As one of the most useful and arguably most important developments of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Internet has a ubiquitous presence in developed countries and is exponentially increasing in users worldwide. A report issued on February 23, 2010, by John B. Horrigan at the Federal Communications Commission, finds that 78 percent of adults in the United States are Internet users and 65 percent of adults have home broadband access.

Along with the increase in Internet users comes a more disturbing increase in Internet addiction. While Internet addiction is not officially listed as an addiction by the American Psychiatric Association, it is nonetheless a serious and growing phenomenon. Several studies have found about 10 percent of the general population of the United States addicted to the Internet. This phenomenon is not unique to the United States—Japan, Korea and China are especially notorious for Internet addiction.

"Addiction" is not a term that one should throw around lightly, and by no means am I trying to detract from the seriousness with which we should treat other addictions such as substance abuse, smoking, etc. "Internet addiction" is a very vague concept, as extreme Internet use does not necessarily equate with addiction, and I do not mean to conflate them. What I will discuss, then, are the addictive tendencies of the Internet, and the problems that they pose to our future society. As the first generation to grow up with the Internet, these are problems that we must confront.

As a general observation, Internet addiction or at least excessive Internet use is prevalent in our popular media and culture. Stereotypes abound of the young adult male who has little social life and spends most of his day playing online video games or MUDs (multi-user dungeons, where users take on some kind of role-playing dimension) such as WOW (World of Warcraft). In Japan, cubicles in cyber cafés are being sold for $500 a month, with Internet and no natural light or fresh air. In South Korea, a couple accidentally killed their real baby when they spent most of their time taking care of their virtual baby. And until a recent ban by the Chinese government, psychiatrists in China had been administering electroshock treatment to help cure Internet addicts.

A large part of the debate surrounding Internet addiction is how exactly to define the "addiction" without much empirical evidence. Several psychologists have taken a behavioral approach, comparing Internet addiction to pathological gambling. Common addiction criteria have been used to evaluate the addictive qualities of Internet: salience (dominates thinking), mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse. "Interaction anxiety" is often a general indicator, whether or not one has anxiety when separated from the Internet.

As part of his Economics of Addiction and Public Policy class, my boyfriend at Yale University distributed a survey to college students asking about Internet addiction. I helped him to distribute the survey, so out of a total of 231 survey respondents, the majority were from Yale University and Bowdoin College. Certainly, there are issues with the survey. The sample size is small, responses reflect the lives of students at elite American universities and the survey could have been more detailed. Additionally, those who responded to the survey were more likely to be addicted to the Internet, since the survey was distributed through the Internet. This may be balanced out by favorable self-bias in the survey. I would argue that in general the responses provide a revealing picture of college students, their Internet use and their perceptions of Internet use.

The survey respondents were split pretty evenly between the sexes: 53.25 percent of respondents were male and 46.75 percent were female. In response to "How many hours a day do you spend on the Internet or online," 9.09 percent of respondents chose "eight or more" hours. In response to the question, "How many days do you think you could go without Internet without feeling anxious or nervous," 7.36 percent of respondents chose "zero" days. Both of these statistics are surprisingly close to the estimated 10 percent addiction rate. Certainly, college students see something addictive in the Internet: 86.58 percent of respondents think that someone can be addicted to the Internet.

But is the Internet itself addictive? Or does the Internet just provide access to addictive domains? The majority of survey respondents spent time using the Internet for e-mail, Facebook and social networking, in addition to gaming, pornography, news, blogs and TV. Yet the Internet in general is often seen as something that you can "lose" yourself in. I would argue that the majority of Internet use for college students is at the very least excessive. The excessive use, and potential for addiction, is a growing problem. Much of our communication and work is through the Internet, and we are constantly exposed to the Internet. As Bowdoin students, we should take advantage of the impressive power and resource that the Internet provides; but we should be careful that, like anything, we do not misuse that power.

Amanda Gartside is a member of the Class of 2012.