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UD's Scott Caplan has written a new book, "The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use," examining technology and social problems.
Scott Caplan is a big fan of face time.
Thats not FaceTime, the video calling app, but actual face time, the
in-person social interaction in which people talk directly with one
another the way they have for thousands of years.
The iPhone was introduced in 2007, and thats when things really
started changing because people could be online through their mobile
device all the time, said Caplan, an associate professor of
communication at the University of Delaware, who conducts research on
problematic internet use. Im certainly not saying that technology is
bad, but technology can be used in ways that magnify a lot of social
Caplan said he became interested in the connection between internet
use and well-being by reading early research on the subject that began
in the late 1990s. He was especially intrigued by reports that people
who said their internet use had negative effects on their lives also
said they particularly used interpersonal features such as chat rooms
and instant messaging.
He began studying the issue after earning his doctorate in 2000 and has written a new book on the subject, The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use, published in June by Peter Lang International Academic Publishers.
One finding that Caplan wanted to explore was why people who were
lonely, depressed and socially anxious were more likely to have problems
with their internet use. His question: Did overuse of the internet lead
to these problems, or was it a symptom of them?
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Peoples social skills do predict their problems with these
devices, he said. They use technology to compensate for other
interpersonal communication problems.
Although some observers have called various types of problematic
internet use addictions the World Health Organization recently defined
a new type of addiction called gaming disorder Caplan said he
thinks thats the wrong approach.
Throughout my research, Ive tried to view problematic internet use,
not as a disease but as a condition related to peoples interpersonal
skills, he said. I do have a chapter in my book on addiction, but
theres a bigger picture.
Problems that result from the way the internet and mobile devices are
used can include difficulties in relationships of all types, Caplan
said. More extreme examples occur when people are victimized by such
online behavior as cyberbullying or cyberstalking.
But even in everyday life, Caplan said, the use of smartphones and
other mobile devices that allow people to be online wherever they are
has created new and different problems with interpersonal communication.
For example, he said, it wasnt long ago that professors would walk
into a classroom, announce the start of class and wait for the chatting
to die down. Today, hes noticed that most classrooms are silent even
before the instructor arrives: Students are on their phones, not
interacting with their classmates.
Theyre very connected to people, but not to the people theyre
physically with, Caplan said. They're not really with each other; theyre
with someone else, the person on their phone.
He noted that some experts believe this reliance, especially on
texting, will inhibit teenagers conversational skills over time.
Another example of new types of problematic internet use can be
termed distracted parenting. Caplan cites studies in which observers
note the large number of parents accompanying their children to a
playground who spend the time on their phones rather than interacting
with the youngsters.
Children need face time and social interaction with their parents in
order to develop in a healthy way, he said. They also need to learn
interpersonal skills that they will use throughout life in making
People naturally like to do things that are fun, and video games are
no exception, Caplan said. And people in an earlier generation worried
that television would distract people from more useful pursuits.
But the problems we have with technology and our social problems
have changed, Caplan said. One thing thats different is that with
old tech like TV, you can watch together and you can talk about what
With new tech, your phone takes you into your own world. If everybody is on his phone, everybody is in his own silo.
Caplan earned bachelors and masters degrees from UD and a doctorate in interpersonal communication from Purdue University.
He joined the UD faculty in 1999 and has received the Universitys Excellence in Teaching Award.
He is a member of the editorial board for Human Communication Research, Communication Research and the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.
The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use: An Interpersonal Approach
provides a first of its kind overview of previous research, including
details of where many of those studies were incorrect, reviewer and
clinical psychologist John M. Grohol wrote.
Every field in psychology needs a book like this at least once a
decade to help all researchers working in the field understand where
weve come from, where were at today and where we should be in the
future, Grohol wrote in the psychology network Psych Central.com.
Article by Ann Manser; illustration by Jeffrey Chase with image from iStock