The SLENZ Update – No 85, May 19, 2009

More in mind of beholders than real?

A new take on internet addiction

johnsonaddiction

Internet addiction – a question of perception.
Picture courtesy: http://fly4change.com.

When the preconceptions of  “digital newcomers” and “digital outsiders” are removed from the equation, the prevalence of internet addiction  appears to be limited, according to Dr Nicola F. Johnson, of the University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia,  in a recently released a book.

“Digital outsiders (and some digital newcomers) find it unfathomable to understand the preoccupation that digital insiders have with their online lives,” Johnson argues in her  The Multiplicities of Internet Addiction – The Misrecognition of Leisure and Learning, which is available on Amazon at US$99.95.Johnson, N book

This is because, Johnson says, those those who are not experienced online (digital newcomers) and those who are not interested (digital outsiders) find it difficult to understand the value, worth and social capital received by avid users (digital insiders or those for who have been connected all their lives)  in what appears to be an unhealthy obsession. It is not what they – the newcomers and outsiders – did in times past.

“As I have argued,” Johnson (pictured lower left), a lecturer in curriculum and teacher education, says, ” these practices are not only misrecognised as obsessions or addictions, but they are misunderstood.”

Contesting the claim that computers – specifically internet use – are addictive, Johnson argues that the use of the internet is now a form of everyday leisure engaged in by many people in Western society and one which is reflective of the benefits and employment of microcomputers within society.

She does not assert, however, that internet addiction does not exist, just that it is a much smaller subset of use than usually claimed.

Leisure and learning

Instead she offers an analysis of the nature of addiction alongside an evaluation of the current  usage of computers, and explains how new learning spaces have developed which are also sites of leisure.

“These sites,” according to a publisher’s review of her book, “challenge traditional notions of childhood …”

Discussing  both leisure and learning in this digital age she “informs our understanding of the discourses surrounding internet addiction and our grasp of the emerging relationships between leisure and our learning, as well as the increasing blur between our private and public spheres,” the publisher says.

Blogger Lowell Cremorne describes the book in  Metaverse Health as an engaging read, “not least for the very objective look it takes at the concepts of internet addiction and framing the issue within the realities of a net-connected society that has changed immensely in the past 20 years or so.

She says, Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice is the frame for Johnson’s qualitative study of eight New Zealand teenagers and the illumination it provided on the perception of  dgital insiders, digital newcomers and digital outsiders. Additionally, Cremorne says, there’s some fascinating discussion on how expertise is being developed by digital insiders and how this expertise is, at best, only partially gained from the traditional educational institutions in place at present.

Johnson, Nicola F.It’s the elaboration of the experiences of these eight teens that allows Johnson to weave in a great deal of the substantive research that’s occurred into the nature of addiction in regard to online activity.

Although, according to Cremorne, the book’s research base means it’s more likely to be consumed and digested by those who are doing research or study in the area,  the book deserves wider recognition and debate.

“Work like this balances out some of the excesses on the mainstream media side of the equation,” she says. “It’s only a lack of dissemination of this perspective that will ensure the sensationalism camp prevails for some time to come.”

Born and bred in Tauranga, New Zealand, Johnson moved to the University of  Wollongong in February, 2007, to become a lecturer in the Faculty of Education (her blog). She previously taught in a New Zealand intermediate (middle school) for five years, working full-time while completing her Bachelor of Education degree, and beginning her Master of Education degree. In 2002, she opened a private music school teaching classical and contemporary guitar to students aged from 6-60 to support her full-time postgraduate study. She was awarded a Deakin University Postgraduate Research Scholarship in 2005 and 2006 and received her Ph.D in  2008 for her thesis on “Teenage Technological Experts: Bourdieu and the Performance of Expertise.”

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