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Internet addiction: Where do you fall on the spectrum?

In a new study from the University of Surrey, researchers have introduced an internet addiction spectrum, classifying internet users into five specific categories based on their behavior and dependency levels. 

The goal of the study was to distinguish between problematic internet use and actual addiction, providing critical insights that could guide future digital services and AR application design.

A snapshot of online behavior

The research data shows that younger individuals, those aged 24 and below, spend an average of six hours a day online, with the primary device of choice being their smartphones

By contrast, those aged 24 and above reported spending approximately 4.6 hours on the internet daily.

Breaking down the spectrum

The study, which was focused on data from 796 participants, divided internet users into the following categories:

Casual users (14.86%)

Represented primarily by older users with an average age of 33.4 years, this group utilizes the internet for specific purposes and doesn’t hang around. Notably, these individuals are not interested in exploring new apps and exhibit no signs of addiction.

Initial users (22.86%) 

With an average age of 26.1 years, these users tend to spend more time online than they initially plan to. While these individuals might neglect some household chores, they don’t label themselves as addicted and have a moderate interest in new apps.

Experimenters (21.98%)

Falling within the age range of 22.8 to 24.3 years, this category is characterized by individuals who experience uneasiness or anxiety when not online. Their connection to the internet is a relief, and they are quite open to exploring new apps and technology.

Addicts-in-denial (17.96%)

These users exhibit clear signs of addiction, such as prioritizing online relationships over real-world commitments but deny feeling any discomfort when not connected. Their confidence in using mobile technology is apparent.

Addicts (22.36%)

This segment openly acknowledges their internet addiction and the consequent negative impacts on their lives. These individuals show the most confidence in using and experimenting with new technology and apps. Their online presence is considerably greater than that of casual users.

Focus of the study

“Our main aim was to clarify the difference between using the internet in a problematic way and being addicted to it. We found that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be addicted to the internet, and this tendency decreases with age,” said study lead author Dr. Brigitte Stangl.

“We also wanted to explore how the severity of internet addiction affects users’ experience with new, high-tech applications like augmented reality.”

Notable findings

The study revealed that emotional experiences, such as feelings derived from app use, predominantly predicted future behavior across all groups when it came to augmented reality interactions. 

On the other hand, action experiences, like navigating websites or gaming, were found to be largely inconsequential for the addict group.

Interestingly, gender did not influence online behavior. However, the study established a direct correlation between high levels of internet addiction and confidence in using mobile technology.

Future implications

“Our study underscores the need for tailored interventions and support for individuals at various stages of internet addiction,” said Dr. Stangl.

“The findings will certainly influence the design and development of digital services and AR applications, ensuring they cater to the diverse needs of users in the current digital environment.”

This research underscores the growing need to understand and address internet addiction in today’s digital age.

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