Staying up late at night on the Internet is the best time I have at school," boasts Kim, a sophomore physics major and regular attendee of the kind of party we just witnessed. "After awhile, it was all I wanted to do, all I thought about. It was all so fascinating. In the chat rooms, I met a woman from Ottawa, Canada, who was a physics major at a university there. I don't see many women physics majors where I am. And I became close friends with a guy living in England, who was actually an exchange student from California. We connected over everything in life!
Kim got so engrossed in her Net world that she ignored her studies. A former math and science whiz in high school with serious career ambitions, she allowed her grades to crash before recognizing that her new obsession was sabotaging her goals. At least Kim recognized the problem. Most college students, sadly, do not. And as their numbers continue to soar, colleges have become perhaps the major breeding ground of Internet addiction. Here's a quick look at the major contributing factors:
Free and unlimited Internet access
When freshmen register today, they get a student ID card, a meal card, and most, important, a free personal e-mail account. They've got no online service fees to pay, no limits to their time logged on, and computer labs open for their convenience round-the-clock. It's an Internet user's dream.
Huge blocks of unstructured time
Most college students attend classes for twelve to sixteen hours per week. The rest of the time is their own to read, study, go to movies or parties, join clubs, or explore the new environment outside their campus walls. Many forget all those other activities and concentrate on one thing: the Internet.
Newly-experienced freedom from parental control
Away from home and their parent's watchful eyes, college students long have exercised their new freedom by engaging in pranks, talking to friends to all hours of the night, sleeping with their boyfriends and girlfriends, and eating and drinking things Mom and Dad would not approve of. Today, they utilize that freedom by hanging out in the MUDs and chat rooms of cyberspace, and no parent can complain about online service fees or their refusal to eat dinner with the family or help out with chores.
No monitoring or censoring of what they say or do online
When they move on to the job world, college students may find suspicious bosses peeking over their shoulder or even monitoring their online time and usage. Even e-mail to co-workers could be intercepted by the wrong party. In college, no one's watching. Computer lab monitors tend to be student volunteers whose only responsibility is to assist anyone who needs help understanding how to use the Internet - not tell them what they can or cannot do on it.
Full encouragement from faculty and administrators
Students understand that their school's administration and faculty want them to make full use of the Internet's vast resources. Abstaining from all Net use is seldom an option - in some large classes, professors place required course materials solely on the Net and engage in their only oneon-one contact with students through e-mail! Administrators, of course, want to see their major investments in computers and Internet access justified.
Adolescent training in similar activities
By the time most kids get to college, they will have spent years staring at video game terminals, closing off the world around them with walkmans, and engaging in that rapid-fire clicking of the TV remote. Even if they didn't get introduced to the Internet in high school, those other activities have made students well-suited to slide into aimless Web surfing, skill-testing MUDs, and rat-a-tattat chat room dialogue.
The desire to escape college stressors
Students feel the pressures of making top grades, fulfilling parental expectations, and, upon graduation, facing fierce competition for good jobs. The Internet, ideally, would help make it easier for them to do their necessary course work as quickly and efficiently as possible. Instead, they turn to their Net friends to hide from their difficult feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression.
Social intimidation and alienation
With as many as 30,000 students on some campuses, students easily can get lost in the crowd. When they try to reach out, they often run into even tighter clicks than the in-crowds of high school. Maybe they don't dress right or look right. But when they join the faceless community of the Internet, they find that with little effort they can become popular with new "friends" throughout the U.S. and in England, Australia, Germany, France, Hungary, Japan, New Zealand, and China. Why bother trying to socialize on campus?
Dr. Kimberly Young : Executive Director - Center for Online Addiction