ hikkikomori ‘. One of the key characteristics of hikkikomori individuals is that they isolate themselves and occupy their time with the internet and video games.
But the Japanese, rather sensibly, identify the core problem as social withdrawal, and the excessive solitary activities as symptoms – just ways in which isolated people try to fill the void.