Problematic Internet Use

An internet addict vigorously browses the internet late at night. Photo by Jason Luong | The Signal
An internet addict vigorously browses the internet late at night. Photo by Jason Luong | The Signal
An internet addict vigorously browses the internet late at night.
Photo Illustration by Jason Luong | The Signal

Alexis Campbell, Georgia State English major, uses the internet for school for about 10 hours a week. She texts her best friend throughout the day, does her homework online and used to seek shelter online to escape her family problems.

“I’m used to using my computer as a leisure device,” she said. “But there are so many ways to get distracted on the internet, since you have everything at your fingertips.”

Problematic Internet Use (PIU) is a behavioral addiction that claims college students as the most at-risk demographic. The study, led by Georgia State Professor of Social Work Susan Snyder, examines the positive and negative effects of PIU on students and their family relationships, according to a Jan. 21 press release.

“We wanted to understand those who reported spending more than 25 hours a week on the Internet on non-school or non-work-related activities, and who experienced internet-associated health or psychosocial problems,” she said.

Still, Aaron Baird, professor of health information systems at Georgia State, said the internet is becoming more of a requirement in the world, and has several benefits and disadvantages.

“The internet and technology have many benefits including convenience, information transparency and increased productivity,” he said. “However, downsides obviously occur if overuse results in not paying enough attention to other aspects of your life.”

Internet Overuse

College students are the most at risk because they have unlimited access to internet on college campuses, freedom from parents, and more class information available online, according to The Study of the Effects of U.S. University Students’ Problematic Internet Use on Family Relationships.

Campbell said she hasn’t had contact with her immediate family since she started college two years ago. She also said she used the internet as a way to escape the family dysfunction she had to leave. She said she spent her time online chatting with friends and playing video games to cope.

“I would stay up late at night, and I’d fall asleep all the time in high school,” she said. “The only times I have trouble staying awake now are in my chemistry classes.”

The study consisted of about 27 students who self-identified as internet “over-users” from The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, split into four groups and were asked a series of questions about their experiences with PIU, according to the study.

“The participants shared both their personal experiences and their perspectives with PIU. We did not go in with preconceived notions of what the students would say, but allowed them to share their thoughts,” Snyder said.

The study also suggested that the internet could spark positive and negative family issues, such as reconnecting with long lost family, or disagreements about posts on Facebook.

Campbell said she watches Netflix and Amazon Prime on average for over 7 hours on weekends. She said she only accesses her Facebook page once a day, for at least an hour.

“Sometimes what you say online could be misconstrued,” she said. “And on Facebook, anyone can be publicly searched for.”

Snyder’s team used the Young Diagnostic Questionnaire (YDQ) and Compulsive Internet Use Scale (CIUS) to measure PIU, according to the study. The students were asked questions about their internet activities and average internet time length. Snyder said the participants were of different majors.

“Our sample was too small for us to know what the results mean on a national level, but we were pleased because this helped us to see that this problem is not necessarily limited to one particular major,” she said.

The study reported that all of the participants had PIU, 48% were considered to be “Internet addicts” and over 95 percent of the participants said they spent more time on the internet than they thought.

Campbell said she spends over ten hours a day on the internet but is not allowed to use the media for her job. She said she spends at least 5 hours a day on the internet for leisure. She also said her online assignments only take an average of 15 minutes to complete.

“My school day starts at 9:30 and it ends at 6:45,” she said. “I’m constantly checking my phone for updates, and at least two of my classes’ assignments are online.”

Snyder said the study participants in the class were given $20 for their time, and suggested that students not be allowed to use media resources during class. She also said family members experienced PIU as well.

“The participants in our study recommended that professors should require that students not have access to the Internet during class, in order to ensure that students with PIU could focus,” she said.

Baird said his students are required to use Brightspace, and he places most coursework information online, including tests and assignments.

“My students would have a hard time keeping up with in class without Brightspace access,” he said.

Snyder also said that the participants in one focus group described being in class when the news of an athlete returning to UNC broke on Twitter. The students explained that no one had paid attention to what the professor was saying for the entire class.

“If a student can’t focus, then that student may not be able to reach his or her potential. It is critical that educators start to recognize PIU in order to provide students with every opportunity for success,” she said.

Campbell also thinks preoccupation with technology can be a problem. She said she’s fallen asleep on her phone before, yet not on her computer lately. She also said she has been known to work on her computer till at least 2 am, and only averaged about 5 hours of sleep a night.

“Before I got a smartphone, I used to fall asleep at my computer, but after I got a phone, I fell asleep on it more because I’d be in a comfortable place, like my bed,” she said.

Family Conflict/Disjointedness

The study found that the three main themes to come up most often were family connectedness, family conflict and disconnectedness, and family internet overuse. It also suggested that college students may be physically present but not psychologically present because of technology.

Campbell thinks older family members react worse to younger people who overuse the internet.

“They didn’t really grow up with technology like younger people do,” she said. “They think it’s rude.”

The study also suggests students with PIU may use the internet as a means to escape as well as a way to vent after an argument with family.

“Students would use the internet to escape anxiety, boredom, depression–moods that were uncomfortable,” Snyder said.

The study also suggests PIU can can lead to a variety of issues, such as depression, nightmares, difficulty staying awake and agoraphobia. A college student may begin to miss classes and witness a drop in grades, according to the study.

Campbell said her friends, as well as Georgia State faculty and staff, have made her issues bearable, despite her reticence to reunite with her family. She also said she’s stopped using the internet as an escape by the spring semester of 2014.

“The friends that I’ve made, the faculty and staff I’ve come in contact with helped me pull myself back together,” she said.