Popular Posts

Sunday, August 04, 2013

History of my research on Internet Addiction since 1994

Here is an article from the Globe and Mail in Canada on how the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery started. It was a wild time for me. Personally, I was a young graduate fresh from graduate school and I had no idea what I was getting myself into and wow, did the publicity on my work really set a tone. I couldn't believe by age 30 I was doing so many interviews and I can't really say I knew what I was doing.

Professionally, I launched an entire field. I still look back in disbelief. I remember after my friend called me to tell me her and her husband had separated over his addiction to the Internet, I posted a small survey online. At the time (again, think 1994), I received maybe two email per month. The next morning, I awoke to over 40 emails responding to my survey. Most told me woes of how much they had lost because of the amount of time they spent on the Internet. People told me how they lost their jobs because they were online instead of working. People told me how they got separated or divorced because of their addiction to the Internet. Students across the country told me how they were addicted to the very tool that their universities were encouraging them to use. I quickly realized that I had hit a psychological nerve. This was a bigger issue than anyone had thought. I expanded my survey with more detailed questions. I wanted to know what it was like to be inside the mind of an Internet Addict.

I was drawn by the constant stories that followed. Some were amazing, simply amazing! I mean, I couldn't believe that people had lost a spouse or a loved one over the computer but it was true. At first, people told me how much they were addicted to chat rooms and pornography. Again, keep in mind this was 1994 before Facebook, Twitter, or eBay. The Internet was being touted as a revolutionary tool. And that it is. I don't take away any of the vast benefits of this technology. I did become the single voice that showed that there was also a dark side.

The Internet is not a benign tool. It has a life of its own. I was glad that I stuck to this earlier research. I remember that I was finishing up a fellowship at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY. I had posted signs at all the colleges and libraries looking for people to participate in my research. I worked alone from my one bedroom apartment. I can't tell you why I kept going. The more I talked to others, the more I realized there was a problem with how much people consumed the Internet. It was the wild west of its day. I did not want to take away from any of the great potential that the Internet had to offer. Still, I knew there was this dark side, as people told me stories upon stories of how it damaged their lives.

I remember people crying on the phone with me or emailing me for help. I started the Center for Internet Addiction shortly thereafter. I knew I needed to a place to support my research and to offer counseling. It was often why people called. I started the center without a game plan. I had no idea what it would become.

I remember collecting all these case studies, still unsure what I was going to do with them. One day, walking through a K-mart in Rochester, I was struck by the idea of writing a book. I went to the local Borders (when they still existed) and bought several addiction recovery books. I am sure the clerk thought I had a problem. I studied each book looking at how it was set up, the ways the writer integrated theories with case studies, and I tried to teach myself how to write a book. The only thing I had ever written before that was my doctoral dissertation.

I completed my first draft in 1997 and went about trying to find an agent. Fifty rejections later -- an agent finally agreed to take me on. Another fifty editors rejected the book proposal until finally John Wiley and Sons agreed to take on the project. It was a thrilling time. My editor was a wonderful teacher. While my first draft needed considerable revision, she taught me and I learned. Eventually, my first book, Caught in the Net was published in 1998. It was met with criticism. I almost stopped studying Internet Addiction. It was hurtful and painful at the time. I was young and all I wanted to help others.

As I traveled across the country, I met people whose lives were changed because of my book. They would come up to me after my lectures thanking me for my work and for validating a problem that at that time no one else believed that they suffered from. I realized I was giving a voice to others who had nowhere else to turn.

I am glad that I stuck it out. Studying Internet Addiction changed my life forever. I am grateful that God gave me the courage and wisdom to do this -- and to hopefully help many who otherwise didn't have a voice.