Heather Johnston is appointed Executive Director of the Information and Referral Center of Greater Montréal
The Internet is an everyday tool for the vast majority of Quebecers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been the main working tool for hundreds of thousands of people. However, beyond business or entertainment, online activities can become a real problem. Internet addiction can take many forms, including social networking, online games, pornography, and compulsive shopping.
The research doesn’t agree on exactly how to define the types of internet addiction. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) doesn’t define internet addiction either. However, broad categories frequently emerge in the literature.
Online shopping can be very convenient in many situations. It exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic and amidst the closure of many businesses. However, online shopping can become a real problem when the behaviour becomes compulsive. Many sites allow you to purchase items with just a few clicks, and a number of them keep credit card information on file to make such purchases easier. With the multitude of shopping sites and the plethora of personalized ads, many people can fall into the trap and develop significant financial problems.
These can be video games, gambling (online poker, keno, etc.) or mobile applications. This form of cyberaddiction can lead someone to spend a significant amount of time playing, to the detriment of their other activities and their financial health.
Cybersex, swinging, pornography, seeking out sexual partners online… All these activities can end up taking up too much space in some people’s lives. In some cases, online sexual activities may even take precedence over real sex.
There are many tools for maintaining virtual relationships: dating sites and applications, social networks, forums, texting and emailing. But when these online relationships become more important than real friendships and family relationships, it can lead to the person becoming progressively isolated, sometimes to the point of losing touch with real life altogether.
It’s hard to count the number of social networks that exist worldwide: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, to name but a few. These networks are entirely financed by personalized advertising, and are designed to maximize the amount of time users spend on the platform. The call of notifications, the need to count “likes,” the time spent embellishing photos before posting them, and the need to consult friends’ or influencers’ posts are all reasons that can add up to several hours a day spent on social networks, to the detriment of users’ real social life.
The acronym FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” FOMO syndrome is particularly prevalent on social networks, where the fear of missing a news item, an event or simply the latest buzz can become obsessive and create a strong sense of anxiety.
Some people may surf the internet non-stop to gather large amounts of online content and information (researching UFOs, looking for evidence of conspiracy theories, etc.). This behaviour can lead to long periods of time searching for information online, to the point where productivity (at work, in school) is reduced, along with time spent on other tasks in general.
Several symptoms can help identify a situation of internet addiction. On her website cyberdependance.ca, clinical psychologist Marie-Anne Sergerie, Ph.D., describes the physiological and psychological symptoms of internet addiction.
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To learn more about internet addiction, visit cyberdependance.ca/.