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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Study Says 12M Are 'Addicted' to Internet




WEST HARTFORD, Connecticut -- Hello, my name is John, and I'm hooked on the Internet.


Since I discovered the global network in 1994, I haven't gone more than a week without connecting.


Now hardly a day goes by that I'm not online - sometimes for a few minutes, but often for hours at a time. Needless to say, I like it a lot.


Does this make me an Internet addict?


The question comes up because of a recent study by David Greenfield, a West Hartford, Connecticut, psychologist who specializes in research on behavior associated with Internet usage.


Based on a web survey of more than 17,000 people, Greenfield has concluded that nearly 6 percent of Internet users suffer from some form of addiction to it.


The findings, presented at a recent meeting of the American Psychological Association, sparked a flood of news coverage. After all, with 200 million people now using the Internet worldwide, the study suggests there may be nearly 12 million addicts.


But the study raises a lot of questions, particularly about the nature of this so-called Internet addiction.


Greenfield's survey, for example, asks whether the net user gambles while online. But is excessive online gambling an Internet addiction? Or is it just a new form of a gambling addiction?


Similarly, what about compulsive online stock trading and explicit online sexual experiences? Aren't these existing addictions that have merely found their way onto the Internet?


It's hard to be sure. The Internet facilitates a lot of activity, but it doesn't necessarily bring about that behavior in the first place.


It's possible, of course, that certain other experiences inherent to the Internet could prove addictive - online chatting, for example, or even web-surfing itself.


But when other potentially addictive behavior, like gambling or sex, gets mixed in with Internet usage, the picture quickly becomes fuzzy.


Greenfield himself seemed to acknowledge as much, telling one interviewer: "It's true that people can become addicted to many things and the word addiction really may not even be the most appropriate. The issue is that there's something very powerful about the interactive communication that people experience online, and they end up getting involved in situations in their lives that can be harmful to them.''


None of this is to say that Greenfield's survey isn't valuable or that Internet addictions don't exist.


Indeed, we have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that many people's habits, relationships and employment are being affected by their Internet usage. Just goes to prove the adage that first we shape our tools, then they shape us.


Still, we should be cautious about reaching any sweeping conclusions about the level of addiction based on a survey conducted on a web site.


Greenfield's survey consisted of 36 questions - often with multiple parts - posted on the ABC News web site. A similar survey at Greenfield's own site at www.virtual-addiction.com estimates that 10 to 15 minutes are needed to complete it.


It may be that the people who decided to answer the survey differ from the broader population of Internet users. Moreover, it can be devilishly difficult to separate an intense personal interest from an actual addiction. And the people involved in the activity - be it gambling, compulsive shopping or excessive web-surfing - aren't necessarily in the best position to judge.


Nevertheless, Greenfield's findings are broadly similar to earlier research on this subject, lending some credence to the results.


The Internet is easily the most powerful communications technology to come along since television and telephones. Yet because it's so new, it remains poorly understood, even with tens of millions of regular users.


So any research that sheds light on what's happening and to whom is welcome. Just keep in mind that the road to understanding the Internet addiction phenomenon is a long one. And the journey has only begun.


Now, where did I leave my browser.