Thursday, 20 March 2008

"Caution - Reading this is highly addictive, don't start."

An editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry argues that internet addiction should to be added to the DSM-IV (or rather the 2012 DSM-V). Dr. Jerald Block claims that excessive use of the internet leads people towards “neglect of basic drives”, sometimes forgetting to eat or sleep.

Generally I hate the trend in modern psychology to define everything as a disorder and I think it contributes to the current ‘climate of fear’: some people don’t have ‘anxiety disorders’, they’re just anxious and everyone gets depressed sometimes, it doesn’t mean doctors should immediately prescribe Prozac, there was a wonderful documentary by Adam Curtis that came to this conclusion, it just irritates me that psychology deigns to tell anyone what they can or can’t do; sorry getting carried away here... The point is, I live securely in the knowledge that ‘Everyone is crazy’.

Consequently I don’t think that internet addiction is a massive problem (this has nothing to do with the fact that I’d be classified as a severe junkie). The nature of modern life is obsession: obsession with family, money, friends, television, books. It’s just that these obsessions are viewed as perfectly normal: everyone wants money, right, and so it’s socially acceptable to strive for a big pay-cheque so you can feel good about yourself and get a little ego-boost. I’d go so far as to say that the vast majority of Britons are addicted to the acquisition of material goods. It’s a cliché that women like to buy shoes and yet shoe addiction isn’t being viewed as a mental disorder.

Apparently “[s]ome use computers like they would drugs or alcohol as a way to escape reality”. Quotes like this annoy me: accusations of escapism surround fantasy literature and video games. Firstly (and in typically philosophical fashion) there’s no such thing as objective reality, everything is subjective: some people’s reality is constituted by alcohol or the internet, those are their norms and just because they don’t fit into a neat psychological mould doesn’t mean that they are ‘escaping’. Secondly, what kind of person is it that doesn’t want to escape a ‘reality’ of rampant consumerism, perpetual war, acclimatised societal fear, and general emotional havoc? Anyone who would call themselves ‘well-adjusted’ to modern society is someone I have no desire to talk to.

The advent of the internet is changing the world and we’re all running to keep up. Information is no longer confined to the learned or the rich; everyone who can afford a broadband subscription can get access to a tremendous bank of human knowledge. The internet can be a banquet for the mind (or other human inclinations) and it’s only natural that people enjoy it. ‘Internet addiction’ is no different to the other tacit addictions that everyone holds but don’t know that they hold because it’s not classified in the big ol’ DSM-IV. Some people are always more obsessive than others (‘Everyone is crazy’) but, for the most part, those like the seven South Koreans who died in an internet cafe are isolated cases.

I guess now it's just a matter of time before warning labels like those on cigarette packets are stuck onto the routers at PC World.

Addendum: Apparently Robin Hobb disagrees to some extent.

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