Growing technology introduces us not only to opportunities, but also negative effects. Media expansion and the creation of the Internet presented a new problem: Pathological Internet Use. Regardless of the clear symptoms, the Internet addicts, as any other addicts, deny dependence upon computer use. Although this phenomenon is not completely analyzed, it is clear that his problem is a fast growing in our society and it’s psychological, physical, and social impact can be widely observed.
There is no standard treatment yet, but the possible treatments for people having PIU are cognitive-behavioral therapy, a 12-step addiction program, or expressive arts therapy. As computer technology progresses, the most important question is: will computers serve us or be our masters? We live in significant times. Our mankind can be proud of itself for achievements in microbiology and space explorations; but of all of man’s achievements, the greatest are made in technology.
Emmanuel Mesthane of Harvard’s former technology and society program writes: “New technology creates new opportunities for men and societies and it is also generates new problems for them. It has both positive and negative effects” (1984, p. 27). This quote is very insightful, and it is obvious that new technologies alter our perceptions and the way we think about realities in our social and political lives. In the present time, with media expansion and creation of the Internet, we are drowning in information; we have little control over it, and do not know what to do with it and how to filter it out.
Even political parties are holding major events online; companies are using the Web for job announcements and resume collections. Classes, especially of graduate work, are also being held on the Web. At first seen as a joke, more and more psychologists get concerned about excessive use of online time. This phenomenon also has different names such as Internet Addiction Disorder or Pathological Internet Use (PIU), but it is clear that PIU is a fast growing problem in our society and it’s psychological, physical, and social impacts can be widely observed.
It is very difficult to define PIU, because it is a relatively new issue, and it needs closer professional look and research. Psychiatrist of University of Florida Nathan A. Shapira calls it “internetomania”. The problem of PIU was first raised in an American Psychological Association Meeting (1999), where a research group, lead by therapist David Greenfield, presented results of the survey that nearly 6% (or more than 11 million users) of the 17,251 persons surveyed meet the Problematic Internet Use. Usually the behaviors are found to mimic the addictive process with drugs, alcohol, and other substances.
Although until now we believed that a typical “addict” is usually a white teenage male, who has very inactive or no social life and little or no self-esteem. It is only partially true. Even though most of the people playing role-games are still men, females are predominating in some of the games also. For instance, one of the most popular games called Sims is played by more than 60% of females (Felix Dykhne, personal communication, July 6, 2003). Age and education, not gender, are the key factors for PIU; the young or well-educated are more vulnerable to PIU.
Another study, conducted by psychologist Kimberly Young, shows that housewives, construction workers, and secretaries are at a greater risk of developing of PIU (1998). Students are also in a risk group. Socioeconomic difference also has influence, because not many low-income families have a personal computer at home. As of 2000, over two thirds of American children have access to computers at home, and almost all of them have access at school (The Future of Children, p. 14). These questions summarize the problems that people having PIU have to face. Internet addicts tend to neglect some aspect of their lives in favor of online activities.
The Internet consists of different activities, like emailing, information browsing, file transferring, socializing, role-game playing, and etc. It seems that some activities (especially the last two) are more addictive that others. Most of us have email addresses, browse the net or just purchase something online, but it becomes significant when a person exceeds 20 to 25 hours per week (Davis, 2001), while non-dependants use the Internet for 3-5 hours per week. Addicts start to have increasing difficulties meeting their obligations at school, work, or home; they feel restless, irritable, and anxious when they are not online.
Another symptom is even when those addicts use the Internet longer, they still feel less enjoyment. Even having various psychological and other problems, addicts persist in their Internet behavior, after unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control the use. I cannot tell if Felix Dykhne has a disorder of PIU, but he definitely has problems in his life that are primarily coming from the computer overuse. Although Felix seems to be a normal 26 year old man, who just recently got married and has a full time job, he can be considered a computer game addict. Every day, just as he enters the house, Felix turns the computer on.
He works as a computer technician and sits the whole day by the computer screen, but he manages to play games or surf for info about new games for about 3-4 hours per day, and almost 16 hours per weekend, which adds up to around 32 hours per week. He says that he likes the challenge of playing strategy role-playing games against other players online, he also likes being the part of online community and “building the reputation”. Working with other online friends towards achieving one goal, such as capturing enemy castles, can last for weeks even months.
Even though Felix negates having problems with computer overuse, his wife feels totally neglected. Not only do they not have time to talk, but also they do not spend any time together outside the house. Felix states that there is no other activity or action in the whole world which can relax and entertain him more than computer games (Felix Dykhne, personal communication, June 6, 2003). People who spend an excessive amount of time in front of computer screen are likely to deprive other activities which can be necessary for their physical body development and maintenance.
It also has a harmful impact on the eyes, wrists, and neck. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the U. S. Department of Labor alone have reported that 230,000 workers suffer injuries as repetitive strain injuries from overexertion or repetitive motion caused by excessive computer use (The Future of Children, 2000, p. 7). Margie K. Shields, MPA, and Richard E. Behrman, MD, reveal that children’s increased computer time of five or more hours a day can expose them to the risk of developing obesity (The Future of Children, 2000, p.
7). Another research finds that computer games can activate epileptic seizures in particular users. It proves that the “flicker frequencies,” or “quickly flashing images,” in video games can trigger seizures in patients who have “photosensitive epilepsy” (The Future of Children, 2000, p. 127). “Anonymity, convenience, and escape” – that is what fascinates people in being online, according to psychologist Kimberly Young. Some people are going online to avoid some of their existing psychological problems; some people may find them online.
Excessive internet use may result in people’s low self-esteem, depression, and even personality delusion. Some people are lured by the appeal of creating new identities for themselves. Others make a habit of online gambling, auctioning, or stock trading. Paul Gallant, a licensed addiction counselor in Arizona, says: “Your life may be really boring in reality, but online you are a competitive superhero. ” The phenomenon of Multiple Users Domains or MUDs are the games in virtual reality where people meet, exchange ideas, build communities from all over the world.
Boundaries between the real and the virtual are eroding. Sherry Turkle explains: “the anonymity of MUDs — one is known only by the name of one’s character or characters — gives people the chance to express multiple and often unexplored aspects of the self, to play with their identity and to try out new ones” (1995, p. 12). Sometimes a man is playing woman who herself in the game pretends to be a man, or one can be a day-time lawyer, on evenings strip in the club, and on weekends she can write a fantasy novel. On different MUDs, people have different names, different routines, and different friends.
One player states: “there must be something wrong with reality, if so many people want to escape from it. ” (Turkle, 1995, p. 190). But are they not seeking to escape from themselves? The possibilities are endless, and it is just click away. Not only addicts tend to escape from themselves, they also escape from society. In her book, Sherry Turkle states: Many of the institutions that used to bring people together — a main street, a union hall, a town meeting – no longer work as before. Many people spend most of theirday alone at the screen of the TV or computer. Meanwhile, social beings that we
are, we are trying (as Marshall McLuhan said) to retribalize (1995, p. 178). Relationships are moved from face-to-face to the electronic mode, so they are often altered. Unlike face-to-face relationships, electronic ones conceal visual information, and the other part cannot read the facial cues for signs of approval or disapproval. Rules of social interaction are built and created, but not received (Turkle, 1995, p. 12). So addicts forget their real friends, and they are experiencing loneliness and withdrawal. The most involving social interaction substitute games are Everquest and the newest Starwars Galaxies.
The first week of Starwars Galaxies release more than 125 thousand players signed up for the game (Dykhne, personal communication, June 20, 2003). Another wide spread form of addiction is cybersex which becomes more common among teenage boys. Sherry Turkle says that “many people who engage in netsex say that they are constantly surprised how emotionally and physically powerful it can be. ” Usually it does not involve physical contact; however, spouses are confused whether to call it as infidelity and whether to disrupt the marriage. Usually spouses addicted to cybersex cannot stop, and often choose the screen over the wife or husband.
Although there is no standard treatment for the people with PIU yet, the possible treatments are cognitive-behavioral therapy, a 12-step addiction program, or expressive arts therapy (Yang, 2000, p. 41). The first and the most important step for a person is to recognize and acknowledge the problem. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is done with a help of psychotherapist. Its goal is to help patients acknowledge that they have a problem and need to change their behavior. Patients follow and observe which thoughts and feelings generate addictive actions and try to eliminate them. This therapy usually lasts three months (Orzack, 1999, p. 8).
Another treatment is similar to the one that treats alcoholics: a 12-step addiction program. It includes admitting having the problem, slowing down, getting some help from friends and other people, and getting a hobby or a vacation. Expressive arts therapy teaches patients to express their feelings and emotions through singing or painting. The treatment can be declined by the addict as of in Felix’s case, and nobody can force him into treatment until the subject decides to help himself and restore his life to normal. Technology has unforeseen consequences, and from the beginning it is not always clear who will win and who will lose.
As computer technology progresses, are computers our servants or our masters? If more people are to become the Internet addicts, society will face not only social problems, but also economic and political problems. People will forget face-to-face communication, they will quit voting and engaging in political activities, and finally, people will stop showing up at work. The computer is a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing our own problems-spiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of the future and the past. Anyway, just some blame computer for this.
After all, it is only a machine. (Postman, p. 135). Tomorrow computers will become more powerful. Are we ready to face it? Nonetheless, people believe that we can control this power and turn it for the better. People spend tremendous amounts of money for developing computer technology, but almost no money for understanding how it affects people. As Alphonse Chapanis, a technologist from Communications Research Laboratory in Maryland, adds: “we must never forget … that computers are machines and machines exist for only one purpose – to serve people! ” (1983, p. 217).
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