Are you playing games on the Internet? Are you addicted? That depends who you ask. At least one government is considering jumping into the fray.

23 04 2010

There is no denying that the Internet serves a myriad of uses. In large part, the Internet has grown into an incredible productivity generator for people all over the world. Furthermore, the Internet has become an increasingly necessary tool to carry out critical tasks that can carry serious consequences if ignored.

With that being said, concern has been mounting about the possibility of Internet addiction. This controversial topic is a difficult one to grasp. What qualifies as excessive Internet use? Who decides these criteria? What are consequences for excessive use?

These are some of the very questions that governments are beginning to scope out as a means of building a regulatory framework to limit excessive Internet use that can be deemed harmful.

South Korea is at the forefront of regulations applying specifically to Internet gaming. A leading regulatory idea  is a gaming curfew where blocks of time are deemed periods of no play or at least limited play in order to encourage people to pull away from computer screens and get some rest. Granted, South Korea is in somewhat of a unique position due to the country’s advanced Internet infrastructure that allow tremendous bandwidth and speeds for all Koreans who are online.

I have some concerns about these proposals stemming from the South Korean government. Sure, actions that are harmful should be studied to determine the real, as opposed to perceived, threat that may be present. However, where does personal freedom factor into these scenarios, particularly in the United States? If people are in their own homes, using their own property to access the Internet and utilize it as they please, what right does the government have to step in and say essentially “Turn it off! Go to bed!” If South Korea were to fully embrace regulations about Internet gaming activities, will these actions translate into regulatory actions in the United States that are comparable to restrictions on tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption?

One of the principle problems with the idea of regulating Internet time use is the controversy around the concept of Internet addition. Some experts feel that abundant use the Internet is not classifiable as a true addition under widely acknowledged medical definitions. Others, such as Dr. Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction, claim the exact opposite based upon symptomatic criteria. The following list reflects some measures by which she deems addiction to exist in Internet users:

  • Neglecting friends and family
  • Ignoring sleep in order to stay online
  • Euphoria when engaged with the Internet
  • Lack of behavior control
  • Being dishonest towards other people
  • Physical changes stemming from long periods of Internet use such as weight gain, carpal tunnel syndrome etc.
  • Absence in pleasure that previously resulted from other activities

Sifting through a variety of perspectives that exist on this issue, some major themes seem clear. First, spending too much time on the Internet either playing games or visiting pornography websites, can result in harmful health effects. The main effects cited tend to center around social isolation resulting from the deterioration of real life, face-to-face social skills. Second, the idea of excessive Internet usage needs to be scientifically proven as an addiction. Transparent studies to determine the validity of these claims should help clear the air on this topic. Finally, only after both of the aforementioned themes have been addressed can governments realize a more clairvoyant perspective on possible regulatory approaches to consider for Internet gaming and excessive Internet usage. 

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