Technological Overload or Internet Addiction? [en]

[fr] Les vidéos du fameux débat sur la surcharge technologique à LIFT'07 est en ligne. Du coup, l'occasion de rappeler mes deux billets sur le sujet, et de rajouter quelques pensées suite à ma participation à la table ronde sur les cyberaddictions à Genève, entre autres sur la confusion entre dépendance et addiction parmi le grand public, et le fait qu'on perçoit souvent l'objet de l'addiction comme étant le problème (et donc à supprimer) et non le comportement addictif. Mes notes sont à disposition mais elles sont très rudimentaires.

For those of you who enjoyed my Technological Overload Panel and Addicted to Technology posts, the video of the Technological Overload Panel at LIFT’07 is now online.

Since I wrote them, I participated in a panel discussion about cyberaddictions (that’s what they’re called in French) in Geneva. It was very interesting, and I learnt a few things. The most important one is the difference between “addiction” and “dépendance” in French. “Dépendance” is physical. The cure to it is quitting whatever substance we are dependant to. Addiction, however, lies in the realm of our relationship to something. It has to do with how we use a substance/tool, what role it plays in our life and overall psychological balance. And it also has a component of automation to it. You don’t think before lighting up a cigarette, or compulsively checking your e-mail.

I think there is a lot of confusion between these two aspects amongst the general public, which leads to misconceptions like the “cure” to alcoholism being complete abstinence. Sure, abstinence solves the substance abuse problem and is better for one’s health, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the addiction problem.

Addictions which are linked to otherwise useful tools are forcing us to look deeper (and that is actually what I’m trying to say in the Addicted to Technology post. The problem is not the substance (ie, alcohol, or even the drug, or in this case, technology). The problem is in the way a person might use it. Hence I maintain that the solution lies not in the removal of the tool/technology, as the panel moderator suggests twice (first, by asking us to turn off our laptops, and second, by asking “how to unplug”), but in a careful and personalised evaluation of what one uses technology for (or what one uses technology to avoid).

I had a talk after the panel with one of the people there, who told me of some rough numbers he got from a consultation in Paris which is rather cutting-edge when it comes to dealing with “internet addiction” amongst teenagers. I think that out of 250 referrals (or something), the breakdown was about the following: one third were parents freaking out with no objective reason to. Another third were parents freaking out with good reason, for the signs that brought them there were actually the first indicators of their child’s entry in schizophrenia. I can’t remember the exact details for the last third, but if I recall correctly the bottom line was that they had something like a dozen solid cases of “cyber addictions” in the end. (Please don’t quote me on these numbers because the details might be wrong — and if you have precise numbers, I’d be happy to have them.)

This confirms my impression that people are a bit quick in shouting “internet addiction” when faced with heavy users (just like people are a bit quick to shout “pedophiles!” and “sexual sollicitation!” whenever teenagers and the internet are involved). I personally don’t think that the amount of time spent using technology is a good indicator.

I took some very rough notes during the panel I participated in (half-French, half-English, half-secret-code) but you can have a peek if you wish.

3 thoughts on “Technological Overload or Internet Addiction? [en]

  1. On first reading, I would have answered that addiction and dependance share the same meaning in both french and english. Considering for the french “addiction”, it may be interesting to keep in mind it has been borrowed from english since early 80’s. I think french word inherited not only meanings but also some ambiguities (a consequence of several meanings in fact).
    As both the “Longman dictionnary of contemporary english” and “Le Petit Robert” were close at hand and for a lexical information, I checked definitions and the significations, if I understand correctly, are the same.
    I read once again and through your notes “cyberaddiction […] geneve”, I wonder If there are not two points of views: psychiatrist and psychologist.
    Because of a lack of time, I only consulted Wikipedia english article for “addiction” and by the way I found the discussion tab very interesting.
    The resources are and
    I recommend and The last section is divided into “2.1 Physical dependency” and “2.2 Psychological addiction” which may be considered as revelations of present-day ambiguities. The “Terminology and Usage” parts give some clues.
    From now, It would be precious to have other feedbacks about that, as a wikipedia article is necesarily limited with respect to any individual experience/knowledge.
    About “cyber-addiction”. As you rigthly said, time spent (quantity) doesn’t make the internaut an cyber-addicted and it’s the nature (quality) of (mis)behaviour that really matters. But, it’s not a discovery at all. It’s the common denominator of an addiction.
    Incompletedness might be an attractive explanation of a cyber-addiction but in my opinion, it’s not. People are just enjoying a new way of thinking social relations at a period when it’s still hard to qualify a cyberspace usage as normal or marginal.

    Off-Topic question, Wouldn’t be a preview function an interesting feature ? I ask as I’m afraid from writing in an awkward form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *