Ever since the first cat GIF was forwarded on some university intranet, somebody has been complaining that kids are spending too much time on the Internet. And now that everybody has a supercomputer in their pocket, those cries have escalated to the nervous tenor of a civilization on the verge of collapse.
According to a random sampling of prevalent baby boomer theories, the Internet is systematically eroding everything millennials need to survive in the real world, such as the ability to hold a normal conversation, the patience to sit still long enough to read a book from cover to cover and even how they form relationships with their families.
The thing is, a new study from researchers at Georgia State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is claiming that for half of millennial students out there, all those fear-mongering claims about Internet addiction might be true.
That’s the position of Susan Snyder, assistant professor at Georgia State’s School of Social Work. In an editorial for Quartz, Snyder explained how her team selected a group of participants from UNC Chapel Hill’s undergraduate and graduate student population, using a required minimum of 25 hours of non-school or work-related Internet use per week to weed the field of potential study applications. The students were scored against the Compulsive Internet Use Scale to arrive at a probability of PIU (problematic Internet use) occurrence. A total of 27 students attended four focus group sessions, where Snyder found that a near-majority of students (48.1 percent) exhibited clear signs of PIU – emotional and mental dependence on (e.g. worrying when the next session or “fix” will come) and behavioral shifts caused by (e.g. inability to maintain contact with friends and family members) excessive Internet use.
While Snyder et al aren’t putting forward their findings as verifiable diagnoses, they are asserting that the trends in the results indicate that older generations’ claims of scatter-brained teens aren’t entirely baseless. In addition to the 48.1 percent of participants who qualified as full-blown cases of PIU, another 40 percent were categorized as “potential Internet addicts” according to the CIUS. In fact, every single participant exhibited at least a single disruption to behavior or cognition that tripped the CIUS scale.
Snyder and her team conceded that heavy reliance on Internet usage isn’t a categorical evil – in fact, discussion in focus groups uncovered themes of foreign students in the U.S. or those who use video conferencing to maintain contact with their friends and family back home. However, negative consequences of excessive Internet use took the lion’s share of participant observations and anecdotes, with some millennials even furthering the cycle of criticism they were once the target of; two college-aged girls told researchers about several times when their younger relatives displayed symptoms of PIU even they couldn’t ignore.
“He just turned 4, but they got him an iPad. Like, which I don’t agree with,” a participant named Melissa told the researchers, via Quartz. “I think it’s so stupid, but he is always, always on it. He gets really defensive if you try to take it away or put boundaries on it or something like that.”
Even for those who accept that over-dependency on the Internet has observable negative effects on millennials and their younger compatriots, the next step — regulation on use — seems even more outlandish in Western societies that prize individual liberty for better or worse. The Washington Post explained that in other countries, like South Korea, Internet addiction is a commonly accepted condition and one that can be treated — either with or without the often underage patient’s consent — at Internet addiction rehabilitation camps and refuges. According to Shim Yong-chool, director of South Korea’s National Center for Youth Internet Addiction Treatment, it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a step in the right direction, especially since the Internet isn’t going away anytime soon.
“The government has been promoting I.T. and these kinds of devices, so the government helped create this problem,” Yong-chool told The Washington Post. “Now, the government’s trying to help solve it.”