How to Spot Internet Addiction

— In this week's Cybershake, we take a look at researchers' latest work in how to spot Internet addiction. Plus, we note what some are saying about the quality of computer technical support.

Ratting Out Net Addiction

There's plenty to do on the Internet: e-mail, instant messaging, shopping, and surfing Web sites. But how can you tell if you're developing an addiction to being online?

Dr. Nathan Shapira and other scientists at the University of Florida have been studying the phenomena of Internet addiction and are proposing that mental health professionals use a simple five-point checklist.

In a recent issue of Current Psychology, the university's scientists say online obsession can be pinpointed with a MOUSE. Or, more specifically, people should ask themselves:

Do you spend More time that you intend to online?

Are Other responsibilities being neglected?

Are you Unsuccessful at cutting back the amount of time online?

Are you having Significant relationship problems because of your Internet use?

Do you have Excessive thoughts or anxiety when you're not online?

The researchers say their rodent-based idiom came after face-to-face evaluations of over 30 volunteers, many of whom identified themselves as having problems the Internet.

Based on their research, they say Web-a-holics are likely to spend more than 30 hours a week online and their nonessential Internet use was 10 times greater than essential job- or school-related use.

But not everyone is convinced that high Internet usage is problematic.

Jeffery Cole, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Communications Policy, told The Associated Press, "It's very useful for some people to spend high amounts of time on the Internet for work, school and recreation."

Shapira has submitted some of his research work to be published in an upcoming volume of Handbook of Impulse Control Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Disorders.

But more research will need to be done before "Internet addiction" can be classified as a separate mental illness or along with other "impulse control disorders" such as pathological gambling.

— Andrew Colton, ABCNEWS

Shaky Technical Support

Computers and software have come a long way since the early 1980s. But in some cases, they have hardly gone far enough.

According to Consumer Reports magazine, of the 13.6 million desktop PCs sold last year, an estimated 1.9 million had serious problems within the first month of ownership. Some 544,000 of these faulty PCs were completely inoperable after the buyer set up the machine, says the magazine.

Even worse, the typical PC owner won't easily find help in fixing the problem.

"They generally start with trying to get phone support and they generally run into problems there," says Jeff Blyskal, a senior editor with Consumer Reports.

Sixty percent of those seeking help on the phone encountered technical difficulties such as repeated busy signals, says Blyskal.

And even when they do get through to another human, Blyskal says: "Thirty percent of the time tech support doesn't fix the problem!"

Blyskal and others suggest that bewildered PC owners should turn to other sources of advice, such as online forums on Google or Yahoo. Better yet, say others, find a geeky friend willing to diagnose and fix your problem.

— Karen Chase, ABCNEWS

Cybershake is produced for ABCNEWS Radio by Andrea J. Smith.