Fears about the overuse of technology are common across the developed world but as of yet, only China has classified Internet addiction as a clinical diagnosis. The country has more than three hundred treatment centers attending to sufferers, mostly young men in their twenties and teens; “Web Junkie,” a documentary shown this week on PBS, profiles subjects in one of those treatment centers, a facility called the Chinese Teen-Agers Mental Growth Center. There, patients receive boot camp-style discipline, medication, and therapy aimed to treat a pattern of behavior that led many of them to “drop out of school to play video games for eight or ten hours a day.”
Shosh Shlam, the film’s director, says she aimed to interrogate “what kind of society [we are] going to be in the future.” She continues,
Technology has become the architect of our intimacy. We are increasingly connected to each other but oddly more alone. In intimacy, we have found a new solitude.
As with any other substance or behavior, emotional reliance on the Internet can become problematic, though whether this rises to the level of addiction remains to be seen. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies Internet Gaming Disorder in Section III as a condition “warranting more research” but not a diagnosis in its own right. Or, perhaps, not yet a diagnosis in its own right. Over the course of history, addiction has taken countless forms; this may well be the newest one.
Indeed, while China is facing the specific crisis of unhealthy internet dependence, the issue resonates with a common problem in this country as well. All too often, people succeed in putting down drugs and alcohol only to see another process addiction such as sex, gambling and gaming arise. Treatment and support are available for any such issue; in the end, addicts have to learn a different way of life, replacing unhealthy escape with fulfilling new habits.