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Internet Addiction is Good

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InternetA startling fact: One-tenth of young, China-based Internet users suffer from Internet addiction. According to a survey released by the China Youth Association for Network Development (CYAND) earlier this year, 10% of what is already the world’s largest Internet community is a user base of “addicts” 21 million strong. Whichever way you look at it, that figure is staggering.

The CYAND report says an Internet addict is anyone who fits three criteria:

  1. Feels happier or more self-fulfilled online than in the real world
  2. Feels upset, depressed, or panicked when being cut off from the Internet for any reason
  3. Lies to family members about how much time is spent online.

IAD and Me
Considering the hours I spend online everyday, I was curious to find out whether, like 21 million Chinese Web surfers, I’m a little more than just net-savvy and am at risk of developing IAD (Internet Addiction Disorder). So I googled it and found a 20-question online Internet Addiction Test, developed by Internet addiction expert Kimberly Young.

The verdict? “You are an average online user,” the website said. “You may surf the Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage.” Thank goodness!

Goldberg’s Hoax
New York-based psychiatrist and “Father of Internet Addiction Disorder” Ivan Goldberg defines IAD as “a maladaptive pattern of Internet use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as manifested by three (or more) of [a defined set of symptoms], occurring at any time in the same 12- month period.” Some notable symptoms among those enumerated by Goldberg are “obsessive thinking about what is happening on the Internet,” “fantasies or dreams about the Internet,” and “voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers.” [The complete list is at http://www.psycom.net]

The funny thing about IAD is that it was meant as a joke. One gone bad, apparently, since not many people laughed when it was first heard of in 1995. Instead, many people took it seriously.

“IAD is a very unfortunate term,” says Goldberg. “It makes it sound as if one were dealing with heroin. To medicalize every behavior by putting it into psychiatric nomenclature is ridiculous. If you expand the concept of addiction to include everything people can overdo, then you must talk about people being addicted to books, addicted to jogging, addicted to other people.”

Pseudo-Disorders, a Good Thing?
Addictions (when they’re not ruining people’s lives) are making other people rich. Remember the early years of television? The moment it began catching on, someone somewhere cried, “Psychological disorder!” After all, there’s got to be something bad when you’re getting too much, right? Could be. But let’s leave that to the academics to find out.

What’s important is that the doc’s crying “psycho” is a signal that the Internet is going mainstream. Global market intelligence firm IDC forecasts Internet advertising spending to hit $65.2 billion (447.56 billion yuan) by the end of 2008. That’s nearly 10% of total advertising expenditure for the year, which is even forecast to grow by 15–20% per annum thereafter.

In short, “addiction” is only another term for the next big marketing thing in the making. “Marketers already recognize that online advertising must be incorporated into any comprehensive ad strategy,” said Karsten Weide, program director for Digital Media and Entertainment at IDC.

What, perhaps, marketers around the globe are not so sure about is precisely how critical online presence will become and how fast the transformation will take place.

Between you and me (and a few other people besides), 15–20% may turn out to be a wee bit conservative. If hype within the psychiatric profession is any indicator, it looks as if the Internet will be as big, if not even bigger than good-old TV, in the very near future. Just look at China.

print ed: 08/08


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