The latest edition of Newsweek provides a less-than-accurate insight about the claim that the Internet is causing ‘extreme forms of mental illnesses’ in its user population. The lack of scientific research and the sweeping generalizations clearly serve not to help but actually further muddle the current issues involving the Internet.
One of the generalizations in the article states:
“The current incarnation of the Internet – portable, social, accelerated and all pervasive – may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed or anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic.”
This kind of stereotyping and hyperbolic language does not suit a respected magazine such as Newsweek. Psychosis is a condition determined by the World Health Organization as the third most disabling health condition. These include schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, conditions that can disable an individual even in their best health. To characterize the Internet as contributory to psychosis of this magnitude is without basis but surely is a kind of science fiction that sells magazines.
The following are also similar discussions found in the article which misleads not only the science seeking to cure psychosis and the effect of the Internet on an individual.
“But the research is now making it clear that the Internet is not ‘just’ another delivery system. It is creating a whole new mental environment, a digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning instrument panel and few people leave unscathed.”
“’This is an issue as important and unprecedented as climate change,’ says Susan Greenfield, pharmacology professor at Oxford…”
There are also shared conclusions based on dodgy scientific research, such as:
“A 1998 Carnegie Mellon study found that Web use over a two-year period was linked to blue moods, loneliness and the loss of real world friends. But the subjects all lived in Pittsburgh, critics sneered.”
The writer made this conclusion without even mentioning that the same research team, after a three year follow up study on 208 of these respondents found that the identified effects in the 1998 study dissipated in the long run. Clearly there is an angle to the story, because the simple naked search on Google would yield the same study identified in the article followed closely by the follow up study. Without reading or brushing up on the other knowledge about the topic, one may lead to the conclusions that the Newsweek article writer stated.
There are also neuroscience misconceptions that create more confusion. According to the article, the Internet ‘rewrites the brain’ – a concept that clearly is unclear as the brain continues to re wire itself until one dies. The effect of the changes is the release of dopamine in the brain.
There are many other criticisms on the studies the article used but no appraisal as to their process and methodology. There was no assessment as to methodologies regarding internet addiction studies or the wide spectrum of prevalence of psychosis ranges between 1% and 66% of online users creates more issues that impact the public attitude and perception about mental illness. The only conclusion this article can lead its reader would be the Internet can lead to mental illness and psychosis when one relies in the perception of individuals that this is the effect of the Internet on the individual in the long run.