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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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2. Online Habits, Compulsion, and Addiction

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Chapter Two

Online Habits, Compulsion, and Addiction

Since the late 1990s, researchers studying problematic Internet habits, compulsive use, and online addictions have published over 2,000 scholarly works. In 2015 and 2016, over 300 manuscripts were published per year.1 Despite the amount of research attention devoted to the subject, the scholarly literature on problematic Internet use and Internet addiction is confusing and difficult to summarize. The problem stems largely from almost two decades of researchers using inconsistent definitions of problematic Internet use and diverse methods to measure it. To advance our understanding of why people have trouble controlling online activities, researchers need to begin unifying around a common set of conceptual definitions and uniform measures (Tokunaga, 2014). Until that happens, making sense of the literature is difficult because it lacks an organizing framework shared among a community of researchers.

This chapter adopts the term “problematic online habits” to refer to the phenomenon previously described as “Internet addiction” and “problematic Internet use” (PIU) to minimize confusion and better summarize the literature. Here the term “online” describes various devices and applications people use to mediate interpersonal communication. ← 21 | 22 → Although the word “online” may not be a perfect conceptual term to use here, it is somewhat more current and suggestive of newer technology than the term “Internet.”2 As the first main section will illustrate, the concept of habituation can help organize and integrate variations in terminology (LaRose, 2015, Tokunaga, 2015).

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