The number of people connected to the internet world wide has now pushed past the 4 billion mark. Australia has a population of just over 25 million of which 87% have access to the internet and its not uncommon for some to spend 18 hours or more a day online.
COVID 19 has probably increased that figure, but just how many can we class as addicted to the internet and at what point does our internet use determine we are addicted?
Let’s take the first point what is an internet addict. According to Dr. Kimberly Young Internet Addiction can be characterised by ones excessive or poorly controlled preoccupation, urges, and/or behaviors regarding Internet use leading to impairment or distress in several life domains, such as family, academic performance, work, and personal relationships.
So lets put that in simpler terms does your internet use impact on any other areas of your life?
- you put off social engagements to surf the net
- you get angry when loved ones when interrupted on the internet
- you only partly listen to your partner as you scroll
- you ignore the kids whilst collecting them from school as you’re too busy scrolling
- You hand in work late due playing games or surfing the net
- Have to take work home due to excessive internet use at work
Internet addiction is an impulse control disorder very similar to gambling in the sense that it is behaviour disorder rather than substance abuse. The term was applied to hard-core online gamer’s, who spend many hours in front of the screen often without break or sleep.
However, further research conducted by The Gaming Research Unit at Trent University, Nottingham, UK concluded that whilst gambling and Internet Addiction shared similar psychological symptoms such as depression anxiety and global functioning (a scoring system that mental health Professionals use to assess how well an individual is functioning in their daily lives) they are in fact two separate disorders. Many still relate to this original comparison as more research still needs to be conducted in this area and there is very little else to compare with internet addiction.
Since the first diagnosis by Dr K. Young there has been an incredible rise in internet availability to the general public, fuelled mainly by the rise in smartphone sales. In 2009, when the smartphone was introduced, only 0.7% of web traffic was generated through mobile phones. Fast forward to 2017 mobile use accounted for over 50% of all web traffic generated worldwide. Australia now has over 21 million internet user’s, 93% of these log onto the internet everyday.
This explosion in internet availability has seen the development of a whole new range of issues for which the internet addiction diagnosis does not fully apply, but is still used.
Today’s Covid ravaged world and connect anywhere culture means the average 5 1/2 hours online every day has certainly increased. As mentioned earlier some pushing past 18 hours a day, which to most people (including me) would appear rather excessive use.
Further research has shown that excessive use does not always transpire into addiction. Take for example those who code for a living. A normal working week a coder means they would spend at least 40 hours online 5 days a week. This pushes them into the addiction category but not everyone is addicted. It’s your digital habits you have that make the difference.
The current pandemic has had a significant impact on my family as we live in four different countries. With current travel restrictions it is almost impossible (unless you are super rich!) to see them. So we are thankful for the internet as we spend more time online now using various apps to talk to them. But this is positive use and unlikely to lead to addicted behaviour so long as it does not impact on my social (friends family relationships academic and work performance) and psychological wellbeing (decision making, Impulse control, reasoning, motivation).
But using the internet between 40 and 60 hours a week to watch you tube clips or link up with strangers over chat sites, online gaming, shopping or gambling may not be so productive. Hopefully you’re starting to see the pattern of positive digital habits.
There are 5 specific types of online addictive behaviours cyber sexual addiction, cyber relationship addiction, net compulsions, obsessive online gambling, shopping or Trading, obsessive online gambling, computer addiction and obsessive computer game playing.
With the current Covid crisis our online use has definitely increased but what constitutes addictive use’ is still far from clear as there is still much research to conduct in this area.
Take the short test below (15 questions). If you find yourself doing more than 5 of the following questions on a regular basis you may need to curb your digital habits.
- Do you regularly spend longer in line than you intended
- How often do you do you put off things you need to be doing e.g. homework, housework, business because of your digital habits
- Do you find yourself preferring the excitement of your digital habits rather than building personal relationships
- Do you frequently try to hide your internet use from family, friends or work
- Do you prefer to form online friendships more than personal relationships
- Do friends/loved ones complain about the time you spend on line
- How often does your school or business work get neglected through your poor online habits e.g handing in work late or having to take it home because you were online all the time.
- How many times a day do you check your emails. (don’t guess, count each time)
- Do you get angry and defensive when asked what you do online
- Do you get angry easily when disturbed online
- Do you find you get relief from being online (e.g life’s problems disappear )
- Do you find yourself looking forward to getting online again
- How would you feel about life with no internet.
- How many nights do you lose sleep because you stayed online till late
- How many times do you wake up at night to check your phone notifications.
The most important part of this little exercise is building a little mindful awareness into your everyday digital habits. This is something we all need to include in our daily lives. Hopefully these questions will prompt you to become more aware of the impact your digital habits may be having on your life.
The internet is very much part of our lives now but how big that part is down to us. Be mindful online and remember to build positive digital habits.