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The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use

An Interpersonal Approach

Scott E. Caplan

Since the advent of the Internet and increasingly mobile devices, we have witnessed dramatic changes in computer-mediated technologies and their roles in our lives. In the late 1990s, researchers began to identify problematic forms of Internet use, such as difficulty controlling the amount of time spent online. Today, people live in a perpetually digital and permanently connected world that presents many serious types of problematic Internet use besides deficient self-regulation. Thousands of studies have been published on interpersonal problems such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking, relationship conflicts about online behavior, and the increasingly problematic use of mobile devices during in-person interactions. The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use: An Interpersonal Approach also examines future trends, including the recent development of being constantly connected to mobile devices and social networks. Research in these areas is fraught with controversy, inconsistencies, and findings that are difficult to compare and summarize. This book offers students and researchers an organized, theory-based, synthesis of research on these problems and explains how interpersonal theory and research help us better understand the problems that online behavior plays in our personal lives and social interactions.

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1. The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use


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Chapter One

The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use

What does problematic Internet use mean today? When researchers first began studying the topic in the early 2000s, problematic Internet use referred to online behavior that created offline problems. In 2001, Beard and Wolf defined problematic Internet use as “use of the Internet that creates psychological, social, school, and/or work difficulties in a person’s life” (p. 378). In my work, I defined problematic Internet use as “maladaptive cognitions and behaviors involving Internet use that result in negative academic, professional, and social consequences” (Caplan, 2003, p. 626). Although these definitions were useful in guiding early research, the term problematic Internet use can no longer be limited to compulsive or habitual use. As the online technology, and its role in our lives, has evolved, so have the problems people experience from computer-mediated communication.

The Internet use that early research described bore little resemblance to how we use or think about online social interaction today. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when scholars first proposed and defined problematic Internet use, less than half of U.S. adults were online (Pew Research Center, 2017). A majority of online social interaction ← 1 | 2 → was limited to text-based messaging. In the early 2000s, no one was “always” online in the sense most of us are today. People thought of the Internet, metaphorically, as a place, or spatial location, separate from the rest of their lives (Markham, 2003). Popular...

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