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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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7. Moving Forward: An Agenda for Future Research

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Chapter Seven

Moving Forward

An Agenda for Future Research

Interpersonal technology changes faster than research can examine it. Early theories of problematic Internet use and the term computer-mediated communication described technology that bore little resemblance to modern online interaction. Initial Internet research described a world in which only half of Americans used the Internet and smart phones and social networking were over a decade away.

The term problematic Internet use can no longer be limited to compulsive use and so-called “addictions.” As the book demonstrated, changes in technology and culture have created a variety of new interpersonal problems involving online social behavior. Over the years, Internet technology has become increasingly more mobile and social, and our personal lives have become increasingly mediated. With these changes, new types of problematic Internet use have emerged. Beyond compulsive online behavior, modern problematic Internet use now entails aggression, harassment, unwanted pursuit, relationship transgressions, and device use that interferes with in-person interactions. Cyberbullying, cyberstalking, conflict about social networking, and growing concerns about copresent device use ← 225 | 226 → are all examples of relatively newer forms of problematic Internet use. Despite the changing landscape of social technology, the book illustrated the importance of using theories of basic interpersonal processes to ground and guide emerging studies of technology-mediated communication.

Whereas the other chapters looked back on two decades of research, this chapter focuses on the future. The chapter identifies three general research questions that emerged...

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