Media Addiction vs. Agency: The Context of Control Part Two

deathbed bloggerJan. 13, 2010 My brother AND my mother sent me this little cartoon jab which left me snickering and simultaneously standing up to stretch.

As evidenced in part one of addiction vs. agency in media management, I’m not the type to be consumed by disordered terminology, symptoms and panic statistics flinging about…

If I were, I might have seen it as a dire familial sign or symptom and scrambled to test my propensity for overuse by taking the internet addiction quiz via The Center for Online Addiction. Instead, I let out a ‘lmao’ guffaw, snagged a snack and took the dogs for a walk.

Why is it that some people give up their agency like a movie ticket (case in point, this Psychology Today piece about Avatar bringing on the blues, and CNN referencing depression stats) while others not only don’t and won’t, but would pretty much have to be put in a straitjacket to submit to same? (yah, that last one’s me)

Rather than hurling a burning fireball through the media to set off alarm bells as to whether or not internet addiction is a psychiatric disorder, and try to ‘label, classify, and L-code’ it, we need to reframe the issue on a larger canvas to create CONTEXT for the conversation…

dmlAs CNN cites research stats on depression, ADHD linkage and a wide range of adolescents afflicted with internet addiction (1.4%-17.9%) I’m still struggling to define what the term even MEANS without proper context! (colleague Alexandra Rampy ponders this further here)

To even BEGIN to scrape the surface of whether “addiction” applies to our use of these tools, critical thinking skills for context need to come into play, like:

How has social media changed us over the last few years? How are we reimagining learning in virtual worlds or online communities and what form is that taking? How has connectivity impacted interpersonal relationships on and offline, pro and con? Moreover: How has the internet even changed the way we THINK?

It requires STRONG media literacy to keep from getting sucked into a ‘sheeple’ mindset, sponging up media factoids and falling into pre-destined/victim mode with a shoulder shrug of  my doctor diagnosed this, therefore “it must be so.”

compassIs addiction the same as lacking an internal compass to gauge when moderation and balance have tipped too far into any one direction?

Kids are classic for self-centricity and lopsided behavior in this realm, (it’s even developmentally appropo) so does that mean they’re all extra prone and highly at risk on the spectrum for addiction? Not by a long shot. Some are going to be more at risk than others, but again, what’s the cultural context? For example:

MANY of us experienced a media tug-o-war spanning the generations over the holidays with weapons of mass DISTRACTION…I know in my own house ‘put the phone away’ was uttered more than once, as was ‘turn off the TV’ and ‘you’re not staying in jammies again texting all day’

But is this addiction?

It was more like slug time/teen decompression and proliferation of media access and opportunity for use.

audrey plantLikewise, “just a sec, lemme finish this post” is a regular utterance for yours truly.

Is this addiction?

It was listed as a ‘symptom’ on the quiz I took to see what the psychiatrists had to say! (this is why self-diagnosis and the whole medicalization concept is worrisome to me)

Writing is a release for me…As a knowledge gatherer and lifelong learner, information FEEDS and nourishes me like that big ol’ plant Audrey Jr., in Little Shop of Horrors. I have a lot to say and when it starts piling up without venting social commentary at regular intervals, it’s like a rumbling volcano ready to spew.

Sometimes I read these studies and feel like a museum curator of the mind, trying to jury quality bits and bytes, then let go of the rest of the data in ‘sorry, not quite good enough to make the cut’ mode.

In the media morass it’s important to have these analytical filters in order to make sense of it all, so I’d urge everyone to take this internet addiction quiz to assess your own propensity for overuse, or at least understand what’s being discussed in terms of ‘warning signs’ at The Center for Online Addiction.

netaddictionLike youth, I’m a sucker for quizzes as an entertainment means, or even to shed light on foibles for self-assessment and insights…If you keep a modicum of balance the site has some watch worthy tidbits, ways to assess various risk factors, valid insights and advice on how to veer back on track without over-correcting.

Most alarming thing about my score?

I tested out with a score of 30 and a congratulatory note:

“You are an average on-line user. You may surf the Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage.”

Whoa…let’s hope I’m anything BUT an average user as I’m on this gear a lot!

I’m a media analyst not a shrink, but from a layman’s perspective deep diving into this research is fun and fascinating, but it seems like it could also easily impart either a false sense of normalcy or conversely, trigger a flashpoint of crazy-making drama and parental panic for no good reason.

shocked kidsThe value to me gets very squishy when the freak-out factor (e.g. amped up anxiety of how much is too much in the media mix) overrides the balanced ‘just unplug’ sense of agency…not to mention when “disordered” terminology starts entering the lexicon with fancy medicalized logos and formal diagnosis…

I’m also concerned about the pharmacology factor…how long before pharmaceutical Rx enter the scene? I’m not too wild about more kids being doped up and stigmatized with yet another ‘disorder.’ Bleh.

Again, where does personal agency (and parenting) factor in to media management and addiction? How do we guide a digital generation away from overuse or misuse without labeling a malady or obsessing on the clock?

Media Management Ideas

Here’s Common Sense Media’s advice on ‘beating’ a computer addiction, and here are their guidelines for a Healthy Media Diet. Some kids are under media management “contracts” with clearly defined expectations…(CSM has some sample family media agreements by age here)

Other families handle guidelines by device (cellphone parameters, TV limits, wkday/wkend rules etc. timers and gadgets that ‘shut down’ etc.)…or parameters tied to grades, chores, or “learn to earn” segues like SmartyCard for kids’ media privileges…

…And still others have ‘media free’ zones, unplugged vacations, screen time limitations by hours, days or given days of silence, and of course, some disconnect from media forms altogether.

However you choose to manage media, push that pause button to allow your OWN thoughts to dominate your worldview instead of the media regurgitations that can envelop, persuade, and dominate your sense of agency.

And not to make light (well, um, maybe a little) here’s a little ditty from The Daily Beast titled, “8  New Ways You Might Be Insane.” Some of their comments are classic. Feel free to add yours below and tell me if I’m out to lunch.

Remember, it’s all about context and perspective…

PsycheTruth’s YouTube Blurb on Psychologist vs. Psychiatrists:

Below is an excerpt from NetAddiction for the uh-ohs at a glance, and above is an anti-addiction stance in a 5-minute video which helped me understand more about the differences between “psychologist and psychiatrist”…both helpful in discerning what this all means.


…”Dr. Kimberly Young has likened Internet addiction to addictive syndromes similar to impulse-control disorders on the Axis I Scale of the DSM. She developed the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire (IADQ) to diagnose the disorder. Meeting five of the following symptoms were considered necessary to be diagnosed”

1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

“Other Symptoms Include:”

• Failed attempts to control behavior

• Heightened sense of euphoria while involved in computer and Internet activities

• Neglecting friends and family

• Neglecting sleep to stay online

• Being dishonest with others

• Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of online behavior

• Physical changes such as weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome

• Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities

“How do you know if you’re already addicted or rapidly tumbling toward trouble? The Internet Addiction Test is the first validated and reliable measure of addictive use of the Internet. Click here to read the study.”

“Developed by Dr. Kimberly Young, the IAT is a 20-item questionnaire that measures mild, moderate, and severe levels of Internet Addiction.”

Visual Credits: Lead cartoon:, Compass



  1. This is very interesting! I learned a lot.

  2. I took the quiz and scored 34 (you said you scored a 30) – and I’m a professional online person so I’m online a lot, including frequently until 1am or 2am. Actually I thought the self-diagnosis was pretty well balanced – people like you and I who “earn a living” online are not addicted to it, it is just like “being at the office” for us. As long as we know “when to go home” – in your case “walk the dogs” – we are doing OK.

    I devote 2 to 3 hours a day (A LOT) to what I call “learning.” This is the time I spend looking around at what’s new, reading from my RSS feeds (reading other blogs), learning new technologies, and I consider this a valuable part of my life. I would hate it if someone thought that this was an imbalance in my life and I was addicted because I do it every day. Then, once I’ve finished my learning, I go do work for my clients, which means a full business day. So my days are long, and almost all of the time is spent online, but I doubt I’m addicted.

    Oh, and lastly, I only check my email every 3 to 4 hours when I’m online. Most of my clients are back and forth using email as if it were instant messaging – no way I’m going to fall into that trap. In fact, if an email isn’t critical, I will sometimes let it sit for up to 24 hours before answering, just because I don’t want to encourage folks to think I’m online and responsive 24/7.

    Hmmm…time to go eat sushi now. Yum. Ciao.
    .-= Sky´s last blog ..WordPress iPhone “Theme” is Fantastic! =-.

  3. This is a very thoughtful post. The problem with “Internet Addiction” is that no-one is using the term to mean the same thing. An endless array of definitions exists in the literature and much that is written about so-called “internet addiction” lies in the realm of media headlines, rather than solid research.

    Most definitions of addiction, such as alcoholism, gambling addiction and so on, require the spontaneous production of physical symptoms as a result of withdrawal of the addictive substance. I have not seen any literature where “internet addicts” actually experience physical symptoms as a result of the removal of the internet from their daily life.

    Theoretically, of course, it is possible to become addicted to the Internet. However, most of what people call “internet addiction” is probably “internet obsession”. That’s entirely different – but it doesn’t make for the same kind of attention grabbing headlines as the word “addiction” does.

    If you are an “addict” the notion of agency is partly removed as you are a “victim”. With, obsession, though, personal agency becomes important. Perhaps it is convenient to be labeled an “addict” as that means you can’t do anything about it yourself. But if you are an “obsessive” then clearly you can act. Perhaps people want to be “addicts” so that are absolved of their responsibilities.
    .-= Graham Jones – Internet Psychologist´s last blog ..Haiti earthquake exposes Twitter chasm =-.

  4. Both of you gents make brilliant points:

    @Sky, yep, I should have mentioned the differentiation with those of us IN the media and/or online biz in some capacity (lowly nonprofit analysts included, heh 😉 as it’s not a fair assessment to clock our hours in the same breath. (in fact, I try to snip that tether whenever I can to get outdoors, as you know!) And I thought the quiz questions were valid, hinting at watch worthy items, and particularly thought the use of a ‘not applicable’ response was a solid research filter, as it clearly would have skewed the data if I had to choose from ANY of the options on a couple of ’em.

    @Graham, glad we concur on the ‘victim’ portrayal which is what I was hinting at with a sense of agency, and am honored to have your expertise here to sort out the psychological side of terminology…’addiction vs. obsession’ is definitely a biggie, and the physical withdrawal indicators help drive the point home, thanks so much!

    As for the attention grabbing headlines of using the word addiction…um, yep, that would be the media mindset; although I was bemused to visit the ‘’ site to find that 9 tweets a day was ‘moderate’ 16 was ‘frequent’ and 18 tipped the scale into ‘addict’ territory; and yes, they’re using the word with tongue firmly in cheek…but this is what you’re talking about, right Graham? (clinical vs. colloquial)

    My hunch is once the DMV-5 comes out, it will be VERY clearly defined, with tons of press, chatter, tweets, accusations, finger-pointing and probably quarrels on the homefront too… I can hear it now w/parents fussing w/kids about being addicted or vice-versa; spouses too. eep! Batten down the hatches. 😉
    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..Media Addiction vs. Agency: The Context of Control Part Two =-.

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