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Internet addiction: another flawed study

You’d think people would have better things to do than do pointless surveys from which they then draw unlikely conclusions. Still, it keeps them out of mischief I suppose. I think this one is meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek, because it states that teens spent less time online than other people, probably because they were too busy texting.

Beware of internet addiction, and reports of internet addiction (with apologies to Edvard Munch)Highlights of the study are that 64% of females think they’re addicted compared with 55% of males; 44% of the over-65s are online (at least, I think that’s what the graphic is saying) and 61% of people feel that they are addicted to the internet, but that 39% could quit if they wanted to. It isn’t clear whether that’s 39% of the 61% or 39% of the whole sample.

That pretty much sums up the way this has been reported. Given that these days you can’t do anything without being online, what exactly does being addicted mean, and how could you quit even if you wanted to? (Here’s an experiment you can try for yourself, which serves as a fitting example. Phone the British Telecom broadband update line, which lets you know if there is a problem with the broadband connection in your area, and when it is likely to be fixed if there is. At the end of the recorded message it advises you to go online if you need any further information. If your broadband connection is down, how do you do that? I’m not picking on poor old BT: lots of companies do that. It's almost impossible to not be online these days.)

The infographic also confuses terminology. It says that teens reported spending less time staring at a screen because they were probably too busy texting. Presumably without looking?

I realise I’m nit-picking but I think what this all comes down to me for me is the following:

  • What exactly is internet addiction?
  • Does it matter? I mean, what is the point of the study in the first place?
  • If you have to spend a lot of your time “staring at a screen”, does that make you addicted? I think this study, or perhaps the way it has been reported, by inferring addiction from data about time spent online, has leapt to conclusions.
  • Diagrams and graphs are supposed to aid understanding; this one does the opposite. The captions and symbols are confusing. For example, one of the graphs has the text “If they can’t Google it, there’s gonna be trouble.", accompanied by email symbols. So I’m not sure if the graph shows the number of people using the internet, going on the web, using Google, or using Gmail.

In short, I regard this infographic as an excellent example of the need for critical thinking in ICT. What do you think?

Have a laugh: here’s a nice cartoon strip on the subject of Blackberry addiction, and a sort of Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

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(c) Terry Freedman