Don’t cure my internet addiction!

Written on 12 November, 2008 by Jonathan Crossfield
Categories Marketing

Not that I was planning to move to China anytime soon, but today’s news pretty much confirmed my desire to stay away. The Chinese Government has started an aggressive campaign to stamp out what it calls ‘internet addiction’ which it has now categorised as a clinical disorder. If there is such a thing, then I’m a terminal case!

The Washington Post, and a number of other news outlets, is reporting the strict policies and treatments now employed to reduce internet use, among youths particularly. Deemed as the most susceptible to online addiction, action has been taken to try and ‘cure’ them, by using some of the same controversial, but effective, techniques used by the Chinese to reduce alcoholism and drug addiction.

Internet obsession

The amount of time spent on the internet each day has definitely increased for the average person over the last few years. A recent study by Break Media, and reported at Marketing Charts, analysed male online behaviour. They discovered that 69% of men aged 18-34 said they couldn’t live without the internet, vs. 31% for television. 40% of respondents admit to heavy internet use, surfing for over 22 hours per week.

The research also showed an increase in alternative methods of access, such as mobile devices. New smart phones, such as Apple’s iPhone, have increased dramatically the uptake of mobile internet. Now, these switched on internet addicts can access their online fix virtually anytime and anywhere.

  • 63% have a smart phone and one in four use their mobile device to connect to the web.
  • 36% say they can’t live without the internet for socializing.
  • 33% say they can’t live without online entertainment.

Internet psychology

There is a reason the internet is so pervasive. It is about freedom.

The net provides each individual user with the ability to contribute, to be heard and to interact. Unlike anything else in history, we are all able to make a difference in a form of universal democracy. People share and distribute their own information far more effectively than corporations and Governments. News and analysis is spread faster by switched on users, beating reputable news agencies. One man with a powerful idea can reach an audience.

These behaviours are rooted in the very fabric of the internet itself. The concept of the internet is about sharing, a free exchange of ideas and information, whether they be video files, emails, music, news stories or anything that can be digitised. Attempts to restrict the free exchange of online information are always going to be futile exercises. The battle against the downloading of music and video is a prime example of corporate interests fighting against the natural way people use the web. Fighting the natural uses of technology is as ridiculous and as doomed to failure as restricting people to only drive their cars in second gear.

Am I addicted?

I am now wired for the net virtually wherever I go, able to tap into email or post to my blogs whenever the mood takes me. I recently upgraded my netbook to the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 – a portable laptop so small and light I can take it everywhere and access everything. And I do.

Yes, I have a regular compulsion to blog, to check email and to interact on Twitter. Yes, these activities require constant attention and are ongoing commitments – like most social media. But to classify this level of access as an addiction implies that it is damaging behaviour. In fact, the contrary may well be true.

I am about to be married to the most wonderful person on this Earth. And we met on the net. I have a successful and enjoyable job. Yup, found it on the net and it involves working on the net. I have a wide social circle that I am able to communicate and interact with far more effectively because I have the net. I am closer to my family in the UK through the wonders of email, webcam and the net. These are all positive impacts my high-end online usage has had on my lifestyle. If this is addiction, I don’t need a cure.

A society in change

The internet has become the major communication portal of our society – more pervasive than the post, more interactive than television and radio, more far-reaching than the spoken word. Therefore, is the increase of internet use really so surprising or lamentable? Should I be concerned that my daughter can spend hours chatting to friends online and is it any different to her sitting in a room and chatting with them (apart from the fact that many of her friends live too far away for that to be possible)?

For many, the internet is still merely a utility. It is a means to an end, rather than a way of life. You may have a website for your business without even owning a PC. It is possible to reap the rewards of the internet through outsourced services and employing the right people. For many others, my parents amongst them, the internet is still primarily a more efficient directory. They can find phone numbers, look up train times and locate products more easily than thumbing the Yellow Pages or reading a timetable. But they have not succumbed to the online culture.

But gradually, society is shifting and adopting the internet as the central hub around which almost all our daily activities arrange themselves. I’m not surprised there is resistance to this. After all, the arrival of the internet is as great a societal shift as the industrial revolution or the renaissance, both of which were resisted violently by certain interests.

We all know the Chinese Government feels threatened by the internet. It is no surprise that it continues to try and control the way it’s citizens’ access and share information. This new development illustrates that the Chinese Government is not only concerned with the type of information available but also feels threatened by the changes in community behaviour and the psychology of the internet as well.