by Mike Masnick
Wed, Feb 3rd 2010 6:13pm
Every so often a flurry of reports come out trying to talk up the concept of "internet addiction," even if the term is mostly meaningless (and usually drummed up by a small number of psychologists looking to drum up business "treating" the problem). Almost every real study I've seen on the subject doesn't find much behind the concept of "internet addiction." What they tend to find is that some people, when depressed, tend to spend a lot of time on the internet, but that doesn't mean that the internet leads to depression. Often, the evidence suggests the relationship goes in the other direction (depressed people tend to lose themselves online, as it keeps them away from the "real world" that's depressing them). But that makes a less interesting story, so again we're seeing reports of a new study that "internet addiction" is "linked" to depression. While the article is clear that the causal link is not established, just the way the article itself is promoted, the casual reader may assume otherwise. Also, this particular "study" has pretty questionable methodology, relying on an online survey -- something that isn't known for producing particularly reliable information. On the whole, I don't think it's surprising that a segment of depressed people would spend a lot of time online, but it hardly means they're "addicted" -- and focusing on the "addiction" may be the wrong way to treat the real problem of depression.
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