Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

Could I be an internet addict? My dad thinks so, but I'm not sure. Does such a condition exist?


INTERNET ADDICTION DISORDER

Q. My dad thinks that I'm addicted to the internet. Admittedly, I check my e-mail incessantly and a day doesn't go by when I don't feel the need to shop, play games or look for information online. But does such a condition exist. Do other readers feel they have the same problem?

A. Dr Kimberly Young wouldn't just acknowledge your dad's opinion, she'd probably urge him to pack you off for in-depth counselling. Her investigations into so-called internet addiction disorder (IAD) have led to a book, Caught in the Net, which presents "the stories of dozens of lives shattered by a compulsion to surf the net".

Her website, The Center for Internet Addiction Recovery ( www.netaddiction.com), allows you to spend hours listening to podcasts to determine whether you have a problem. "Do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with soothing thoughts of the internet?" asks her Internet Addiction Test; score too highly, and online counselling is recommended at $95 (£51) per hour - although free "recovery screensavers" are "coming soon".

Meanwhile, Dr Ivan Goldberg, an ally of Dr Young, has developed a list of symptoms of IAD, ranging from "internet is accessed more often than was intended" - to cold-turkey scenarios: "tremors, trembling, involuntary typing movements of the fingers".

But before you make an appointment with your GP, there's a vociferous group of psychologists who consider the theory of IAD deeply flawed, and that speculation about its nature creates needless worry. While none of the respondents to this week's Cyberclinic admitted to making involuntary typing movements while away from their computers, many admitted to overusing the web - but aren't that bothered about it. "When I'm online, I'm reading or writing," says Helen Coutts. "If I was sitting quietly reading a book, no one would tell me I had some kind of disorder."

The benign nature of net browsing is something that a few people commented on; yes, people might spend too much time online, but they might also argue with their partner, eat too many all-butter croissants or have unsavoury thoughts about minor celebrities, and these things can't really rank alongside schizophrenia or depression. "There's just something about finding an updated page, or a new bit of information, that gives a momentary pleasure," writes Neil Scott. And as someone whose internet-enabled phone is used rather too frequently to settle pub disputes over the actors who played various Seventies sitcom characters, I could class myself as an addict - but a well-adjusted one. Addiction to online pornography or online gambling has its own methods of treatment, but internet addiction itself isn't a recognised psychopathology, appearing in neither the ICD or the DSM - the two internationally recognised handbooks for diagnosing mental disorders - although some are lobbying for its inclusion.

The compulsion to check e-mail was singled out by a few people, including Steve Hill. "I get this need to hit the "check e-mail" button perhaps two or three times in the space of 10 seconds," he says, "even though my mail program checks for new mail every minute." Tom Stafford, co-author of the book Mind Hacks, has already identified this issue as a "variable-interval reinforcement schedule", which he himself experiences; you keep checking, as you never know exactly when the reward of that long-awaited e-mail will finally appear. He has come up with various ways to weaken the link between the action and the reward, including a five-minute delay between hitting "check mail" and the mail being checked by the computer. Software companies, however, are unlikely to be lining up to implement Stafford's recommendations.

The social contact of e-mail, instant messaging and online forums is an unquestionable benefit of the net and, as Jon McLean points out: "There are dozens of people I would never have met without the internet."

If you're not reassured, Nick Landau has a simple method of self-assessment: "Try not using it for a week." If you can do that without a twinge of longing, you're made of sterner stuff than I am.

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Emma Farnfield:

"If I communicate online with anyone under the age of 25, I'm confronted by words and phrases that mean nothing to me. N00b? OMG? AFAIK? Could you and your readers cobble together some kind of guide?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Arts and Entertainment
Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
music
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"