In 1995, I noticed that I was spending more and more time playing solitaire on my computer. I was trying to learn a new computer program and was very frustrated by it. My anger and inability to decipher the manuals led me to escape to solitaire. I became aware that I started my game program at an earlier time each evening, and at times I would avoid my primary reasons for using the computer. I was not alone.
Some of my patients told me about their computer use and how they were unable to stop spending time online or arranging electronic files.
I decided that these patterns might indicate a form of dysfunctional behavior associated with a new technology, and was worth investigating. I found support for my idea from colleagues, friends and reports in the media (Murray, 1996). As a trained cognitive behavior therapist, I often treat gamblers, alcoholics and people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and have also studied mood changes resulting from the recreational use of psychotropic medication. I concluded that this inappropriate and excessive use of the computer might be a distinct disorder (Orzack et al., 1988).
This behavior has variously been called Internet addiction, pathological Internet use, problematic Internet use, and a mere symptom of other disorders. I am often asked why I call it computer addiction. I was not the first to use this term. Shotton (1989) coined the term in her book Computer Addiction. After searching the literature about alcoholism, gambling and other addictive behaviors, Shotton decided that she was witnessing computer addiction in a very specialized group of men who were developing hardware and software for computers. According to Shotton, these men were completely focused on their activities in the laboratory to the point of neglecting both family and friends.
The information superhighway did not exist when Shotton wrote her book. Few ordinary citizens outside of academia, the military and the computer industry had their own PCs, and fewer still had access to the Internet. Since then we have moved into the Information Age. The computer industry is now the fastest growing industry in the world. In 1997, the population of Internet users in the United States was estimated at 50 million to 80 million, and is projected to increase to 150 million to 200 million by the year 2000 (Pohly, 1995).
Any new technology requires a shakedown period in which the flaws and its effects on both society and individuals become evident. This is also true of the computer. As this rapidly evolving technology develops, so do the opportunities for negative consequences from its use. It is for these reasons that we must examine the phenomenon.
No epidemiological studies on computer addiction have been done. There have been online studies (Brenner, 1997; Young, 1998) and targeted group studies (Anderson, 1998; Scherer, 1997; Shotton, 1989), but to my knowledge no one has either interviewed a randomized sample of people about their computer use or recorded usage directly.