The internet is probably one of my most favourite things. It is brilliant. It answers (almost) all of my questions. And if I can’t get the answer I’m looking for, then more than likely my search will lead me to something entertaining enough that I will forget what I was looking for in the first place. And these days it is so accessible! If I’m not in front of my computer then I can be using it on my phone, wherever I am (this is a lie because half the time I have no reception; thanks to Vodafone). However, I have noticed some (insofar inconsequential, as far as I can tell) niggly issues with the internet. Or perhaps they are more-so issues with my use of it. I cringe at the thought of using more than the month’s quota and having to deal with dialup that runs at the speed of a sloth crossing a road. I sometimes feel like hitting myself when I have a thought that then leads to: ‘that would make a good Facebook status…’ First-world problems, huh? Well it turns out that they may be the least of my worries when it comes to using the internet…
If you’re adventurous enough to fight your way through the dark internet corridors full of the inevitable ads for penis-enlargement pills, 100% guaranteed lucky 1000000th visitor winner and SUPERMAX HARDCORE WEIGHT GAIN PROTEIN SHAKES, then well done! They’re not the sites doing the damage, however. What we have to worry about are the sites that we spend the most time visiting. For most of us, that generally means Facebook. How many times a day do you think you check Facebook? More importantly, how much time do you think you spend on such sites every day? In 2005, for a typical Australian high-school student, it was around 6 hours.
It turns out that internet addiction is getting more and more common in the developed world, but there is still quite a bit of debate surrounding exactly what we are talking about. Some specialists claim that there is no real ‘disorder’ surrounding the internet, and that what we call internet addiction is more of a compulsion.
What is interesting (and slightly scary) is that scientists have found that compulsive internet use (of around 10 hours a day, 6 days a week) actually changes the shape and size of the brain (reducing the volume of some areas by up to 20%). On the other hand, other areas grew. It is thought that this reflects a change in learning patterns associated with using a computer more efficiently, but also comes with the drawbacks of impaired short-term memory and decision-making ability.
In South Korea (world leader in internet speed & connectivity), internet gaming addiction is a pretty freaking big problem. One in ten internet users (count: 2 million) are addicted to the internet. In response, the government has spent millions of dollars on counselling centres and addiction awareness classes for children. They’ve even set up ‘digital curfews’ for young gamers between midnight and 8am. Internet addiction clinics are starting to pop up all over the place. And not just in South Korea.
A 2005 pilot study by Dr Mubarak Ali from Flinders University, Adelaide, found that young people using social networking sites were particularly susceptible to forming psychological addictions caused by wanting to hang onto or enhance positive feelings from stimuli, in a way similar to gambling. Next time you get that little blip of excitement when you see a new Facebook notification, remind yourself that it could be a sign of something more sinister.
Are you addicted to the internet? Try this quick quiz. I scored 38, but I’m not sure that I was being entirely truthful with myself… What did you get?