The Middle Brow: Problematic internet use

By Emma Plant
The term ‘Problematic Internet Use’ (PIU) has been bandied about since one's bandwidth became synonymous with social mobility. 

It describes an individual’s reliance on the Internet to the point where it detracts from a healthy, balanced life – i.e., you may be accomplishing all kinds of wonderful things with your online alter-ego, but what on earth (literally) is happening in your non-pixilated life?

The old existential adage asks, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it really fall?”. Now it might well ask, “If you go to a trendy farmer's market and don’t Instagram, Facebook or Tweet it, did you really go?”

The common discourse around PIU usually follows this pattern:
- If you are always texting and checking your phone for status updates, you are less likely to be in face-to-face conversations;
- If you have 1000 friends on Facebook, you probably don’t have 1000 human being friends;
- If you are whittling your hours away on blogs (teehee!), Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, you probably don’t have time to look around and find inspiring things to take a photo of and put on a real pin-board.

Problematic Internet Use and Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) are of growing concern. This concern resides in the fact that users have had to navigate their way through using technology and the web as it was and is being developed.

Policies have therefore been largely reactionary (cite the school kid who gets expelled for posting inappropriate pictures on Facebook and the swim stars who will be booted out of the Olympic village as soon as their laps of duty are done) with everyone jumping on the bandwagon without so much as a thought for the apparently sizeable repercussions.

"The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic," reports Newsweek in its most recent cover story.  

"Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways... This life of continuous connection has come to seem normal, but that’s not the same as saying that it’s healthy or sustainable, as technology—to paraphrase the old line about alcohol—becomes the cause of and solution to of all life’s problems."

If you are feeling a wee knot in your tummy, don’t head for the acidophilus bifida good bacteria; it could be an indicator of guilt. This guilt could be justified guilt, too.

Davis (2001) established a general questionnaire to measure whether our Internet use is becoming problematic. Extremities in answers are the alarm bell. These are the factors to help measure healthy use:
·      Mood alteration (Do you use the internet to change your mood?)
·      Social Benefits (Do you perceive positive social benefits from online community participation?)
·      Negative Outcomes (Are there problems dealing with friends/family/work due to internet use?)
·      Compulsive use (Do you have the ability/inability to control your use, do you have guilty feelings?)
·      Excessive time online (Do you lose track of the time when you are on the Internet?)
·      Withdrawal (Do you have difficulty spending time away from the internet?)
·      Social control (do you have a sense of social control and manipulation when you are interacting with others online?)

Scores of studies illustrate that Problematic Internet Use is directly linked to self-esteem problems (Shapira, Goldsmith, Zung Depression Inventory). There is also a direct correlation between IAD and depression, anxiety and even sexual disorders. While we know the internet has great benefits, like everything else, it can be abused.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel (and no it is not the ‘brightness’ app on our screen). We may have taken a bite from the apple - ahem, Mac users - but we don’t have to willingly let it rob from us. Personally, I am taking a hiatus from Facebook.

It has been two weeks and you would be surprised how much you don’t need to check your notifications. If you have a fear of taking a break from your webiverse, it is probably a good indicator that a break is exactly what you need.