Addicted to the Internet?

Stop complaining about how you can’t get away from e-mail, the Web or social networking – that the Internet is undermining your productivity: Disconnect yourself! Of course you can always choose not to use the Internet, but now you can disconnect yourself with the aid of an app for up to eight hours at a time. Its called freedom by the developers. See: http://macfreedom.com/

There are serious issues around notions of ‘Internet addiction’ and we have studied this at the OII. However, the idea of addiction to technologies like the Internet, and disconnecting yourself from these devices, is not new. My students and I studied the impact of a pager blackout in the late 1990s, when journalists across the US argued that the pager blackout was like a ‘snow day’, freeing people from the demands of everyday life.* Our research found that this was true for middle-class managers and professionals, such as doctors and journalists, but far less the case for those more marginal, such as the unemployed, women v men, minorities, and those who depended on the pager for their next job, such as construction workers. To them, the pager was more central to their connections with family, friends, and employment. The pager freed them from remaining by a phone, for example, just as the Internet can free an individual from being where they need to be to get information or connect with a friend or associate.

We are hoping to study Internet addiction and other risks tied to Internet use, but it is important to note that these impacts are likely to be socially distributed in quite meaningful ways. Technologies seldom fit into everyone’s life in the same way. In many respects, that is the nice aspect of this new app – anyone complaining about the Internet undermining their productivity no longer has a real excuse.

Reference

*Dutton, W. H., Elberse, A., Hong, T., and Matei, S. (2001), ‘Beepless in America: The Social Impact of the Galaxy IV Pager Blackout,’ pp. 9-32 in S. Lax (ed.), Access Denied in the Information Age, London: Macmillan.

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