A Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety has been set up as of 15th of March 2010. While this is a good thing as far as investigating ways in which Australians might need help or guidance online, those interested in online rights might be concerned that a committee has as much opportunity to confuse myth with reality in terms of online problems, as it does to come up with real world solutions to challenges online.

While EFA looks forward to what the committee comes up with in terms of identity theft, breaches of privacy and other problems that verifiably exist in a connected world, the terms of reference also include;

inappropriate social and health behaviours in an online environment (e.g. technology addiction, online promotion of anorexia, drug usage, underage drinking and smoking);

There's some food for thought there, but there's also the use of the term "technology addiction".  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or "DSM", is the handbook for doctors (who must have big hands, it's quite a tome) on mental disorders such as addictions - even though it uses the term "substance abuse" instead of addiction.  Nowhere in this authority is mention of the term "technology addiction" and as such it's not recognised as an actual mental illness.  It should be noted that the standard for recognition as a mental illness isn't necessarily insurmountable; being gay was removed as a mental disorder in 1973.

In some areas of the world where it's perceived that some overuse technology, measures have been established to deal with it with mixed results.  Some of these measures are seemingly harmless, clinics charging tens of thousands of dollars for a program that lasts roughly a month and involves exercise and reading books.  Some areas of the world aren't so measured, with stories about camps with beatings, torture and drug regimens.  Because there is no official condition called technology addiction, there is no regulation about how to treat it.

If the JSCCS has declared technology addiction to exist before it's even got started, it's first finding is to declare a medical condition. The next step after unilaterally making up illnesses, may be to declare a national medical problem, and the step after that may be to figure out how to treat it on a national scale.  Were this to happen, would we go down the American route of isolation and exercise to reconnect with a world outside World of Warcraft? Or the Chinese route of folk medicine and electroshock therapy administered at over 300 addiction camps?

EFA works tirelessly (actually that's not quite true, we're often very tired) to ensure that understanding our connected world leads to good policy, and conversely that misunderstanding online Australia doesn't breed bad policy.  If it turns out that the JSCCS has inadvertently made up a mental illness around the use of technology, it seems unlikely that good policy will follow in its wake.   As a result, the following has been sent to the committee secretary.  I'm looking forward to the response.

Dear Secretary,

I write with a question regarding the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety's terms of reference. In part (a) ii. of the terms of reference is the following inter alia;

the nature, prevalence, implications of and level of risk associated with cyber-safety threats, such as: inappropriate social and health behaviours in an online environment (e.g. technology addiction, online promotion of anorexia, drug usage, underage drinking and smoking);

Given that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (colloquially the "DSM") is widely considered to be the authority on addictions and mental disorders, and given that publication does not recognise "technology addiction" as an addiction or disorder, can the committee advise of the following;

  • What the committee considers to constitute technology addiction
  • On whose advice the committee considers technology addiction to verifiably exist either in Australia or elsewhere
  • On whose advice the committee considers technology addiction to be an understood, and presumably diagnosable, medical condition consistent with being accurately termed an "addiction"
  • On whose advice the committee considers that technology addiction is a cyber-safety threat, or what evidence exists to suggest that the committee ought consider technology addiction in its terms of reference

Regards,
Geordie Guy
Vice Chairman
Electronic Frontiers Australia
(e): [email protected]
(w): www.efa.org.au

13 comments

  1. Nice one. Look forward to seeing the response.

    Comment by sunny on 29 April 2010 at 02:28
  2. I'm a psychologist that regularly treats children that suffer from this sort of compulsive behaviour. I also have to deal with parents who are worried sick that their child's development is impaired because of their seeming addiction.

    Geordie - perhaps you might lead EFA's mission by sticking to what you know rather than being obstructive and callous. I'm guessing you're an IT worker in your thirties with no children....correct me if I'm wrong. Judging from the 'policy' work you've done for the Democrats, you're hardly in a position to determine what's good policy and what's not. Your policy approach seems primarily concerned with criticising everything and offering nothing. Just sayin'

    Perhaps you best stick to protecting civil liberties online rather than further typecasting EFA as a bunch of insensitive, non-family oriented neo-liberalists.

    I want my $50 back.

    Comment by Leonie on 30 April 2010 at 06:41
  3. Hi Leonie,

    I won't correct you. I'm an IT systems architect, married, with no children of my own but a member of a family that includes children of all ages. My politics aren't applicable in this context.

    If you're a psychologist who regularly treats children who exhibit compulsive behaviour in terms of their use of technology, or for that matter anything else, can I encourage you to make a submission on what you have experienced when the committee opens submissions? Psychologists are in a position to understand these sorts of situations, and politicians almost never are. What we have here is a circumstance where the starting line for an enquiry by politicians has assumed something for which there is no official evidence. Historically that's rarely had good results. Results around what's good for children should come from parents, kids and child psychologists. People like yourself.

    I don't lead EFA's mission, I'm part of a board. That board will be offering a submission to the committee, and I'll be advocating that it strongly urges the committee to seek the opinion of people like yourself who have experience in these matters rather than leaping to conclusions without explaining how it did.

    I'm pro family, I'm sensitive within reason (I'll respond to a comment like yours for example), and I'm anything but neo-liberalist. If you honestly feel that it's grossly inappropriate for an organisation to call for a joint committee to seek the opinion of genuine experts such as yourself, email me at gguy at efa dot org dot au and I will personally see that you receive a refund of your membership dues, and if you live in Sydney I will personally hand deliver it.

    Comment by Geordie on 30 April 2010 at 06:52
  4. @Leonie I know of no children addicted to technology. I know of children with obsessive compulsive disorders, I know of children who like technology a lot, and I know children in between, but I am yet to come across any professional who would tell me that the child is addicted to the technology.

    The technology is not the problem. The mental health of the individual is. Technology is not causing an altered brain state. The very label implies that the technology is the problem in the same way that a drug addiction implies that the drug is the problem.

    Re your slight against the Democrats, given they are the only party to release policy on the issue - the greens, pirate party, sex party and Liberal party haven't - you too best stick to what you know, or keep your ill-informed comments to yourself.

    Comment by Kat on 30 April 2010 at 07:07
  5. I can't help but make the observation that some might consider that the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety is nothing more than a means to justify Minister Conroy's Net filter. If that seems to be an accusation that such committees are corrupted in some way, then maybe that is because such investigations have appeared to be manipulated in the past.

    Even if the committee is honest and transparent, it can deflect the issues of the loss of civil liberties, by making it seem reasonable to adopt Net censorship for the safety of the children. This is faulty reasoning which eventually erodes the human rights and freedoms of expression, for the very children it seeks to protect.

    Not being able to convey the serious nature of the loss of human rights is the main problem facing those of us who understand the very real threats to our freedom, as posed by the Net filter and the possible manipulation of political committees. Indeed successful manipulations of such a committee does not augur well for independent adjudication on which sites would be included on the so-called 'secret Blacklist.'

    Comment by Des on 30 April 2010 at 12:02
  6. Sigh, this smacks of another attempt by technophobes to scare the general population into taking a certain path. To be quite frank the technology is here to stay, like it or not. If the government decided tomorrow that they will simply disconnect the cables that tie Australia to the internet. It would make no difference as before long there would be technology available to wirelessly access the networks via satellite.
    Honestly after seeing this in an endless loop for over two decades and being put through years of "counselling" for "technology addiction" (which was actually depression), I am sick of hearing it. I think that those of us who have embraced technology should have by now thrown out the idiotic scaremongers who have little understanding of the applications beyond "spreading porn, addicting our children and other horrible stuff". After all the internet started as ARPANET and was for real research, and today many organisations doing research could not function without the global networking the internet provides.
    Yes I will freely admit there are a whole lot of things the bandwidth should not be used for but human nature will turn any technology to its own purposes. Never mistake the tools for more than what they are, because tools have no sentience of their own to decide what the should do at any given moment.
    I would agree that peer pressure will force kids to "want" the technology that their friends have. I also agree that other factors such as mental disorders of various types may cause people to isolate themselves from the "Real World" and engage in technology based lives to a greater degree than those around them. Finding the why behind this is more important than dumping the blame on a fictional and convenient mental disorder.
    The fact that it was decided to label this with other valid issues displays a narrow-minded preconception that I find distasteful in a committee whose aim is ostensibly to help the people of our nation.

    I do apologise if this comes across as a rant, but things like this really "get my goat" as it were.

    Comment by JC on 30 April 2010 at 21:32
  7. TECHNOLOGY ADDICTION -
    I was such an addict once.
    The forefront of electronics in the sixties was radio controlled model aircraft.
    They weren't much good then; very unreliable.
    But not only did I have more than one and a stack of bits and pieces, I had to read about them too.
    The habit cost me every cent of my allowance every week.
    Not only that - but the only people I got to hang about with were addicts and pushers too.

    It was a bad scene.
    Older men lurking about with young boys - some of them selling stuff and others teaching the young ones how to make their own.
    Its probably their fault I became an engineer - the lowest of the low in this society.
    And I'm still addicted.
    There's a radio controlled plane sitting on the table over there.
    And I bought my Lady Wife a radio controlled miniature helicopter for Xmas.
    Where is our life going?

    Comment by Calligula on 10 May 2010 at 04:41
  8. TECHNOLOGY ADDICTION 2
    I wrote a tongue in cheek but truthful comment above.
    May I now add to what Leonie said.
    Am I invited to do so?

    Leonie's - "I'm a psychologist that regularly treats children that suffer from this sort of compulsive behaviour."
    and her- "I want my $50 back."

    How can I put it -
    Well, I had a sister like that, impeccable accreditation yet utterly wisdom challenged - strong views and a very modern way of bringing up her children.
    Nothing but the best for her and her's.
    Which is probably why her silly son felt free to sit on and squash my beautiful, once perfect, Italian violin.
    Now, in my retirement, I hope to have the time to rebuild something so stupidly damaged that a long dead Master created centuries ago.

    Specious griping is it?
    No. I merely make the point that If I had not become a technology addict I wouldn't have a clue where to start saving such a piece of history.
    I simply wouldn't have the technological skills.

    And I shall persist by making the point that youth accused of being similarly overinvolved with technology now will find equally sanguine application of their skills in the future.
    I'll risk saying that there's something wrong with certain types who lack life skills and experience.
    And shall risk everything by opining that the majority of 'em pretend to be women of knowledge.

    Comment by Calligula on 10 May 2010 at 05:24
  9. @Calligula
    I believe the point is that it is not actually an addiction, as there is no basis in real medical definitions. The biggest problem I can see with kids using technology these days is that the majority of them just use it. In the past kids got into anything for the cool and fun parts, and stick with it because they were interested in the "why" behind the technology. This eventually led them to good jobs and an steady income if they put in a little dedicated study. There is nothing wrong with being an engineer, a geek, a nerd or anything else tech related. Without us the modern world would be nothing.
    The primary issue is that there is no drive for most kids to really understand the "why" behind the technology as most forms of it use encrypted code or other forms of DRM to stop end users playing with or "stealing" the product. SDKs and other tools that allow users to add their own content, and programmable micro-controllers can give kids (or anyone who wants to learn) a leg-up into a lot of industries. But it is becoming all to common for big companies to charge big bucks for development software and programming boards, coupled with a lot of "Free" SDKs having the ominous "we own everything you make with this software" section in the end user agreement that a lot of people don't take the time to read/understand. This Means that hobbyists and interested individuals that are trying to learn something can't afford it.
    Coupled with the attitude of the "Instant Generation", where they have to have everything now, there is a very serious problem with technology usage in the world these days.
    As it stands we are still being told what is wrong with us by people who have no idea what they are talking about and aren't interested in learning.

    Comment by JC on 10 May 2010 at 19:39
  10. Hello JC -
    Absolutely spot on - except that a set of circumstances exhibiting the attributes of addiction - is addiction.
    What does seem to be the problem is the persistently negative Australian value judgement that there always has to be a problem with any sort of addiction except, maybe footy-n-cricket.

    I mentioned the model planes 'cos in my time they've progressed from an almost entirely home built product (including the guidance system) then to an almost completely factory built product now.
    Despite that there is a massive support industry permitting home builders/technologists to 'roll their own' to any standard they might wish to tackle. Perhaps one of the last frontiers other than needlework.
    When I was a kid I used to read about 'talent scouts from NASA, the Soviet equivalent, and numerous other agencies visiting model aircraft competitions since competition model aircraft were usually ahead of full-size technik by a couple of years.

    Engineering, youth, chronic addiction?
    Two examples of addicts and some pages of recommended reading -

    Take for instance Burt Rutan's SpaceShip 1 - the first successful private venture spacecraft.
    http://www.historynet.com/burt-rutan-reaches-oute... "As a kid, Burt was entranced by airplanes. He built models, competed in contests, regularly won"

    Dr Walt Good - https://www.modelaircraft.org/files/Good-Walt.pdf
    "Dr. Walter A. Good, a major contributor to development of guided missiles for U.S. Fleet defense of the radio proximity (VT) fuse during World War II, and a pioneer authority in the field of Radio Control Aeromodeling, retired on June 30, 1977 from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL)"

    What am I driving at?
    Addiction, obsession, fascination, habit - the term doesn't matter but the fact does: as does the environment whether nurturing or stifling the individual 'habit'.
    If the reader suspects that I'm about to dump it on Australia and the present stifling environment here - then they'd be right.

    It wouldn't surprise me in the least that some agency of 'governance' postures about 'technology addiction, online promotion of anorexia, drug usage, underage drinking and smoking' and the like since - A - everyone knows that kids and young adults tend to rebel whenever they're told something is taboo - and since - B - in this increasingly wowser society just about everything is taboo except consumer goods off the shelf of the local chainstore - Such attitudes lead to a reasonably predictable outcome.

    When - "Caution do not disassemble - No user serviceable components contained" - turns out to be true it certainly stifles innovation and experiment - enough to drive anyone to drink - what?

    Comment by Calligula on 11 May 2010 at 00:46
  11. Hi Calligula,
    While I would disagree with your first point, I would definitely agree with you that how a person's habit is approaches by those around them can massively contribute the the outcomes. Addiction and obsession are actually different in a psychological and physical sense, although from where I stand the effects of both can cause upon a person's well being can be the same. But dumbing down language and generalizing words is a symptom of a stagnating culture, something that we need to keep in mind.

    In Geordie's post he was commenting on the fact that, as you have also said, there seems to be a trend in Australia whereby those who don't conform to the "norm" are labeled with randomly created metal disorders. This is a serious problem. There has in the past been another government that did these sorts of things, they invaded Poland with their allies in September 1939.

    Statements and generalizations such as those made by the JSCCS do two things. They dis-empower and distort fact, through miss-use (unintentional or otherwise) of medical or grammatical terms. Additionally the dissemination of this information will create false pre-conceptions and poorly grounded starting points for discussions of these issues in the wider community. This causes the real problem to be not that they have used the wrong term, but rather they and they people they represent cannot make rational informed decisions as the foundation of their arguments, and thus all following constructions, are flawed.

    I am familiar with Dr Good's work, but I had yet to find any good online sources about Burt Rutan. Cheers for that, it will make for some interesting reading.

    Like you I remain unsurprised at the predictable party lines that are trotted out to respond to any commentary from the population.

    Oh! Speaking of drinking... time to feed my Caffeine addiction!

    Comment by JC on 11 May 2010 at 19:24
  12. Hello again JC
    Since you mentioned the 3rd Reich - I think it pays to remember that reasonable advances in communications technology and transport were utilised by the National Socialists to get their ball rolling.

    Once ensconced after a few scares like the Reichstag fire and the like (and here that tiny minority of conspiracy theorists would say something like - 'Yeah, like 9/11') that regime perpetrated its outrages under the cloak of legislation - as I remember, beginning with a spot of Qld. style 'enabling legislation'.
    Here is the core of the situation. Deutschland is and was a Civil/Statutory Law jurisdiction and somewhat like Australia, a number of semi-autonomous states bound together as a 'Reich'.
    In that environment it was easy just to tweak a bit of existing legislation and go for it. The rest, as they say, is history.

    I find it useful to always remember that Heinrich Himmler's second-in command, Reinhardt Heydrich, was head of Interpol during WW-II (8/1940 until his assassination in June 1942).
    As to whether this appointment had any influence upon promoting eugenics experiments and the like in other nation states or vice versa can still drum up heated argument.
    Whatever the situation, in Calligula's view it doesn't take much abrasive to wear through the molecular veneer of civilisation.

    Am I deviating from the thread?
    Calligula reads Geordie's core statement - "Because there is no official condition called technology addiction, there is no regulation about how to treat it." - as vitally important.
    Perhaps Geordie may also consider the same applies here in OZ. as well as overseas.

    Here's why -
    A Common Law society tends to uphold the concept that, within the bounds of reason, anything is lawful unless it is actually proscribed - whereas in Civil/Statutory jurisdictions an action or thing shall only be permitted if it deemed so by statute.
    That is why most democratic Civil jurisdictions tend to retain comprehensive constitutions and statutes of rights.

    What do we have in Australia?
    An emerging fund of Civil/Statutory style proclamatory stuff pretending to be law cooked up by parliamentarians who have recently put our hopes for any sort of charter of rights into the icebox.

    If we pretend to maintain Common Law the Technology addict can likewise legally maintain his habit until some legislation bans the activity(see above).
    If our masters go for the Civil/Statutory posture and no legislation exists in jurisdiction either approving or proscribing the activities and acquisitions of our tech addict - then he's in limbo - since without that Charter of Rights and relevant statutes defining what he may lawfully do - then any agent of governance might determine to his detriment at the drop of a hat.

    But Hey - that's what we get for having no other choice but to vote for people who haven't seen a grade 3 civics lesson.

    Comment by Calligula on 12 May 2010 at 01:57
  13. What was the outcome?

    For one it's very topical but needs to be discussed from both sides.

    Comment by Shaun in Melbourne on 10 June 2010 at 10:08