Internet Addiction: Current Status and Implications for Employees

Article excerpt

The Internet is a new technology that has influenced the world and has provided many benefits to its users. At the same time, however, this influence has had negative ramifications. Some people are becoming preoccupied with the Internet, are unable to control their use of this technology, and are jeopardizing their employment and personal relationships. Internet addiction has been proposed as an explanation for uncontrollable, damaging use of this technology. Warning signs that an employee is having difficulty controlling his or her Internet use are reviewed. In addition, suggestions are proposed for managers to aid them in helping their employees with this problem.

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The Internet has been heralded for enhancing communication around the world and for providing financial opportunities providing financial opportunities for individuals and businesses. Although many analysts have focused on these benefits, there are disadvantages as well. The Internet has been blamed for decreased productivity in the workplace, decreased family time, strains in relationships, perpetuation of false information, and the development or exacerbation of psychological problems (McCormick & McCormick, 1992; Shotton, 1989; Turkle, 1996; Winn, 1985; Young, 1995, 1996a, 1998a, 1998b).

The purpose of this article is to review current information on what Internet addiction is and to identify warning signs that an employee is having difficulty controlling his or her Internet use. In addition, I present suggestions for managers so that they can help solve rather than exacerbate their employees' problem. The positive as well as negative impact of Internet use, the Internet culture, problematic use of the Internet (e.g., problems related to the lack of empirical support for Internet addiction), and interventions that can be used in the workplace are discussed.

POSITIVE IMPACT OF THE INTERNET

Internet users around the world have derived many benefits from this technology (Young, 1998b), which has the potential to change the nature and diversity of economic, social, and interpersonal contact (Kraut et al., 1998; Morahan-Martin, 1998; Schmitz & Fulk, 1991). Financial benefits can be reaped from this medium (Morahan-Martin, 1998); people have started online businesses and have gained access to consumer markets that were previously unavailable to them. The computer industry, particularly the Internet, has improved job prospects for many individuals by giving them easy access to a wide array of job listings (Shotton, 1989).

The Internet has numerous social, psychological, and educational benefits. Users are able to "meet" other, similar individuals and to foster positive impressions. The Internet allows users to convey information quickly, maintain relationships, play games, gain emotional support, and learn about other cultures (McNamee, 1996; Parks & Floyd, 1996; Scherer, 1997). In addition, the Internet may provide relief from anxiety and depression by providing an escape or by helping the individual to gain needed support and education about a problem (Harmon, 1998; Kraut et al., 1998; Pocius, 1991; Shotton, 1989; Suler, 1996a; Young, 1996a, 1997, 1998a).

NEGATIVE IMPACT OF THE INTERNET

Despite its positive aspects, the Internet has been linked to a variety of problems. Shotton (1989) and Young (1995, 1996a, 1998a, 1998b) reported that Internet users spend less time with people in their lives, resulting in impatience, arguments, and a strain on the relationships. A person's schoolwork or employment may also suffer if too much time is spent scanning the Internet. The Internet may also be used by individuals to escape social interactions and may, thus, hinder their development of social skills.

Several disadvantages of the Internet are related to the technology and include the inability of the user to contact others because of network downtime, unknown or inaccurate e-mail addresses, an abundance of junk mail, and miscommunication that results from the user's failure to proofread information that is transmitted over the Internet (Schaefermeyer & Sewell, 1988). …