Chang Ping on how “Internet addiction disorder” is a joke

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How can I stop playing?

Treating so-called “Internet addiction” using electro-shock therapy was first mentioned earlier this year when reports such as China Youth Daily’s on Uncle Yang talked about teenagers who were forced into receiving the treatment in boot camps.

The Western media also reported on the boot camp cases, but in mid-July the Ministry of Health announced that it was going to abolish electro-shock treatment, bringing “Internet addiction disorder” once again into discussion on blogs and the Western media.

George Sun at Global Voices translated blog posts on the subject by Sina, Netease commenters, the rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, academic and fake goods expert Fang Zhouzi. Fang wrote (from Global Voices):

That China once applied the electroshock therapeutics for “net addiction” is against medical ethics. Electroshock is a disputed therapy and produces obvious side-effects though it has a history for some decades. Right now, it is merely applied to a few types of severe psychological illnesses, especially hypochondria and this has been proved by various clinic experiments. Giving the brain electronic shocks to change the cerebral function can only damage the memory and cognitive ability but the mechanism of it is still unknown.

On July 16 Chang Ping (real name Zhang Ping), who used to be the deputy editor of the Southern Metropolis Weekly but was removed due to an opinion piece on Tibet in the Financial Times, wrote an opinion piece in Southern Metropolis Daily questioning whether “Internet addiction” could even be seen as an illness. Furthermore, he expresses the idea that some organizations have taken the original joke too far.

But Chang Ping says that either way, the government’s stopping of electro-shock treatment does not mean that they won’t reissue Internet addiction as a disease - they are just changing the standards for treatment.

There is a column of opinion pieces by Chang Ping from different newspapers and magazines, collected and updated on Netease as he writes them.


Where has the debate on Internet addiction gone?

by Chang Ping / SMD

The Ministry of Health has stopped using electro-shock therapy to cure “Internet addiction” and the many young people who adore using the Internet will no longer be threatened by “computers,” and they are ecstatic. But, perhaps they didn’t look at the notice too closely: it stated that the safety concerns of electro-shock therapy cannot be determined and its effectiveness cannot be defined. What this really means is that they are announcing a different standard for treating Internet addiction, and the officials will still decide that “Internet addiction” is a kind of disease.


Like most medical terms, “internet addition disorder” was imported. The difference is, when it started it was a joke. In 1995, a mental illness doctor from the US, Ivan Goldberg, mocked the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and its standard description of gambling addiction, and created Internet Addiction Disorder, IAD. He didn’t predict that this would be used seriously when his colleagues liked the term and it quickly proliferated the media. And it lost its mocking tone. This then caused a stormy debate in the medical field in the US.

Some experts and medical personnel support the analysis of Internet Addiction Disorder, they think that internet addiction is defined as abnormally using the Internet, and not only does this exist, but it is also frightening, and is currently corroding the mental and physical health of the people, causing families to become less harmonious, and causing social disorder. Some investigations in America have found that between 5 and 10 per cent of Americans are suffering with the pain of IAD. Therefore, some medical organizations are providing treatment services, and societal organizations have eagerly stepped in to help.

But, some medical experts still view internet addiction as a joke. The creator of the term Ivan Goldberg thinks that internet addiction is not a real addiction, if there is overt emphasis on it then any habit could become an illness. For example some people like to talk on the phone, and others are obsessed with golf, so should there be experts to treat these? Some people also think that even if there is such a thing as phone addiction and golf addiction, internet addiction is still unfounded, because the Internet is not a material object, but an environment in which we live. You can’t say that someone who adores their home living community has become a home addict. In China there really is a term called “homesickness” (思乡病) but it is a term used in literature but cannot be treated in the hospital.

Speaking realistically, the internet really does open doors for mental diseases. For example, someone who is addicted to sex can stay online all day looking at porn; someone who is crazy about shopping can look online, saving time and energy; a person who is prone to procrastination will find all kinds of information on the Internet hard to resist, and needless to say its effect on a game enthusiast and a gambler. But, you need to treat these habits themselves, and not tell them to quit the Internet. A simple example is if you go to Baidu and search for: “What should I do if I have bulimia?” Some netizen will answer: “Go to the hospital and get your stomach cut out.” Is this the answer you were looking for?

In the US, this debate is still wittering on. In 2007, the American Medical Association rejected the proposal that the American Mental Illness Association list “internet addiction disorder” in the DCM, but some people are still trying to get the category listed into the 2012 edition.

Chinese media and the medical field quickly imported the word “internet addiction.” But, strangely, if you look at material on the topic in Chinese you won’t find the other side of the argument or that it is even being argued about. You’d think that “Internet addiction” is a new kind of disease, which is declaring war on the future of human kind, and the best doctors in the world are bravely fighting in the war and are up to their neck in it. Many doctors who support the treatment of “Internet addiction” are trying to get official recognition for the disease in their own countries.

In the Chinese medical organizations’ publicity material, “Internet addiction” has been described as a great beast, and the symptoms of all types of mental disorders, for example bad mood, slow mind, dizziness, shaky hands, low energy levels, tiredness, a lack of desire for food and drink, a suicidal desire or wanting to hurt others — all of these have been written out for Internet addiction. Yang Yongxin (杨永信), who has just been told by the Ministry of Health to stop his electro-shock treatments, also says adamantly that “Internet addiction” will cause the human aspect of the person to recede, and will turn a person into a beast.

Many parents don’t know how to communicate with their children, and also don’t understand what the Internet is. All they know is that their children is indulging in Internet cafes, and when they hear the treat of these “authoritative experts” they will naturally assume that they’ve found a savior and no matter how much they have to spend they will give their children up to electro-shock treatment.

Therefore we can understand why we can’t see the other aspect of the “Internet addiction” argument, because these experts need to rely on it to obtain prestige and other resources, and the treatment centers need to rely on it to make money. How much do they hope that every netizen will come to think that they have Internet addiction, and then become their customers. If this were true then Ivan Goldberg’s joke on China will be huge. What’s extremely funny is that some Chinese experts are seriously using Goldberg’s suggestion as the originating source for the need to treat “Internet addiction.”

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