Book Review: “Caught in the Net” (Jan-Feb 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Greg Taylor
January-February 2002

Kimberly S. Young, Caught in the NetHow to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction—and a Winning Strategy for Recovery,  John Wiley & Sons: 1998.

If you think the Internet could never destroy your marriage or get you fired, Caught in the Net will change your mind.

The author, Dr. Kimberly S. Young, says pathological Internet use has already cut a broad swath of destruction in American families and workplaces.  Dr. Young is leading the charge among mental health specialists in taking pathological Internet use seriously, treating it clinically as an addiction, and suggesting recovery strategies for Internet Addiction.

Unlike Internet enthusiasts who have seen no downside to cyberspace, Dr. Young’s three-year survey reveals a dark side looming.  Of 500 Internet users surveyed, 80 percent were categorized as Internet addicts, spending 40 to 80 hours weekly in chat rooms, gaming sites (called MUDs), gambling and pornographic sites.  With the Internet expected to reach 75 percent of the U.S. population in the next several years, says Dr. Young, “I realized I had tapped into a potential epidemic.” 

One cyber-widow wrote, “I didn’t mind when (my husband) just talked to other women on the Net.  But the conversations turned sexual, and Bill was fired when he got caught swapping e-mail love notes with his on-line lovers….” 

Net abuse is an insidious problem, says Dr. Brian Stogner, Professor of Psychology at RochesterCollege, “Because of the anonymity and accessibility of the Internet, compulsive Net use can go undetected for so long that psychological dependency gets very deep.”  Dr. Young’s ACE model (Anonymity, Convenience, Escape) further explains how compulsive Internet use can lead to infidelity.  Cyber-affairs often begin in chat rooms, where the anonymity of using screen names allows the user to talk openly and personally.  The convenience and accessibility of chatting with a ‘friend’ on-line may lead to repeated escape from real life and a paradoxical desire for on-line ‘intimacy’.

Since 1994, Dr. Young’s inbox has been filled with messages from those terminated from their jobs, suspended from universities, and estranged from their families in favor of their new virtual community.  Another respondent wrote, “It wasn’t until I got the divorce papers served to me that I realized I had completely ignored our marriage because of the on-line world I discovered.”

Schools, meanwhile, are introducing grade school children to the Internet.  Yet 86 percent of educators, in a survey reported by USA Today, say they believe Internet use does not improve classroom performance.    Further, children who spend time in chat rooms are at risk of meeting pedophiles posing as teenagers.  A 13-year-old New Hampshire girl met a boy on-line who claimed he was 16-years-old.  When the girl’s parents found out, they cut off her account, but the girl ran away with her new on-line friend and was found only after a nationwide manhunt.  The ‘boy’ was 22-years-old.

In Caught in the Net, case studies, such as the cyber-widow and the New Hampshire girl, illustrate vividly that the Internet, while a powerful research and information tool, can also mislead unsuspecting users into destructive relationships and habits.  Fifty-eight percent of users in Dr. Young’s survey were compulsive Internet users within the first year of being introduced to it. 

The book includes a self-test to determine whether or not you are addicted to the Internet.  The self-test asks questions such as, ‘How often do you prefer the excitement of the Internet to intimacy with your partner?’ and ‘How often do you fear that life without the Internet would be boring, empty, and joyless?’  The book then suggests recovery strategies for more constructive Internet use, which include assessing time on-line, creating external stoppers for on-line use, finding family and professional support in the real world, noticing addictive triggers, confronting loneliness, considering the long-term consequences of Internet compulsion, and learning the signs of a spouse, child, or employee becoming addicted to chat rooms, MUD gaming, pornography, or gambling.

In doling out these strategies, Dr. Young, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburg-Bradford, has seen a turnaround for a few addicts, but the problem has grown such that she has established The Center for On-Line Addiction.  “I now hear a bit more frequently from those who proudly share how they have regained control over their Internet habits and their lives,” says Dr. Young, who consults to educational institutions, mental health clinics, and corporations dealing with Internet misuse.

While the American Psychological Association (APA) began in 1997 hearing papers at its conventions related to Internet addiction, Young’s attempt to take online abuse to the level of ‘addiction’ has met resistance from mental health professionals who say it’s not possible to be addicted to a machine.  In the last two decades, however, psychologists and addiction counselors have begun to recognize that people can form addictions to more than substances. 

The classical definition of an addiction has more narrowly related to the chemical abuse, but Dr. Young likens Internet addiction to eating disorders, compulsive gambling, or sexual compulsions.  In these behavior-oriented addictions, says Dr. Young, “those who get hooked are addicted to what they do and the feelings they experience when they’re doing it.”  Unlike common treatment for alcohol abuse, moderate and constructive use of the Internet, not abstinence, is the goal of treatment. 

Caught in the Net seems redundant from chapter to chapter, outlining similar recovery strategies for students as well as adults, but the book still provides a good primer for counselors, parents, or employees who are unfamiliar with the addictive potential of the net.  The book also excerpts guidelines used by The Society of Human Resource Management, which detail acceptable and unacceptable employee Internet use.

Although Dr. Young’s critics say she is going too far in calling excessive Internet use an addiction, maybe she has only scratched the surface of a pandemic that will long be with us.  If so, perhaps her strategies for recovery would be more effective if patterned after a twelve-step program.  In this way, Internet abusers would be pointed to God’s redemptive power over the pull of the net.

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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