As with the introduction of other mass communication technologies, issues surrounding Internet use, abuse and addiction have surfaced. This article has a number of objectives. It will first introduce readers to the concept of Internet addiction before going on to look at the wider issue of Internet abuse in the workplace. In this section, generic types of Internet abuse will be described, in addition to further examination of the reasons why Internet abuse occurs. The chapter ends with some guidelines and recommendations for employers and human resources departments.
Background: Internet Addiction
There have been a growing number of academic papers about excessive use of the Internet. These can roughly be divided into four categories:
Studies that compare excessive Internet users with non-excessive users (e.g., Brenner, 1997; Young, 1998)
Studies that have examined vulnerable groups of excessive Internet use; for example, students (e.g., Nalwa & Anand, 2003; Scherer & Bost, 1997)
Case studies of excessive Internet users (Catalano, Catalano, Embi & Frankel, 1999; Griffiths, 2000a; Tsai & Lin, 2003; Young, 1996)
Studies that examine the psychometric properties of excessive Internet use (e.g., Armstrong, Phillips & Saling, 2000; Charlton, 2002; Pratarelli et al., 1999).
Studies examining the relationship of excessive Internet use with other behaviors; for example, psychiatric problems, depression, loneliness, academic performance and so forth (e.g., Kubey, Lavin & Barrows, 2001; Nie & Ebring, 2000; Shapira, Goldsmith, Keck, Khosla & McElroy, 2000)
Despite the predominance of drug-based definitions of addiction, there is now a growing movement that views a number of behaviors as potentially addictive, including those which do not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive drug (e.g., gambling, computer game playing, exercise, sex, and now the Internet) (Orford, 2001). Research has suggested that social pathologies are beginning to surface in cyberspace. These have been termed “technological addictions” (Griffiths, 1996a) and have been operationally defined as non-chemical (behavioral) addictions that involve excessive human-machine interaction. They can thus be viewed as a subset of behavioral addictions (Marks, 1990) and feature core components of addiction (Brown, 1993; Griffiths, 1996a); that is, salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse. Young (1999) claims Internet addiction is a broad term that covers a wide variety of behaviors and impulse control problems. This is categorized by five specific subtypes:
Cybersexual addiction: compulsive use of adult Web sites for cybersex and cyberporn
Cyber-relationship addiction: over-involvement in online relationships
Net compulsions: obsessive online gambling, shopping or day-trading
Information overload: compulsive Web surfing or database searches.
Computer addiction: obsessive computer game playing (e.g., Doom, Myst, Solitaire, etc.)
Key Terms in this Chapter
Mood Modification: This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of engaging in the particular activity and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing “buzz” or a “high” or paradoxically, tranquilizing feel of “escape” or “numbing”).
Salience: This occurs when the particular activity becomes the most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behavior (deterioration of socialized behavior). For instance, even if the person is not actually engaged in the behavior they will be thinking about the next time they will be.
Technological Addictions: These addictions are operationally defined as non-chemical (behavioral) addictions that involve human-machine interaction. They can either be passive (e.g., television) or active (e.g., computer games, Internet), and usually contain inducing and reinforcing features which may contribute to the promotion of addictive tendencies. Technological addictions can be viewed as a subset of behavioral addictions and feature core components of addiction, that is, salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse.
Withdrawal Symptoms: These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects that occur when the particular activity is discontinued or suddenly reduced, for example, the shakes, moodiness, irritability and so forth.
Tolerance: This is the process whereby increasing amounts of the particular activity are required to achieve the former effects. For instance, a gambler may have to gradually have to increase the size of the bet to experience a euphoric effect that was initially obtained by a much smaller bet.
Cybersex: The act of computer-mediated sex either in an online or virtual environment. Examples include two consenting adults engaging in an e-mail or real-time chat sex session. The advantages to this are that two people who are at opposite ends of the globe can maintain a relationship.