Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Internet Addiction is a Real Thing. No, Really.

Posted By on Tue, Sep 3, 2013 at 4:05 PM

The situation is dire.
  • The situation is dire.

Last week, word traveled around the Internet that the Japanese government has plans to open up camps for Internet-addicted adolescents. And the name of these rehab spots? Well, the Japanese government has decided to call them "fasting camps." Yow.

The government-funded study estimates that about 518,000 students between the ages of 12 and 18 suffer from Internet-related health issues, and the state-backed camps plan to encourage children to socialize with peers without the aid of technological media. Psychotherapists will also be on deck to talk about any emotional issues.

But hey, this kind of solution to what seems to be a universal problem is only big in Japan, right? Not anymore. Gothamist broke the news today that the Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania will open up its own ten day treatment center next week. The voluntary, inpatient treatment will take on four patients and cut them off from Internet use for about three days. The director of the program emphasized that those who "can't stop looking at animal photos on Reddit" will not qualify.

The Gothamist post, to me, doesn't appear to be taking this new treatment seriously, and I don't really have a problem with that. There's still a lot of debate over whether Internet addiction should be classified as a disorder. The condition was only included in the new DSM-V in the appendix to stimulate research. It's a very foggy area, determining what is actually a symptom of a larger disease versus just a very bad habit.

However the photo Gothamist uses tells a lot about how we think of Internet addicts. We all know the stereotype of an Internet addict, namely, the long-haired, vaguely tech-looking dude who may very well have replaced Dungeons & Dragons or Magic the Gathering with World of Warcraft. And there is no shortage of stories of lives going asunder as game-time increases. And that stereotype is also often bound up with the idea that de facto internet addicts are already "poor" at being social.

The problem with this stereotype is that online gaming and MMORPGs have been around longer than Twitter. And I'm pretty sure Starcraft tournaments were around before anyone even knew what Friendster was, let alone Facebook. So whether it's playing online games or communicating via social media, I'd argue we're all a little addicted to the Internet. I mean, if you're checking your Instagram just to fill that one-minute void when your date leaves the table, you should probably reconsider your own socializing habits.

That said, it's a bit unfortunate that the Japanese government opted for the term "fasting camp," although "rehabilitation" doesn't exactly fit either, and sounds really, really tragic. But what would be a better word?

Follow Ryan Chang on twitter @avantbored

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