The Null Device
Life imitates New Waver lyrics yet again: A psychological study at Leeds University has found a connection between depression and heavy internet use:
The authors found that a small number of users had developed a compulsive internet habit, replacing real life social interaction with online chat rooms and social networking sites.
They classed 18 respondents - 1.2% of the total - as "internet addicts". This group spent proportionately more time on sex, gambling and online community websites... The internet addicts were significantly more depressed than the non-addicted group, with a depression score five times higher.Of course, the whole concept of "internet addiction" is a dubious one, and often tinged with tabloid-style moral panic, so there's a danger that the advocates of the "internet addiction" industry will wave this around as proof, ignoring the fact that the addictive behaviours there are more usefully described as gambling and/or pornography addiction.
The report does not put forward any causal links between heavy internet use and depression. Do specific patterns of internet use weaken social contacts, contributing to depression, or do depressed people use the internet to self-medicate?
Also, the inclusion of online community websites along with sex and gambling websites seems somewhat dubious; while the latter are masturbatory replacements for natural stimuli, especially those one leading an impoverished life may lack, can one really imply that social community sites substitute for and weaken social ties rather than facilitating them? I recall a study from a few years ago which showed that users of social web sites actually have stronger social connections, and improved wellbeing as a result of those. Though it is always possible that various characteristics of particular social websites (which may be influenced by their design and/or emergent from organic patterns of use) influence their ability to facilitate psychologically useful social ties.