Newsweek magazine just ran a front-cover story asking, "Is the Internet Making Us Crazy?" It cites new scientific research to argue that the internet is causing depression, changing our brain structure, and creating other mental illnesses. One UCLA research director even tells the magazine "the computer is like electronic cocaine," fueling a similar cycle of highs and then lows.
They also cited a California psychologist (and book author) named Larry Rosen, who believes the internet "encourages - and even promotes - insanity." Rosen tells Newsweek that the internet "fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions." Newsweek's reporter even discovered studies which identified specific physiological brain changes that happen when people surf the web.
There's some dramatic examples of "Internet Addiction Disorder" from China, Taiwan, and Korea, where it's already considered a serious medical condition as well as a national health problem. But in some places, it feels like Newsweek is deliberately hyping up their information. For example, in one sentence, they write "When the new DSM is released next year, Internet Addiction Disorder will be included for the first time, albeit in an appendix tagged for 'further study'." If it's being tucked into the "further study" section, then it's not really being "included" in the DSM, as most people would understand that term.
I'd be interested in hearing other reactions to the article, but my theory is that people engage with the internet at different levels of intensity. For example, this description from Newsweek's article seems plausible, but also the kind of thing that would vary widely from person to person.
"Every ping could be social, sexual, or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell. 'These rewards serve as jolts of energy that recharge the compulsion engine, much like the frisson a gambler receives as a new card hits the table,' MIT media scholar Judith Donath recently told Scientific American. 'Cumulatively, the effect is potent and hard to resist.'"
If you're worried about your own internet usage, Newsweek's reporter also offers a few tips. In an embedded video on the web page, he suggests that you watch how much time you spend online, and try to have face-to-face conversations whenever possible.
And no texting at the dinner table!