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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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At a short distance from the inflection point between one millennium and the next, our species is struggling with any number of salient challenges and opportunities regarding its future. Among these challenges is the role that technologies play in our everyday interactions. Guttenberg compressed the time and space of knowledge diffusion and communication at distance, but the Internet has accomplished this at an altogether exponential scale. Several studies demonstrate that we live in a small world, ranging from 4 to 7 degrees of separation from everyone else on the planet. Further, several studies have found evidence for the Dunbar conjecture that we only have the cognitive capacity to optimally manage 80 to 180 actual relationships before our ability to negotiate relations in our social network begins to deteriorate. Little in our 5M years of hominid evolution has prepared us for the velocity, span, access, and capabilities that modern communication technologies now provide. It is little wonder then, that the pace of evolution in our technologies of communication are rapidly outstripping our ability to co-evolve with them. ← vii | viii →

There are obviously both respectable respective utopian and dystopian perspectives that can conceptualize these changes. For years now, I have been approaching such dialectics from what we refer to as a dark side perspective that incorporates both the benign and the baleful. Specifically, any phenomenon can be conceptually and empirically aligned along two dimensions: a functional dimension and a normative dimension. The functional dimension refers to the degree...

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