In 1997, when connecting to the internet still involved a lot of whirring and beeping, a study in Psychological Reports
noted that “while individual cases of problems from excessive computer usage are common,” using the term “addiction” to describe them would be “premature.”
But psychologists were already on guard. The author observed in the same study that internet use interfered with the daily lives of most of the 563 surveyed users and, in some, led to problems “similar to those found in addictions.”
Today, while the idea that “internet addiction” is a clinical condition remains controversial – it’s still not an official diagnosis
– we’ve learned quite a bit more about what it might mean. At the same time, it’s become increasingly clear that in some ways, it may be uniquely difficult to treat.
“There’s something different, and more complicated, about Internet addiction,” Maria Konnikova writes, in new essay on the topic for the New Yorker
. “Unlike gambling… it’s more difficult to pin down a quantifiable, negative effect of Internet use.” And it’s hard to treat a disorder when experts can’t even agree on what it is, or whether it exists.
There’s also an important line between maladaptive internet use, which may be problematic (e.g., “Where did the afternoon go?”), and pathological internet use
, which is much rarer, and marked by serious disruptions to health and life (e.g., “I haven’t slept in days”).