As I said yesterday, I am increasingly going to indulge myself on this blog by posting about what simply takes my fancy. Today I have two posts on the state of play of the eurozone and Italian economies on this blog (and here) for those with a special interest in economic matters.
But what really interests me today is the Stanford report on internet addiction which has gotten so much coverage in recent days.
I have posted a substantial extract about the report below. What I would say is that this research is at one and the same time both very much to the point, and essentially missing some very important aspects of the situation.
What do I mean? Well I think that the starting point for how I would look at all of this would be the idea of the 'online person'. Clearly the online person is going to have a very different type of behaviour, and maybe a very different set of objectives in life from the offline one.
But obviously there are many different types of online people. There are those who spend their time visiting gambling sites or participating in porn-related chats, and there are those who are doing something else, those who are using the www as some sort of collective brain, and memory, and developing new forms of communication which actually serve to enhance and enrich their lives. Unless and untill you start to make this kind of distinction, my feeling is you aren't going to get anywhere in terms of classifying what is happening.
When I read the following para, I couldn't help thinking about myself:
"a small but growing number of Internet users are starting to visit their doctors for help with unhealthy attachments to cyberspace. He said these patients' strong drive to compulsively use the Internet to check e-mail, make blog entries or visit Web sites or chat rooms, is not unlike what sufferers of substance abuse or impulse-control disorders experience: a repetitive, intrusive and irresistible urge to perform an act that may be pleasurable in the moment but that can lead to significant problems on the personal and professional levels."
Is this a description of me, I thought? Certainly the "compulsively use the Internet to check e-mail, make blog entries or visit Web sites" sort of rang a bell. But what does compulsively mean here?
Obviously intensive internet use changes the nature of your inter-personal relations. We get used to regular communication with people who we have never actually met, and possibly whose voice we have never even heard.
All of this poses important new challenges in our personal lives. And I think we need to find balance. I have personally found this to be a topic I have had to work on, since, at the end of the day, I hate all extremes.
But this study focuses on just one dimension of the problem, that of the online people. But what about the others, the 'offline people', just how are they getting on? How are they handling their absence from the internet? Do they feel confident about the future?
My feeling riding around the metro in Barcelona and looking at the expressions on all those faces is that this is far from obvious, yet the very existence of the internet, by its mere presence, has of course transformed their lives too. So those of us who are very much 'in' on the latest wave of internet exploration (the WWW4 people) can find plenty of food for thought about how to equilibrate their lives in this report, but the others, the people who are still struggling to get up to speed with WWW1, should be given pause for reflection too. Just exactly where are they now headed?
Stanford Study Seeks To Define Whether Internet Addiction Is A Problem
Is spending too much time online a prevalent and damaging condition, or simply a bad habit among a select few? Stanford University School of Medicine researchers have taken an important step toward resolving the debate over whether compulsive use of the Internet merits a medical diagnosis.
In a first-of-its-kind, telephone-based study, the researchers found that more than one out of eight Americans exhibited at least one possible sign of problematic Internet use. The findings follow results from previous, less rigorous studies that found a significant number of the population could be suffering from some form of Internet addiction.
Aboujaoude, clinical assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of Stanford's Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, said that a small but growing number of Internet users are starting to visit their doctors for help with unhealthy attachments to cyberspace. He said these patients' strong drive to compulsively use the Internet to check e-mail, make blog entries or visit Web sites or chat rooms, is not unlike what sufferers of substance abuse or impulse-control disorders experience: a repetitive, intrusive and irresistible urge to perform an act that may be pleasurable in the moment but that can lead to significant problems on the personal and professional levels.
According to preliminary research, the typical affected individual is a single, college-educated, white male in his 30s, who spends approximately 30 hours a week on non-essential computer use. While some may hear this profile and assume that a person's Internet "addiction" might actually be an extreme fondness for pornography, Aboujaoude stressed that pornography sites are just one part of the problem.
"Not surprisingly, online pornography and, to some degree, online gambling, have received the most attention - but users are as likely to use other sites, including chat rooms, shopping venues and special-interest Web sites," he said. "Our survey did not track what specific Internet venues were the most frequented by respondents, but other studies, and our clinical experience, indicate that pornography is just one area of excessive Internet use."
Aboujaoude said he found most concerning the numbers of people who hid their nonessential Internet use or used the Internet to escape a negative mood, much in the same way that alcoholics might. "In a sense, they're using the Internet to 'self-medicate,'" he said. "And obviously something is wrong when people go out of their way to hide their Internet activity."
While the numbers indicate that a subset of people might have a problem with Internet use, Aboujaoude stressed that it's premature to say whether people in the sample actually have a clinical disorder. "We're not saying this is a diagnosis - we still need to learn a lot more," he said. "But this study was a necessary first step toward possibly identifying something clinically significant."
Aboujaoude said the next step is to conduct comprehensive clinical interviews on a large sample of people to better identify clinically relevant markers for problematic Internet use, and to better understand whether this phenomenon constitutes an independent psychological disorder.
Final Point: I have, as I said given quite a lot of thought to all of this in recent months. I have taken to walking more, and to reducing my calorie intake to try to counterbalance the more sedentary lifestyle I have these days. I have also got myself a laptop and 3g wireless connection so I can go and work in the park - being indoors to long simply isn't good. And I also take more frequent, and more systematic complete breaks from the computer. Like this afternoon, when I am finishing up at 4:00 to go and see Copying Beethoven, and then to hear an Italian singer called Monica Pinto who is an exponent of what is known as Spakka Napoli (or traditional popular music from Naples). This is what I mean by 'balance'.
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