Internet Addicts or Ordinary Citizens?

Cartoon: The Addict

Kraut's "Internet Paradox" is exemplified in the Internet addict: he or she uses the social tools of the Internet (email, chatting, MUDding, online gaming) so much that he or she loses contact with the real world, thus becoming very anti-social. However, unlike average net users, Internet addicts often claim that they feel more connected to their online virtual friends than friends do in reality. According to Jakob Nielson, an Internet researcher, "the question is whether the new lifestyle is enjoyable and whether it nourishes humans or causes them damage" (useit/alertbox). When the Internet interferes with school or work, it is clearly causing damage. But what if school or work is online, and the user keeps up with the work by remaining "plugged in" all the time? Is that a damaging lifestyle because the user never leaves his or her house, or is it a nourishing lifestyle because he or she has an online community to feel close to (perhaps even closer than the real community nearby)? Most people might agree with the former, but the users themselves would probably agree with the latter. There is no easy way to judge whether relationships online are more or less meaningful than relationships the people might have had offline. Perhaps the users were loners, extremely shy people, or outcasts, and could not find any friends in their locality. In this case, online communities would be more nourishing than physical communities. But when online usage leads to the breakdown of strong physical relationships in order to maintain weaker online relationships, the addiction is damaging.

Though many psychology studies have been published on computer and Internet addiction, the studies highlighted in this project are unique in that they focus on the Internet usage patterns of light to heavy Internet users, not just Internet addicts. Although time spent online is not the only measure of Internet addiction, it is one symptom. One Internet addiction survey noted that "Dependents classified used the Internet an average of thirty-eight hours per week for non-academic or non-employment related purposes."  In contrast, only 14% of the users in the SIQSS study used the internet more than 10 hours a week, and only 10% of the HomeNet study users logged on for more than 7.5 hours a week, making the percentage of Internet addicts in the sample probably quite small. These studies are the first to try to examine the effect of the Internet on the personal lives of so-called "ordinary citizens" (HomeNet project) — not technogeeks or addicts.

Internet addiction is just a higher level of the Internet isolation reported by many of these studies. By studying the effects of the Internet on users now, researchers can trace trends and try to predict how likely it is that an Internet-integrated society will lead to more Internet addiction. Distopian views of the Internet in the future depict a society of Internet addicts: totally isolated people in front of computer screens, dependent on the net and unwilling to leave their seats (for example, p , The Net, and The Matrix). One of the purposes of these studies is to question the present development of the Internet. Nie, head of the SIQSS study, said "What might have happened if we had asked these questions about the automobile? Or television? We might have done some things very differently."