So as an anthropologist when I see questions like “does Internet addiction exist” the first question I ask is: how and in what forms do preexisting cultural structures predispose people to think something is true?Kate Lingley and I have tried to do this in an extremely tentative and provisional way in our brief paper entitled “Just Like The Qing Empire”: Internet Addiction, MMOGs, and Moral Crisis in Contemporary China.Or, to be more specific, although people with psychological issues might find the Internet as one place to work them out, there is no clear sense that the Internet is ‘addictive’ in the sense that chemicals are — something that is obvious to anyone who spends a lot of time on the Internet, or has helped friends and family who have suffered from substance abuse.
And clearly, I’m not the first person to advocate this approach.
I will say one thing, though, that particularly bugs me about this discourse of Internet addiction: it seems at times to rely on an underlying model of human desire and commitment that I am not very happy with.
Of course, the United States shared several traits with China — indeed, China and the US have been part of the same global system for as long as there has been a United States (that’s why your fancy dishes are called ‘China’).
In the case of Internet addiction we see a similar set of concerns and understandings, albeit in a different context.
Now, there are many more things that Chinese Internet addiction is about — the changing nature of the Chinese healthcare system, inherited organizational models for (re)education and group therapy, democracy and free speech on the Internet and in wang bas, and so forth.
All of which is just to say that failing to appreciate the cultural context out of which Chinese Internet addiction occurs means giving up what we know about the phenomenon in order to understand it — and in particular it means that we will be fail if we assume that ‘if they’ve had it over here it must be the same thing as this stuff we are starting to get over here’.
In particular, I must admit that I think there is something wrong with a society that increasingly understands commitment as ‘addiction’.
Many things in life — the most important ones, I think — are things that we commit ourselves not because we chose them, but because they chose us.
In 2007 the American Medical Association declined to make Internet addiction a recognized disorder.
As one doctor said “There is nothing here to suggest that this is a complex physiological disease state akin to alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders, and it doesn’t get to have the word addiction attached to it.”Now to be sure, there are some psychologists who advocate the classifying ‘Internet addiction’ — which as far as I can tell really means ‘porn and World of Warcraft’ as an addiction. Despite how Science is sometimes taught and perceived, ‘scientists’ and ‘experts’ rarely speak with a single unified voice about what The Truth is.