This book review appeared yesterday over on Metaverse Health, but given the book’s Australian author and it’s broad examination of online behaviour, I thought it was worth re-posting it here.
Nicola Johnson from the University of Wollongong in Australia, recently released a book titled The Multiplicities of Internet Addiction – The Misrecognition of Leisure and Learning. It’s an engaging read, not least for the very objective look it takes at the concepts of internet addiction and framing the issue within the realities of a net-connected society that has changed immensely in the past twenty years or so.
Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice is the frame for the qualitative study of eight New Zealander teenagers and the illumination it provided on the perception of technology use amongst those who’ve know no different (digital insiders), those who haven’t (digital newcomers) and those who are plain not interested (digital outsiders). Additionally, there’s some fascinating discussion on how expertise is being developed by digital insiders and how this expertise is at best partially gained from the traditional educational institutions in place at present.
It’s the elaboration of the experiences of these eight teens that allow Johnson to weave in a great deal of the substantive research that’s occurred into the nature of addiction in regard to online activity. There’s no assertion of internet addiction as non-entity, just a much smaller subset of use than usually claimed. As contributing writer Feldspar Epstein has written previously in relation to heavy use of virtual worlds by people with disabilities:
Can you imagine telling someone with no legs to forsake their wheelchair? How about someone with a pain disorder? Are you going to tell people with crippling mental disorders that they are not allowed to take drugs to normalize and enable them? Are you going to tell deaf people they can’t use Teletype in place of the telephone?
Each of these technological advances were radical in their time; some of them were seen as being destructive, to society or to the individual. It’s hard to imagine any of these people being denied their enabling technologies in today’s first world society (one hopes). I hope to live in a future where my enabling computer habits are accepted.
Johnson’s assertions based on a thorough exploration of the literature, reveal a similar conclusion: internet addiction does exist, but when the preconceptions of digital newcomers and digital outsiders are removed from the equation, the prevalence of internet addiction seems pretty limited indeed. As Johnson concludes:
Digital outsiders (and some digital newcomers) find it unfathomable to understand the preoccupation that digital insiders have with their online lives. Because it is not what they did in times gone by, they find it difficult to understand the value, worth and social capital received by avid users in what appears to be an unhealthy obsession. As I have argued, these practices are not only misrecognized as obessions or addictions, but they are misunderstood.
This book’s research base means it’s more likely to be consumed and digested by those who are doing research or study in the area themselves. Which is a shame, as the discussion deserves wider recognition and debate. Work like this balances out some of the excesses on the mainstream media side of the equation. It’s only a lack of dissemination of this perspective that will ensure the sensationalism camp prevails for some time to come.